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Scientists & Staff

Ron Zalesny in poplar stand in Po River Valley, Italy.

Ronald S. Zalesny, Jr.

Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist
Institute for Applied Ecosystem Studies: Theory and Application of Scaling Science in Forestry
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, Wisconsin 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1132

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Current Research

I study genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating biomass production of short rotation woody crops (e.g., poplars and willows) grown for phytotechnologies, bioenergy, and fiber.

The provision of ecosystem services associated with these end uses is tightly linked with increasing human population levels at regional, national, and global scales, resulting in the need for such services along the urban to rural continuum that balance community well-being with ecological health and stability. To address this need, I am advancing short rotation woody crop production systems for pollution remediation and renewable energy.

I am developing phytoremediation and other phytotechnologies for ecosystem recovery, remediation, and restoration along the urban to rural continuum

* Phyto-Recurrent Selection: A Method for Selecting Genotypes for Phytotechnologies

* Phytoremediation of Inorganic Contaminants

* Phytoremediation of Organic Contaminants

* Salt Tolerance and Salinity Thresholds of Woody Energy Crops

* Biochar: A Sustainable Soil Amendment

* Reclaiming and Restoring Lands Degraded from Mining

* Freshkills: Landfill to Park Conversion

I am refining silvicultural methods to provide ecosystem services such as optimal biomass productivity of hybrid poplar and willow across variable site and climate conditions

* Carbon Implications of Poplar Energy Crops Throughout the Energy Supply Chain

* Predicting and Mapping Biomass of Poplar Energy Crops

* Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts from Short Rotation Woody Crops

* Optimizing Species Selection and Economic Performance of Woody Crops in the Southeastern, USA

* Economics of Poplar Production in Minnesota, USA

* Siting Poplar Biomass Systems to Increase Productivity and Ecosystem Services

* Water Use Efficiency of Poplars

* Technical Innovations to Enhance Energy Crop Production

* Adventitious Rooting and Early Establishment of Poplar Energy Crops

* Breeding and Selecting Poplar for Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts

* Comprehensive Database of North American Poplar Research Published from 1989 to 2011

In addition to short rotation woody crops, I also study the impacts of changing climates on patterns of tree adaptation in northern coniferous forest ecosystems.

There is a need for long-term conifer management strategies that optimize ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and feedstock production potential of plantations and natural forests. The success of such systems depends upon understanding the linkages among energy, climate, and tree genetics, which are vital for promoting biologically and economically sustainable reforestation, afforestation, and gene conservation.

I am evaluating the resiliency and adaptation potential of northern forest conifers to changing climates, specifically as they relate to growth and yield

* Effects of Climate Change on the Productivity and Ecological Genetics of White Pine

Why This Research is Important

Understanding the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating growth and development of short rotation woody crops supports effective deployment of favorable genotypes that helps: 1) reduce impacts from invasive species, 2) provide energy sources that do not contribute to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and global climate change, and 3) improve ecosystems along the urban to rural continuum through recovery, remediation, and restoration. Overall, the knowledge gained from my research helps growers and researchers increase the success of sustainable woody crop production systems, while providing essential ecosystem services such as clean water and healthy soils.


  • Iowa State University (McNabb Excellence Fellow), Ph.D. Forest Biology (Quantitative Genetics & Tree Improvement), 2003
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, B.S. Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (Forest Resources & Biometrics), 1999

Professional Experience

  • Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    2008 - Current
  • Research Plant Geneticist U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    2003 - 2008
  • McNabb Fellow (Graduate Research Assistant) Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    1999 - 2003
  • Forester U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    1999 - 2003
  • Teaching Assistant Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    2001 - 2001
    Silviculture (Department of Forestry) Field Plot Technique (Department of Agronomy)
  • Forestry Technician U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI
    1995 - 1999
  • Undergraduate Research Assistant University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
    1998 - 1998

Professional Organizations

  • Iufro Working Group 2.08.04 (Physiology And Genetics Of Poplars And Willows), Coordinator (2015 - Current)
  • International Poplar Commission (Fao) Environmental Applications Working Party, International Delegate (2010 - Current)
  • International Phytotechnology Society, Board Member (2007 - Current)
  • Poplar Council of the United States, Steering Committee (2003 - Current)
  • Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Member (2001 - Current)
  • Short Rotation Woody Crops Operations Working Group, Steering Committee (1999 - Current)
  • Xi Sigma Pi, Treasurer (1998 - 2003)
  • Society of American Foresters, Member (1997 - 2003)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Member (2000 - 2001)

Awards & Recognition

  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2015
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2007
    Fiber Production and Bioenergy
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2006
    Environmental Remediation
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 1998

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

Biomass Potential of Poplar Energy Crops in Minnesota and Wisconsin Assessed (2012)
Scientists develop methods to map sites for poplar tree energy crops to enhance productivity and ecosystem services

Environmental and Economic Benefits of Short-Rotation Poplar Energy Crops (2011)
Woody production systems and conversion technologies help maintain healthy forests and ecosystems, create high-paying manufacturing jobs, and meet local/regional energy demands. Poplars are dedicated energy crops that also conserve soil and water, recycle nutrients, and sequester carbon.

Production Costs of Poplar Energy Crops in the Great Lake States (2014)
Short-rotation woody crops have historically been used as feedstocks for energy and fiber, yet their relevance for environmental remediation technologies is becoming equally prominent. Regardless of their end use, knowing the costs associated with producing these crops is essential for maximizing the suite of ecosystem services the trees provide. Northern Research Station scientists developed the first-ever set of enterprise budgets detailing costs of these crops in the Lake States.

Scholars Program Welcomes Youth into the World of Nature (2012)
Alleviating nature deficit disorder in the youth of Wisconsin's Northwoods

Last updated on : 06-Oct-2016