Understanding carbon in ecosystems: soil (#ProtectTheEarth), ecology, forests, agriculture, management, and environmental change
Why focus on carbon and ecosystems? Soils and plants store huge quantities of carbon. Disturbances that degrade ecosystems release this into the atmosphere – in forms such as carbon dioxide and methane – contributing to our changing climate. But soils and ecosystems are much more than reservoirs for carbon – their health is directly tied to water purification, flood prevention, maintenance of biodiversity, and agricultural production. Understanding how and why plants, animals, microbes and soils respond to environmental change and management will therefore help us understand the consequences for, and the necessary interventions to restore and sustain, human and environmental well-being.
We use field and lab experiments, observational, and synthesis approaches to investigate these effects of global change and management. We primarily work across forests, agricultural lands, and grasslands in the United States.
The overall goal of our research is to provide the necessary understanding for reliable estimation of global change and management impacts on ecosystems, their feedbacks to the climate system, and to develop understanding that informs [more] sustainable management of agronomic and environmental services.
Four key facets of our work tie together all that we do:
1. We focus on how biology and ecology influence how ecosystems work;
2. This ecological focus demands that we integrate local-scale variation in organisms and their microenvironments into our research, to ensure that their influence is not obscured at the regional-scales for which we want to generate understanding and make projections;
3. We increasingly work in managed forests, recognizing that management decisions critically influence the sustainability of these systems and the multiple functions and organisms they support;
4. We want to quantify the true size of effects of controls, meaning that our philosophy of study design and inferential analysis is constantly being developed and refined to provide numbers that are meaningful to scientists, policy makers and land managers alike.
As our research goals and approaches reveal, we are increasingly combining basic and applied science, with our work in this arena spanning carbon cycle projection to the management of urban forests and for translating soil health goals to agronomic outcomes. To reach stakeholders, we produce both papers and concise summaries of the research reported within them. More recently, a number of us have been involved in the launch of the Yale Applied Science Synthesis Program. The purpose of the program is to synthesize the available science using best practices that build confidence in the outcomes of management interventions intended to improve carbon storage and capture, biodiversity and related ecosystem services in agricutural lands, grasslands and forests. Check out the work the program does by clicking here.
For some specific outcomes, see for example a recent invited piece we produced about soil health initiatives for the Aspen Global Change Insitute by clicking here, and one of our recent one-page Publication Briefs by clicking here which shows how higher soil carbon helps to “drought proof” corn yields. For urban forests, we’re collaborating with policy and practice organizations such as the Natural Areas Conservancy to help produce reports like the one available by clicking here, which highlights the importance, threats and opportunities for protecting forests in cities.