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Environmental Conservation

Invasive plants in forest understories in Massachusetts threaten native ecosystems and working forests. This research will use satellite remote sensing to map three understory invasive species (buckthorn, honeysuckle, and barberry) in western Massachusetts. Occurrence maps will be compared to geology, topography, and land use to better identify correlates of invasion across the landscape and create maps identifying high invasion risk.

Invasive plants lead to the loss of crop revenue in agricultural systems, damage native habitats and wildlife populations, and alter ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling. This project will map the abundance of 13 problematic invasive plants across the northeastern United States by collecting expert knowledge. We will then predict invasion risk based on current climactic suitability, as well as future risk associated with climate change.

American elms represent some of the most culturally and economically significant urban trees. Their contributions to the urban landscape are numerous and include: carbon sequestration, capture of storm water and airborne particulate matter, reduced heating and cooling costs through wind buffering and shade and enhanced aesthetics with their large, sweeping canopies. Prior to the introduction of Dutch Elm Disease, American elms dominated the urban and suburban landscape because of their beauty, rapid growth rates and ability to tolerate difficult growing conditions.

American elms represent some of the most culturally and economically significant urban trees. Their contributions to the urban landscape are numerous and include: carbon sequestration, capture of storm water and airborne particulate matter, reduced heating and cooling costs through wind buffering and shade and enhanced aesthetics with their large, sweeping canopies. Prior to the introduction of Dutch Elm Disease, American elms dominated the urban and suburban landscape because of their beauty, rapid growth rates and ability to tolerate difficult growing conditions.

The food industry in the United States is a major consumer of energy, with the majority of energy consumption related to food handling and storage. Many Americans experience food insecurity and depend on food banks, which must attempt to minimize food spoilage and expenses. Energy costs are a major expense for food banks, so reductions in energy use are critical to increasing the availability of food for the most vulnerable.

To strengthen the rural economy, successful strategies are always needed to reduce farm production cost and increase product values. Organic waste is generally disposed of by being left on the field to decay and/or burned. These treatments yield low values and may cause environmental pollution. Production and use of bio-oil and biochar from organic wastes could improve soil and environmental quality, provide renewable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency, and increase soil carbon sequestration and mitigate global warming.

Global climate change affects every aspect of our life. Global warming increases the intensity of drought, which leads to the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires. Beyond being a source of soot and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), severe wildfires/forest fires can damage soils, water quality and quantity, fisheries, plant communities, wildlife habitat, and endangered species; result in economic and property loss; and cause harms to the environment and public health. Forest thinning or prescribed burns reduce the accumulation of hazardous fuels and restore forest health.

Providing steady supplies of water, safe drinking water, and sustaining diverse, healthy aquatic ecosystems are objectives of watershed managers. Disruptions in water supplies and quality can have serious economic and ecological impacts. Addressing water security is becoming an important aspect of watershed management that can increase the sustainability and resiliency of watershed systems. Therefore the question arises: How can water managers plan for and maintain secure water supplies under uncertain conditions?

The value of trees planted in residential settings has been well documented (Shroeder et al. 2006; McPherson et al. 2007), but value is only realized if trees grow to maturity. The same settings where trees provide benefits, however, present challenging and even severe growing conditions that may thwart survival and growth (Jutras et al. 2010). Empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees are limited, and most of the work has considered trees growing in field plots rather than actual residential settings (Watson et al. 1986; Morgenroth 2011).

It has been hypothesized that climate change will cause plant species ranges to shift northward with plants at the south end of ranges declining in vigor and growth rate. The purpose of this research is to test this hypothesis for red spruce and balsam fir along the southern end of the continuous distribution of these species, in Massachusetts. By measuring the growth patterns of these trees, we can determine if the southern end of the range has been declining, relative to more northern stands of these species.

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