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
Welcome to the Dovciak Lab!
Lab surveying understory plants in a northern hardwood forest in New York. Lab retreat in the Adirondacks (left to right): Margaret, Julie, Mike, Martin, Monica, and Mariano (March 2016). Lab reunion at ESA 2015 (left to right): Julie, Jay, Juan Carlos, Monica, Lisa, and Mark.
We are a group of scientists and students from diverse backgrounds with a shared passion for ecology and for plant communities and forest ecosystems. We study how global environmental changes in climate, land-use (including forest management), biogeochemical cycles, ecosystem trophic structure, and invasions of non-native species affect biodiversity and the structure and function of terrestrial plant communities and forested ecosystems. Our goal is to advance ecological theory and to apply it in improving practices in ecosystem management, restoration, and nature conservation. We are interested in conceptual questions rather than particular taxa or ecosystems; consequently, our studies examine diverse plant groups (e.g., trees, herbs, and bryophytes) in varied ecological settings (e.g., temperate conifer and deciduous forests, tropical dry forests, old-fields, and tree-grass ecosystems) and locations (e.g., eastern U.S., Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest; northwestern Mexico; Central Europe). We often study plant-animal interactions to address the effects of animals on plants (e.g., deer herbivory) or the role of plants as a habitat for animals (e.g., ants or reptiles). Our research topics fall within three broad themes:
Global environmental change impact on plant communities
Global changes in climate, land-use, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, and trophic structure can completely reorganize contemporary plant communities and influence virtually all aspects of human existence, including forest and wildlife management, agriculture, and nature conservation. Plant community responses to these ongoing changes are difficult to predict due to (1) non-linear thresholds (tipping points) in plant community responses to their environment, and (2) complex interactions among multiple simultaneous environmental changes. We seek to elucidate both of these aspects of plant community response to environmental change.
Patterns and processes in plant invasions and migrations
Changes in climate or land-use, or introductions of non-native plants, can lead to invasions and spatial spread, or migrations, of plant species across landscapes. While the invading species can significantly alter ecosystem functions and services, we still do not fully understand how the propagule pressure and species traits of the invader interact with the invaded community and environmental heterogeneity to affect the success of an invasion and the rate of subsequent species spread. We seek to clarify how these interactions shape invasions of non-native species and migrations of native species responding to changing climate and land-use.
Forest dynamics, management, and biodiversity
Forests cover ~ 30% of total land area and harbor about two-thirds of all species on Earth, including many rare and threatened species. However, global forest cover has been declining at alarming rates while the proportion of intensively managed forests has grown over time, often with negative effects on biodiversity and ecosystem resilience and stability. Forest management and silvicultural practices can be adjusted to minimize biodiversity loss and restore degraded forest ecosystems. We hope to improve the current understanding of how forest management and silviculture can be adapted to maintain or restore forest ecosystems and their biodiversity under changing environmental conditions. In addition, we often study the drivers of the population dynamics of ecologically and economically important forest species.
Details about our main research projects are here.
Photo by Bruce Breitmeyer.

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