Dr. Heather Alexander and M.S. graduate students, Eric Verderber, Aaron White, and Krysten Dick, at the Bahia Grande Unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas.
Dr. Heather D. Alexander
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Disturbance ecology, plant ecology, ecosystem ecology, plant successional dynamics, fire, climate change, flooding, vegetation shifts, carbon cycling, nitrogen cycling, plant-soil-microbial feedbacks
CURRENT RESEARCH: I am interested in understanding how human-driven changes to natural disturbance regimes restructure vegetation communities, and in turn, modify ecosystem-level processes. My research is largely empirical, using manipulative field-based experimental studies and observations across natural gradients. My work to date has focused on three questions:
- How do climate-driven changes to the natural fire regime influence successional dynamics and carbon (C) pools within boreal forests?
- How has fire suppression altered the regeneration capacity of temperate hardwood forests and ecosystem processes such as forest hydrology, nutrient cycling, and decomposition?
- What are the ecological implications of shrub encroachment into coastal prairies, and how resilient are native prairie grasslands following shrub removal?
- What are the major ecological stressors on Tamaulipan thornscrub forest seedlings, and how can alleviation of the stressors influence restoration of these forests?
- How have river diversions and damming changed soil properties and vegetation dynamics in downstream coastal salt marshes?
- How do disturbances to seagrass and mangrove forest habitats influence C cycling and ecological resilience?
My goal is to provide the data necessary for predicting ecosystem response to an ever-changing environment and for guiding restoration and conservation activities aimed at sustaining vital environmental resources.