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Grad Assistantship in Forest Nutrient Cycling

Ruth Yanai is looking for one more graduate student, MS or PhD, to participate in a large, multi-investigator project on nutrient limitation in northern hardwood forests. Field sites are located at Hubbard Brook, Jeffers Brook, and Bartlett Experimental Forests in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Since 2011, thirteen stands have been receiving N, P, N&P, and control treatments in 0.25-ha plots, and six stands also have a Ca plot. We welcome inquiries from prospective students interested in above- or below-ground questions related to nutrient cycling and tradeoffs involved in multiple resource acquisition. More information on the project can be found at  .

Ideally, students start during the summer to become familiar with the field sites and our research activities. Field experience and the ability to live in a group setting are essential. A field crew blog from previous years is available at  Starting in January 2015 is also a possibility.

In addition to projects in New Hampshire, collaborative opportunities exist for students interested in uncertainty analysis through the QUEST Research Coordination Network. QUEST stands for Quantifying Uncertainty in Ecosystem Studies. More information on QUEST efforts are available at

Funding will consist of a combination of research and teaching assistantships (ability to TA General Chemistry or GIS would be a plus). Prospective students may apply to the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management or the Program in Environmental Science, both at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY.

We appreciate communicating with students as part of the application process.  Prospective students should begin that conversation by requesting the password for Ruth's project materials from Heather Engelman at


Current Projects

MELNHE:  Multiple Element Limitation in Northern Hardwood Ecosystems  (a.k.a. The Shoestring Project)

Ruth Yanai, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Melany Fisk, Miami University Department of Zoology, Oxford, OH; Tim Fahey and Christy Goodale, Cornell University, Ed Rastetter,  Marine Biological Laboratory Ecosystem Center, Woods Hole, MA; Joel Blum. University of Michigan Department of Geological Sciences, Ann Arbor, MI.

Researchers in the Multiple Element Limitation in Northern Hardwood Ecosystems (MELNHE) project are studying N and P acquisition and limitation through a series of nutrient manipulations in northern hardwood forests.  The project has also been known as the Shoestring Project, since work began on it years before it was funded.  The project is currently funded by the NSF under its original title "Co-limitation in Young and Mature Northern Hardwood Forest" and builds upon the former Northern Hardwood Forest Calcium Cycling Project, which established our sites at Bartlett.  

Although temperate forests are generally thought of as N-limited, resource optimization theory predicts that ecosystem productivity should be co-limited by multiple nutrients.  These ideas are represented in the Multi-Element Limitation (MEL) model, developed by Ed Rastetter at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. To test the patterns of resource limitation predicted by MEL, we are conducting nutrient manipulations in three study sites in New Hampshire: the Bartlett Experimental Forest, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, and Jeffers Brook in the White Mountain National Forest.  

At Bartlett, we have three replicate stands of three ages (~20, 30, and > 100 years).  At Hubbard Brook and Jeffers Brook, there are two stands at each site, corresponding to the mid-aged and mature stands at Bartlett (total 13 stands).  In each stand, there are four treatment plots, each 1/4 ha (50 m x 50 m), treated with N (30 kg/ha/yr as NH4NO3), P (10 kg/ha/yr as NaH2PO4), N+P, or control, beginning in spring 2011.  At 5 of the 13 stands, we also have a Ca treatment plot (3500 kg/ha as CaSiO3).  

We are monitoring stem diameter, leaf area, sap flow, foliar chemistry, leaf litter production and chemistry, foliar nutrient resorption, root biomass and production, mycorrhizal associations, soil respiration, heterotrophic respiration, N and P availability, N mineralization, soil phosphatase activity, soil carbon and nitrogen, nutrient uptake capacity of roots, and mineral weathering.

For more information, please visit the MELNHE website.

QUEST RCN:  Quantifying Uncertainty in Ecosystem Studies, an NSF Research Coordination Network

Ruth Yanai, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; John Campbell, Forest Service-Northern Research Station; and Mark Green, Plymouth State University.

Ecosystem nutrient budgets often report values for pools and fluxes without any indication of uncertainty, which makes it difficult to evaluate the significance of findings or make comparisons across systems.  We developed an example of a simple Monte Carlo approach to estimating error in calculating the N content of vegetation at Hubbard Brook, using Excel spreadsheets (Yanai et al. 2010).  We are also calculating uncertainty in precipitation inputs and streamwater outputs of nutrients at Hubbard Brook.  We have a Working Group funded through the LTER Network Office, involving 6 additional sites, and a proposal in to NSF for a Research Coordination Network.  


Read More: 

Yanai, R.D.,  J.J. Battles, A.D. Richardson, E.B. Rastetter,  D.M. Wood, and C. Blodgett.  2010. Estimating uncertainty in ecosystem budget calculations.  Ecosystems 13(2): 239-248. PDF  HTML

Long-Term Ecological Research, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest

Timothy Fahey and Christy Goodale, Cornell University Department of Natural Resources; Ruth Yanai and Myron Mitchell, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Department of Forest and Natural Resources; Melany Fisk, Miami University Department of Zoology; Steven Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund; Joel Blum, University of Michigan Department of Geological Sciences; Scott Bailey, University of New Hampshire and US Forest Service Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest; Andrew Richardson, Harvard University; Chris Johnson and Charley Driscoll, Syracuse University; David Sleeper and Geoff Wilson, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation;  Gene Likens, Gary Lovett, and Peter Groffman, Cary Institute;   John Battles, UC Berkely;   John Campbell and Linda Pardo, US Forest Service; Lynn Christenson, Vassar College;  Mark Green, Plymouth State University; Scott Ollinger and Mary Martin, University of New Hampshire,  Kevin McGuire, University of Vermont; Nick Rodenhouse, Wellesley College, and Pam Templer, Boston University.

The health and productivity of northern forests are affected by disturbances such as acidic deposition and harvesting for energy or forest products.  We believe that interactive mechanisms of nutrient acquisition are crucial for interpreting forest productivity responses to changing nutrient environments.  Our study involves comparing the response of young and mature forests to nitrogen and phosphorus additions at three sites that differ in P availability due to differences in mineralogy of the soil parent material.


Other Sources of Funding

Fellowships may be available to support participation in the National Science Foundation's Graduates in K-12 Education program through the ESF in the High School program ( US students from under-represented groups may be eligible for college and university-wide Diversity Fellowships.

Teaching assistantships are available to support professors teaching undergraduate and graduate courses (

Information about other funding opportunities is posted on the Non-ESF Sources of Funding page.

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