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Scientists & Staff

Brian J. Palik

Team Leader / Research Ecologist
Center for Research on Ecosystem Change
1831 Hwy 169 East
Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744
Phone: 218-326-7116

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Current Research

My research has two central themes:

  1. Ecological linkages between upland forests and small streams and wetlands
  2. Understanding spatial and temporal development of structural complexity and its consequences in forests

Both of these themes are addressed primarily through use of operational-scale management experiments designed to be statistically robust, realistic, but also novel in terms of the treatments examined, and inclusive of a large number of response variables. Much of this work is accomplished through close collaboration with university and agency researchers from across the region. My particular research foci include questions related to plant biodiversity and community composition, tree regeneration dynamics, and aboveground productivity. I am interested in tradeoffs between productivity (biomass, volume) and sustainability of other ecological characteristics (e.g., native species diversity and habitat). Ultimately, my interest is in developing and evaluating silvicultural and management approaches that sustain ecological complexity in forests managed for wood production.

Research Interests

  1. Development/refinement of stand-scale forest dynamics models that are robust at predicting growth and yield, structural development, composition, etc., in multi-cohort, mixed species stands.
  2. Collaboration with others from across the Northern Station in an effort to develop a comprehensive regional synthesis of results from our respective long-term silvicultural research.
  3. A cross-regional, multi-location experiment that tests fundamental ideas of silvicultural approaches for optimizing productivity of wood and restoration of stand-scale structural complexity.
  4. Quantification of response curves that relate amount of stand-scale structural features (e.g., snags, old trees, down logs, rare tree species abundance) to ecological indicators of native biological diversity (e.g., songbird abundance, species richness).

Why This Research is Important

Understanding forest ecosystem responses to disturbance is key to developing the knowledge and tools needed to sustain ecological and economic objectives in managed ecosystems and landscapes. Many ecologists believe that sustainability is achieved by using natural disturbance and stand development processes as guides for management approaches. The goal is not to mimic nature directly, or even to closely emulate it. Rather the goal is to develop management approaches that reduce disparities between natural and managed systems in structure, composition, and function. While many organizations are attempting to develop natural disturbance and stand development-based management prescriptions, they have little practical experience in doing so, nor are the research findings available to guide their attempts. My work, particularly through use of operational-scale experiments that involve managers, provides this experience and knowledge.


  • Michigan State University, Department of Forestry, Ph.D. Forest Ecology., 1992
  • Michigan State University, Department of Botany, M.S. Plant Ecology., 1988
  • Alma College, B.S. Biology., 1983
  • Costa Rica, Organization for Tropical Studies, Additional Study Tropical Ecology, 1987

Professional Experience

  • Adjunct Faculty University of Minnesota
  • Adjunct Faculty Iowa State University
  • Adjunct Faculty Michigan Technological University
  • Adjunct Faculty Lakehead University

Professional Organizations

  • Society of American Foresters, Forest Guild
  • Minnesota Forest Resources Council
  • Society of American Foresters (2009 - 2011)
  • Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota
  • National Experimental Forest (2003 - 2009)
  • Ecology, Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Peer Reviewer
  • Journal of Ecology, Peer Reviewer
  • American Midland Naturalist, Peer Reviewer
  • Journal of Vegetation Science, Peer Reviewer
  • Biotropica, Peer Reviewer
  • Forest Ecology and Management, Peer Reviewer
  • Journal of Forest Research, Peer Reviewer
  • Plant Ecology Forest Science, Peer Reviewer
  • Conservation Ecology, Peer Reviewer
  • Landscape Ecology, Peer Reviewer
  • Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research, Peer Reviewer
  • Journal of Forestry, Peer Reviewer
  • Journal of Biogeography, Peer Reviewer
  • Northwest Science, Peer Reviewer
  • New Forests, Peer Reviewer
  • USDA Competitive Grants, Peer Reviewer
  • NSF Competitive Grants, Peer Reviewer
  • British Columbia Forest Service Competitive Grants, Peer Review

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

Building Forests That are Adapted to Drought (2014)
Climate change models predict increased summer droughts throughout much of the United States. Forest Service scientists are showing that silvicultural treatments mitigate against growth losses from drought. The information provides managers with the information needed to adapt forest to a future climate.

Diversity is Key to Restoring Resilience of Iconic Great Lakes Pine Forests (2013)
Mixed-pine forests of the western Great Lakes region contain fewer tree species and fewer age classes than their historical equivalents. Forest Service scientists and their research partners used a functional restoration approach to increase tree diversity and structural complexity in such forests and found that the resulting forests are better able to adapt to uncertain climate and pest threats.

Ecological Limits to Biomass Harvesting (2014)
Removing forest biomass for fuel can provide an alternative to fossil fuels and may mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, but it may change ecosystem functions. Forest Service scientists and their research partners showed that different levels of removal of forest biomass affect soil and tree productivity. The project provides managers with the information needed to prevent or mitigate negative effects of biomass harvesting.

Ecosystem Impacts of Wood Harvests For Biofuel (2013)
Current interest in harvesting typically non-merchantable material for biofuel warrants a closer look at the ecosystem impacts of intensive harvesting. Classic studies of whole-tree harvesting can offer insight into the ecosystem impacts of intenstive harvesting and comparison to ecosystem responses from natural disturbance can put energy-wood harvesting into a contemporary perspective.

Restoring Forest Landscapes (2014)
An estimated 1 billion acres of globally degraded forest are in need of restoration today and climate change likely will drive more acres into the same condition. Global change, climate variability, biotechnology, and synthetic biology pose significant challenges to current restoration paradigms, underscoring the importance of clearly defined goals focused on functional ecosystems. The forest restoration challenge argues for an approach emphasizing functioning landscapes, while understanding the social dimensions of a restoration project is as necessary as understanding the biophysical dimensions.

The Future of Ash Forests in Minnesota (2013)
Ash forests of the Great Lakes region are vulnerable to emerald ash borer (EAB) and climate change. Forest Service scientists are successfully establishing Manchurian ash, an EAB-resistant species, as well as other tree species that are adapted to a warmer climate. The project is providing insight into how managers can transition vulnerable forests to climate-ready forests better adapted to future conditions.

Last updated on : 03-Oct-2016