Welcome! We are group of field ecologists that share an interest in understanding forest ecosystems. Specifically, we want to know how and why forests change. Robust, quantitative field studies form the core of our approach. Answering these questions is more than just an interesting academic puzzle. As a result of human enterprise (e.g., pollution, land transformations, biotic additions and losses), many forest ecosystems will experience fundamentally novel changes. In the face of this uncertainty, we need to understand the dynamics well enough to anticipate the likely direction and magnitude of responses.

In practice, we conduct field-based, context-dependent research that informs how real ecosystems respond to a changing environment. A major challenge is accounting for confounding influences when the experimental unit is large (e.g., the whole landscape) and the inferential reference is even larger (e.g., an entire region). Our response is to build robust analytical frameworks informed by careful and often extensive field measurements. We believe that our results must be relevant to resource managers and comprehensible to the public. 


Evaluating the efficiency of environmental monitoring programs

Updated March 2014

In a recent paper (Ecological Impacts, Vol. 39, pp. 94-101), Carrie Levine and colleagues describe methods for analyzing long-term monitoring data to evaluate whether current monitoring programs are as efficient and effective as possible. This can allow researchers to maximize information gained relative to resources required for data collection. In the paper, the authors describe methods for analyzing data from four types of monitoring schemes: long-term records from a single site, one-time surveys at multiple sites, plot-level sampling, and time-series data from multiple sites. Evaluating long-term monitoring data at regular intervals throughout the monitoring program can help researchers determine whether sampling should be reallocated in space or time to optimize the use of financial and human resources.

Read the full text article:

Image: Biscuit Brook, in the Catskill Mountains of NY. Stream chemistry of the brook has been monitored continuously since 1992. Photo courtesy of NYSDEC.

Reconstructing disturbances - new paper in BioScience

Updated February 2014

Figure 3: Long-term ecosystem carbon state in the context of disturbance regimes.

In Reconstructing Disturbances and Their Biogeochemical Consequences over Multiple Timescales, Kendra McLauchlan and colleagues, including John Battles, overview how disturbances are reconstructed using natural records. Here is the abstract:

Ongoing changes in disturbance regimes are predicted to cause acute changes in ecosystem structure and function in the coming decades, but many aspects of these predictions are uncertain. A key challenge is to improve the predictability of postdisturbance biogeochemical trajectories at the ecosystem level. Ecosystem ecologists and paleoecologists have generated complementary data sets about disturbance (type, severity, frequency) and ecosystem response (net primary productivity, nutrient cycling) spanning decadal to millennial timescales. Here, we take the first steps toward a full integration of these data sets by reviewing how disturbances are reconstructed using dendrochronological and sedimentary archives and by summarizing the conceptual frameworks for carbon, nitrogen, and hydrologic responses to disturbances. Key research priorities include further development of paleoecological techniques that reconstruct both disturbances and terrestrial ecosystem dynamics. In addition, mechanistic detail from disturbance experiments, long-term observations, and chronosequences can help increase the understanding of ecosystem resilience.

Read the full text article at BioScience.

Calcium restoration reverses forest decline at Hubbard Brook Updated September 2013

Acid deposition has depleted calcium in forest soils throughout the northeastern US, a pattern tied to forest declines in the region. But through a fifteen year experiment at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest that restores this lost calcium, John Battles and colleagues have shown that forests can recover from the damaging impacts of acid rain. The study compares forest growth and productivity in a pair of watersheds. The experimental addition of more than 40 tons of calcium silicate to one watershed allowed comparison of the forests' responses: the restored forest showed higher aboveground NPP, increased photosynthetic surface area, and a rebound in tree biomass increment. It was also faster to recover from a severe ice storm that affected the area in 1998.

Read the full text article in Environmental Science and Technology Letters
Check out the press announcement from the UC Berkeley News Service
Photo: J. Hornbeck/Hubbard Brook Research Foundation

ca application by helicopter
NH, AJ w/ General Sherman Sierra Nevada Summer Science Updated August 2013
A big "Thank you!" goes out to our summer research assistants, Natalie Holt and Alex Javier. From May through August Natalie and Alex lent their talents to our research crew, completing lab projects throughout the Sierra Nevada at Baker Forest, Blodgett Forest Research Station, and in Sequoia National Park. Leading the work were Carrie Levine, Flora Krivak-Tetley, and Stella Cousins. Joe Battles was also a big help during our studies at Blodgett. Together we measured thousands of trees, mapped forest plots, built snazzy seed traps, dissected snags, compared swimming holes, and much, much, more. Thanks to everyone involved for the hard work! This summer's efforts are sure to keep us busy for months (years?) to come.

NH, AJ in BFRS Shop NH, AJ, SC in Tanoak Costume NH, AJ coring in Sequoia NP
  Hot off the press! Updated March 2013  
In the latest issue of the Journal of Forestry (Vol 110, Issue 8, pg. 448-456), Ruth Yanai, Carrie Levine, Mark Green, and John Campbell describe methods for quantifying uncertainties in forest nutrient pools and fluxes. Nutrient budgets of forest ecosystems have not historically included error analysis, in spite of the importance of uncertainty to interpretation and extrapolation of the results. Uncertainty in ecosystem budgets derives from natural variability, such as spatial and temporal uncertainty, as well as knowledge uncertainty, such as model and analytical errors. For example, in the case of nutrient content of forest biomass, the overall uncertainty would be comprised of measurement uncertainty (variation between plots), analytic uncertainty (detection limits of analytical instruments), within-model uncertainty (error in allometric equations), and between-model uncertainty (choosing which allometric equations to use). This paper uses the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest as an example and describes approaches for quantifying uncertainty in biomass, soils, and hydrologic inputs and outputs. The results suggest that change over time may have less uncertainty than a single measurement if the measures are consistently biased, for example the use of inaccurate allometric equations or soil sampling techniques. These methods can be adapted to many other ecosystems and can have important forest management applications. Identifying the largest uncertainties in nutrient budgets allows us to direct research efforts where the need for information is greatest.


Community Outreach Updated October 2012
In October, the Battles Lab participated in the 2nd Annual STEMposium as a part of the Youth Speaks Inc Life is Living Festival in West Oakland, CA. The purpose of the event was to engage the community at large, with an emphasis on youth, in discussions about how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) impacts their community and can be used to make changes in their community. The event engaged and encouraged youth in STEM research through hands on activities and career exploration, with a special emphasis in areas such as environmental science, urban gardening and agriculture, transportation and urban design. Our exhibit showcased a career as a forest ecologist, with examples of the types of questions we try to answer about the environment. We demonstrated how dendrochronology can be used as a tool to answer environmental questions ranging from climate change, historical disturbances (fire, land slides, hurricanes), to effects of air pollution on forest health. Both kids and adults were fascinated with tree rings and how trees grow, particularly when they got to practice coring a real tree trunk and looking at tree cores under the microscope! We also interacted with educators from local schools, sparking discussion and ideas for classroom activities. Click to learn more about the Life is Living Festival, and the STEMposium.


  The Lab is located on the UC Berkeley Campus, in Hilgard Hall    VIEW INTERACTIVE MAP