~ Current Research
~ Fire and Communities
~ Mountain Studies Institute
~ Plant and Soil Ecology
~ Bowker Lab, Northern Arizona University
My current research focuses on plant- soil interactions in the context of changing climates, restoration, and conservation. Plants provide crucial ecosystem services for human societies, from soil stabilization, to water filtration and carbon sequestration. In the recent past, many plants have experienced widespread mortality due to land management changes(such as introduction of invasive species, expansion of agriculture and rangeland, or urban development) and extreme weather events (such as prolonged drought or greater storm intensity). These mortality events have been widespread and are expected to get worse as the human population continues to grow and the climate continues to shift.
Perhaps you didn't know that most plants (~ 80%) are dependent on soil organisms such as bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi ti obtain soil nutrients and water. Mycorrhizae? What is that? Myco = fungus, rhiz = root. Mycorrhizae are a specific type of fungus (literally root fungus) that live on or within plant roots and trade soil nutrients and water for carbon from the plant. These organisms work in a myriad of connections in the soil food web to sustain ecosystem function and processes. Very little work has been done on how these organisms may respond to a changing climate or how well they recover after disturbance.
My research takes this a step further by examining the plant and soil organism responses to such things both in tandem and in mutually exclusive settings. This research allows us to better predict and understand how ecosystems may respond to changes in their environment. Additionally, this provides us with powerful insight into how we can better manage ecosystems to buffer against the observed and predicted dieback in vegetation to come. It could very well be the case that plant material programs also need to be concerned with soil organism communities.
Please contact me if you are interested in learning more.
Remke et al. 2020 - Restoration Ecology
Familiar Soil conditions facilitate survival of Pinus ponderosa seedlings during drought
~ Previous Research
~ Plant Community Ecology
~ Korb Research Group, Fort Lewis College
During my undergraduate career at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, I was blessed with amazing faculty who guided me and mentoring me during my first research project. With an obsession for the alpine regions of Colorado, my project aimed to understand how early snowmelt, induced by dust on snow, and warmer growing season temperatures would influence alpine plant communities.
Disturbances to vegetation and soil in arid regions of the Colorado plateau are leading to an increase in the number of dust storms and the amount of dust being deposited on mountain snow pack. Dust-on-snow decreases the albedo of mountain snowpack, resulting in increased ablation rates of snow. In addition, warmer temperatures predicted as a result of global climate change can contribute to decreased snow cover and rapid melt rate. Plants growing in alpine systems are strong indicators for biotic responses to global warming because of their life history of living in cold environments. Alpine plants display a threshold response to early snowmelt where phonological events such as greening and flowering are initially delayed; however, under warmer conditions there is a linear relationship between day of snow melt and plant greening and flowering.
The project dissected alpine plant communities into habitat generalists and habitat specialists to better understand how specific components of alpine plant communities may be more sensitive than others. We ultimately found that alpine plant specialists are more sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, especially temperature, and are likely to be outcompeted by generalists given predicted climate change scenarios. The sensitivity of alpine specialists demonstrates how biodiversity in alpine systems may dramatically decrease as habitat generalists encroach and eventually replace habitat specialists. This is a novel way to look at species responses to global climate change because many assume that species will gradually lean or march upslope given climate scenarios, where we suggest that migrating into the alpine may be more difficult due to the success of already existing habitat generalists.
Remke et al. 2015
Alpine plant communities response to early snowmetlt and warming
~ Conservation Application
~ Previous Research
~ Lindner Ranches and The Bureau of Land Management
In addition to my experience in the hard sciences, I have been blessed to have on the ground experience in the application of science in both private sector and federal sector land management.
I was Conservation Manager for a string of private ranches adjacent to the Weminuchie Wilderness near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The goal of the land owner was to restore ecosystem function to a more natural state. In this position, I led efforts in fluvial restoration, range management, and forest restoration. We built step pools in the East Fork of the Piedra river to create better habitat for native Colorado Cut-throat trout. This project was overall a success with reintroductions scheduled for the spring following my departure.
Our forested ecosystems, like many in the West, had been poorly managed for nearly a century resulting in overly dense stands prone to disease, insect outbreak, and high severity fire. Working with the San Juan National Forest Silviculturist I planned a thinning treatment for Ponderosa Pine, xeric mixed conifer, and mesic mixed conifer forest types. The treatment was then implemented by a local contractor who recently acquired a white fuel generator and chipper. He entered stands when the ground was frozen and removed my marked trees, chipped on site, and then trucked to town where he burned the chips in a white fuel generator. His operation provides 20% of electricity demand in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Lastly, my range management program focused heavily on preventing further spread of exotic species and promoting native bunch grass growth. We tilled soil in invaded areas and coated the soil surface with a thin layer of field soil. The theory was to inoculate the soil with native soil organisms and bury the seed bank of natives below seeding depth. When we seeded with a native seed blend, we saw successful germination and growth in the first season with minimal growth of invasive species.
Lastly, my time with the Bureau of Land Management exposed me to the greater depths of federal lands management in the context of Sage Grouse conservation. Most of my work here focused on geospatial datasets and habitat modeling. I used geographic information systems (GIS) to create potential sage grouse habitat maps and relate them to priority areas for conservation. While most of my time was spent behind the computer, I was also able to trap birds and conduct lek counts and other various wildlife biology surveying techniques.
~ Additional Research
I have a general curiosity for the world that is expressed in part through scientific inquiry. As a result, I aim to collaborate on a diverse array of projects and topics. I also recognize the barrier to accessing primary scientific literature for those who do not have journal subscriptions through their place of employment. Thus, I will share papers here that I have permission to share and that at the forefront of my mind and my thinking. If you wish to collaborate, please contact me.
Lekberg et al. 2018 - Ecology Letters
Relative importance and dependency of plant-plant interactions and plant soil feedback
~ Previous Research
My current research is focused on active forest management to promote the ecological, social, and economic well being of the communities we interact with daily. For those living in the rural Southwest, ecosystems exists on the margins of rural communities and extend into vast wilderness. Communities that are surrounded by fire prone and fire adapted forests, like ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests face challenging interactions with fire spreading into and directly impacting communities. As a result, developing strategic forest restoration, fuels reduction, and ecological forestry models can help facilitate better functioning ecosystems and rural communities that are resilient to disturbance. I work to understand how management tools, including fire, influence ecological outcomes. I also work with Dr. Julie Korb to better understand how forests respond to natural disturbances, including the 416 and Missionary Ridge fires.