Dovciak Lab in Plant Ecology
State University of New York, College of Environmental Science & Forestry, Syracuse, NY
Department of Environmental and Forest Biology — SUNY ESF — 1 Forestry Drive — Syracuse — NY 13210
What we do
In the Dovciak lab we study how global environmental change affects the structure and function of terrestrial plant communities and ecosystems. We are especially interested in the effects of changes in climate, land use/management, and biogeochemical cycles (e.g., acid deposition) on plant community composition, diversity, and stability. In our research we aim to advance ecological theory and to apply it in improving the current practices in ecosystem management, restoration, and nature conservation. We are interested in conceptual questions rather then particular plant taxonomic groups or ecosystems; consequently, our study objects range from forest trees to herbs to bryophytes and occur in forest or grassland ecosystems ranging from the Pacific Northwest to the Appalachians in the eastern U.S. to the Capathian Mountains in Europe, and from the Adirondacks in the northern U.S. to the Sonora region in Mexico. Our research broadly falls within the three following areas:
Climate forcing in plant communities: Implications for climate change
Global climate change has the potential to completely restructure contemporary plant communities and impact virtually all fields of human existence, including forestry, wildlife management, nature conservation, and agriculture. Current knowledge of plant community relationships to climate stems mostly from static "climate-envelope" studies and it is not sufficient to accurately predict complex responses of plant communities to climate change. Our research suggests that plant communities may exhibit non-linear threshold behaviours as they respond to climate extremes more so than to climate means (Dovciak et al. 2005). In our work, we seek to further elucidate the mechanisms by which climate controls plant communities, with the ultimate goal of improving our ability to predict and adapt to the impacts of global climate change.
Plant invasions & species spread: Mechanisms & patterns
Changes in climate or land-use, or introductions of non-native plants, frequently lead to invasions and spatial spread/migrations of certain plant species across adjacent plant communities. These invasions are of considerable applied and theoretical interest because they can significantly alter ecosystem function and the provision of ecosystem services by invaded communities, as is well documented for some exotic invaders. The potential of a plant population to invade the surrounding community and to spread within it over time, depends on propagule pressure and species traits of the invader, the properties of the invaded community, environmental heterogeneity, and climate variability. Our studies suggest that the spatial pattern and speed of spread depend on subtle interactions rather than on any singular factor (Dovciak et al. 2005, Dovciak et al. 2008). Our goal is to clarify how these interactions may affect climate change induced migrations of plant species and the invasive spread of non-native plants.
Forest dynamics & biodiversity: Management & restoration implications
Forests cover ~ 30% of total land area (FAO 2010) and harbor about two-thirds of all species on earth (World Bank 2004), including many rare and threatened species. However, global forest cover has been declining at alarming rates while the proportion of managed forests has grown in recent decades (FAO 2010). These trends generally have negative impacts on biological diversity and may also negatively affect ecological stability (Dovciak & Halpern 2010). However, the impacts of individual forest management practices vary considerably and it is important to identify those practices that minimize biodiversity loss (Dovciak et al. 2006, Wiezik et al. 2007). Some forest management practices can be used effectively in forest restoration to increase structural and biological diversity for example in dense and homogenous secondary forest stands (Sprugel et al. 2009). In our studies we hope to increase the understanding of the effects of various forest management and restoration approaches on forest plant communities and forest biodiversity. We are also interested in increasing our understanding of the drivers of the population dynamics of ecologically and economically important or rare forest species (e.g., Dovciak et al. 2001, 2003; Alvarez-Yepiz et al. 2011).

Details about our main research projects are here.

Photo by Bruce Breitmeyer.

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