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Scientists & Staff

Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy

Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy

Research Forester
Ecological and Economic Sustainability of the Appalachian Forest in an Era of Globalization
P.O. Box 404
Parsons, West Virginia 26287
Phone: 304-478-2000 x114

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Current Research

  • Fire regimes of the central Appalachians
  • Central Appalachian silviculture
  • Fire as a silvicultural tool in oak forests
  • Witness trees of the Monongahela National Forest
  • Red spruce recovery and restoration

Research Interests

I hope to continue to work at two scales, stand and landscape, as I build a body of work that includes both traditional silviculture and landscape ecology. I am interested in carrying on the long-term silvicultural studies of the Fernow Experimental Forest. I am also interested in the use of prescribed fire as a silvicultural tool to aid in oak regeneration and as a landscape-scale disturbance.

Why This Research is Important

Use of prescribed fire likely to increase and knowledge of fire history will help in determining where to return this disturbance regime.

In a part of the country without the benefit of General Land Office surveys, witness trees represent a snap-shot in time of species distributions. I hope to use the GIS based witness tree database to describe and categorize land-vegetation relationships of the area. Red spruce forests support rare species and are in slow recovery from era of exploitative forestry. Monongahela Forest Plan places emphasis on recovery and restoration of red spruce and spruce-hardwood forests. Research is needed to help define and achieve goals.


  • West Virginia University, Ph.D. Forest Resources Sciences, 2011
  • State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, M.S. resource management/silviculture, 1992
  • Davis and Elkins College, B.S. pre-forestry, 1989

Professional Organizations

  • Society Of American Foresters West Virginia Chapter, Vice Chair (2011 - Current)

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

Roles of Fire, Browse, and Canopy Gaps in the Understory of an Oak-dominated Forest (2014)
Current forests developed under conditions different from original forests, with more deer, less fire, and smaller canopy gaps. The difference resulted in understories dominated by trees that are browse-tolerant, shade-tolerant, and fire sensitive, and also makes it harder for oaks to regenerate in some areas. To help foresters determine management actions, a Forest Service scientist and research partner evaluated how three key processes, understory fire, canopy gaps, and browsing, affected tree species in east-central West Virginia.

Using a Landscape Model for Planning Red Spruce Restoration in West Virginia (2014)
A new Forest Service model was developed to answer specific questions about meeting restoration goals for red spruce while protecting habitat for the Virginia northern flying squirrel. The patch cuts modeled in this experiement were designed to be close to the intended restoration actions. The harvests modeled show that hands-off approaches to threatened or endangered species habitat can delay progress on restoration goals in this red spruce-dominated landscape.

Witness Trees Reveal Where to Restore Fire (2013)
To help land managers make decisions and plan for restoration of oak-dominated forests, witness trees from early surveys were used by a Forest Service scientist as clues to disturbance history. Tree species were categorized into two categories based on fire ecology and spatial interpolation of point data resulted in a usable picture of past disturbance on a complex landscape.

Last updated on : 21-Oct-2016