Background Image Alternative Text: forest landscape


This REU program will include research projects that can help identify best management practices for managing resilient forest ecosystems. The projects listed here are an example of possible projects that REU students could pursue. If a student has an idea for a related project that they would like to conduct, they are welcome to discuss their ideas with their mentor(s).

Short Rotation Woody Crops


(Mentors: Galeano Gómez, Renninger, Siegert)

Short rotation woody crops, such as eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and hybrid poplar, are of broad interest for biomass for bioenergy production across the southeastern United States. Through breeding advancements, these fast growing, early successional species are well adapted to riparian floodplain conditions. As such, poplar plantations may be leveraged to mitigate fertilizer runoff when planted at the interface of agriculture and riparian areas. Additionally, their fast growth rates may accelerate belowground biomass growth and soil carbon sequestration. Understanding differences among clones can support decision-making for water quality, productivity, and carbon management, which is the ultimate outcome of this research. To address these questions, the team has six research sites within two hours of the university with experimental treatments exploring the effects of functional and taxonomic diversity among clonal plantings.

Quantifying tree growth, carbon, and stand development


(Mentors: Galeano Gómez, Renninger, Polinko, Granger, and Poudel)

Forests around the world face threats from disturbances, such as drought, insects, and disease. They also have an essential role in mitigating climate change through the carbon they sequester. Urban forests and trees grown for biomass production have the potential to serve as significant carbon sinks, which can contribute to climate change mitigation efforts. Improving the resilience of forests requires site- and species-specific approaches to management that integrate fundamental knowledge from the tree to ecosystem scale. At the individual tree level, understanding wood formation and functional traits has the potential to increase productivity through optimizing functional traits and increased substitution of carbon negative construction materials. In addition, identifying phenotypes that improve productivity or increase the resistance to drought or biotic disturbance can improve stand resilience and productivity. At the stand level, diversity in species composition and stand structure are related to increased resilience and productivity. This project seeks to construct a toolbox of management options that address tree and stand related management issues.

Hyper temporal tree growth and function


(Mentors: Polinko, Siegert)

Forests provide a wide variety of goods and services, including wood-based products, carbon sequestration, and water resources. Despite their importance, there is much to be learned about tree growth. Branches support leaf area and are geometrically optimized to increase photosynthesis. Branches also give rise to knots, one of the most important predictors of strength in wood. Branches were once thought to be autonomous units that interacted independently with the vascular system. The current hypothesis is that branches are incorporated in a larger integrated system of resource allocation, though this has only been demonstrated retrospectively. Bark plays a large role in protection against damage and disease but is also a key regulator of water inputs into forest watersheds, whereby incoming precipitation can be diverted and stored in bark tissues. This project will investigate the role of bark water storage as it varies among species due to morphological characteristics and meteorological conditions. High resolution dendrometers have been used to measure radial growth in trees and are accurate enough to record diurnal variation in radial change. The magnitude of recorded radial change is related to sap flow, wood formation, bark expansion and shrinkage associated with atmospheric moisture, and lunisolar gravitational acceleration. This project will use custom made point dendrometers constructed from an Arduino Pro Mini outfitted with an SD card reader, a real-time clock, and a high-resolution analog to digital converter connected to a linear potentiometer.

Effects of disturbances on native pollinator and plant species


(Mentors: Fortuin, Schulz)

Resilient forests are typically diverse and support many species, including pollinators that are essential for the reproduction of some plant species. In addition to abiotic disturbances (e.g., hurricanes), biotic disturbances (e.g., invasive plants and insects) are significant drivers of disturbance in global forest ecosystems and can reduce forest biodiversity through competition with or predation on native plant species. Outcomes of this research include identifying and managing the effects of disturbances on native pollinator and plant species.