Student Opportunities

swirlStudents at all stages of their undergraduate and graduate academic pursuits are important contributors to our collaborative, inter-disciplinary research team that investigates plant and ecosystem processes. I encourage students to participate in all elements of research, including study design, data collection and analysis, and research presentation.

Student projects cover an array of topics and generally incorporate both field and laboratory research. Because of the diverse nature of our research, there is a great deal of flexibility in the questions students address (see below). Research may be conducted at several spatial scales, including cellular to ecosystem scales, and in a variety of habitats, from urban to wild.

Forest ecology is an exciting field, growing in relevance as demands for goods and services -- including carbon sequestration and climate protection -- from forests increase. Consider contacting me to discuss how you might get involved in this important area of research. If you would like to learn more about our research, read our BioScience article.




EXAMPLE STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES
:

1) Carbon storage in forests of the future.
Deciduous forests of the upper Midwest are approaching an ecological threshold in which early sswirluccessional dominant trees are reaching maturity and beginning to senesce, giving way to a canopy that is more species diverse and structurally heterogeneous. At the University of Michigan Biological Station, we are combining long-term carbon cycling measurements with a large-scale experimental manipulation to forecast how forest carbon storage will change in response to ongoing succession and disturbance, and to climate variation. Research is supported by grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

2) Forest canopy structure-carbon cycling interactions. Canopy structure, an ecosystem feature that can be broadly characterized using remote sensing technologies, is a well-established determinant of forest carbon storage, with the quantity of canopy leaves a universal predictor of carbon storage that is incorporated into models used to forecast how the forested landscape affects climate. Recent work from a limited number of sites shows that the arrangement of leaves within a volume of canopy may be as influential to forest carbon storage as leaf quantity. Results from these studies suggest that leaf quantity and arrangement provide unique, complementary information about the underlying biological controls on forest carbon storage. Thus, coordinated measurements of both leaf quantity and arrangement within the canopies of a diverse array of forests may lead to substantially improved modeled estimates of carbon storage by the Nation’s forests. In support of this goal, work here uses sites from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to evaluate whether canopy structural complexity, or the spatial variability in leaf arrangement within a canopy, is a global predictor of forest carbon storage within and across sites varying in physical structure, species composition and diversity, and climate.

3) Urban carbon cycling and tree physiology. Human-dominated ecosystems often provide important services, including carbon storage. The cycling of swirlcarbon in these ecosystems depends on complex interactions between humans and their natural environment together with inherent climate and physical gradients across urban landscapes. Projects are ongoing in the Richmond area that examine urban carbon cycling, plant community composition, and tree physiology. A new collaboration with Dr. Rodney Dyer is quantifying urban plant gene flow to surrounding populations outside of the City.

4) Wetland carbon cycling at VCU's Rice Center. Research opportunities are available for students to investigate carbon cycling in a restored wetland at the Rice Center. This work is facilitated by the recent purchase of a meteorological flux tower. The research site (VCU's Rice Center) is in close proximity to VCU.


PAST STUDENT PROJECTS, many of which were award winning or resulted in co-authorship of publications and/or presentations:

Katy Hofmeister; Hampshire College; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: "Mechanisms sustaining high rates of carbon storage in mature forests of Northern Michigan" co-author of presentation and peer-reviewed paper

Hunter Elliott; VCU; Undergraduate researcher; "Lawn soil carbon storage in abandoned residential properties" co-author of peer-reviewed paper

Abby Halperin; Oberlin University; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “Forest canopy heterogeneity and nitrogen availability maintain uptake of atmospheric carbon in a mature forest of the northern Great Lakes" co-author of presentation and peer-reviewed paper

Hunter Elliott; VCU; Undergraduate student; "Lawn soil carbon storage in abandoned residential properties: An examination of ecosystem structure and function following partial human-natural decoupling" co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript

Chris Wood; Ohio State University; Undergraduate student; Research topic: Prairie species and soil fertility effects on ecosystem function. Outstanding Poster Award, Lead author of presentation

Jennifer Herman; Ohio State University; Undergraduate student; Poster title: “Roots in the Prairie: Unraveling the belowground performance of native and non-native plant species in an experimental prairie restoration”. Outstanding Poster Award, Lead author of presentation

Charles Flower; Ohio State University; M.S. recipient; Thesis title: Seasonal carbohydrate allocation in big tooth aspen (Populus grandidentata Michx.) and northern red oak (Quercus rubra L.) from northern lower michigan. co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript

Katie Harrold; Middlebury College; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “Forest management has long-term effects on soil carbon storage”. co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript, co-author of presentation

Kristen George; McCloud University; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “Microbial carbon dioxide flux from organic and mineral soils: Impacts of tree species composition and forest age”. co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript, co-author of presentation

Clare Kazanski; Middlebury College; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “The contribution of coarse woody debris to ecosystem respiration: laboratory measurements”. co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript, co-author of presentation

Laura Nagel; Allegheny College; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “The contribution of coarse woody debris to ecosystem respiration: field measurements”. co-author of peer-reviewed manuscript, co-author of presentation

Suparna Biswas; Ohio State University; M.S. recipient; Thesis title: “Coarse woody debris pools and fluxes in a northern deciduous forest, Michigan, USA”.

Claire Baldeck; Ohio State University; Research Experience for Undergraduates; REU project: “Effects of temperature and moisture on the efflux of carbon dioxide from litter”.

Chris Gough 2015, Updated July 20, 2015 | cmgough@vcu.edu