Scientists & Staff

Brian J. Palik

Science Leader for Applied Forest Ecology
1831 Hwy 169 East
Grand Rapids, MN, 55744
Phone: 218-326-7116

Contact Brian J. Palik


Current Research

My research has two central themes:
  1. Adaptating forests to an uncertain climate future
  2. Ecological silviculture based on natural models

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 nation. My particular research foci include questions related to plant biodiversity and community composition, tree regeneration dynamics, and forest 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 function in managed forests.

Research Interests

Specific research interests include:
1. Adaptation approaches for wetland black ash forests in the face of emerald ash borer and climate change
2. Adaptive silviculture for climate change (ASCC) in red pine ecosystems--as part of the national ASCC network
3. Assisted migration of future climate adapted tree species in operational forestry settings
4. Thinning/stocking strategies to mitigate impacts of growing season drought
5. Developing a mechanistic understanding of variable retention harvesting and variable density thinning in red pine ecosystems
6. Formalizing an ecological approach to silviculture

Youngquist, Melissa B.; Eggert, Sue L.; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Palik, Brian J.; Slesak, Robert A. 2017. Potential effects of foundation species loss on wetland communities: A case study of black ash wetlands threatened by emerald ash borer. Wetlands. 37(4): 787-799. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-017-0908-2. ​

Nagel, Linda M.; Palik, Brian J.; Battaglia, Michael A. ; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Guldin, James M.; Swanston, Christopher W.; Janowiak, Maria K.; Powers, Matthew P.; Joyce, Linda A.; Millar, Constance I.; Peterson, David L.; Ganio, Lisa M.; Kirschbaum, Chad; Roske, Molly R. 2017.Adaptive silviculture for climate change: a national experiment in manager-scientist partnerships to apply an adaptation framework. Journal of Forestry. 115. 12 p. http://dx.doi.org/10.5849/jof.16-039

Bottero, Alessandra; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Palik, Brian J.; Bradford, John B.; Fraver, Shawn; Battaglia, Mike A.; Asherin, Lance A.; Bugmann, Harald. 2017. Density-dependent vulnerability of forest ecosystems to drought. Journal of Applied Ecology. 106: 7063-. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.12847.

Palik, Brian J.; Kern, Christel C.; Mitchell, Robert; Pecot, Stephen. 2005. Using spatially variable overstory retention to restore structural and compositional complexity in pine ecosystems. In: Peterson, Charles E.; Maguire, Douglas A., eds. Balancing Ecosystem Values: Innovative Experiments for sustainable Forestry: Proceedings of a Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-635.Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 285-290. 

Palik, Brian J.; D'Amato, Anthony W. 2017. Ecological forestry: Much more than retention harvesting. Journal of Forestry. 115(1): 51-53.

Past Research

Some of my past research efforts include:
1. Quantifying disturbances and regeneration processes in longleaf pine woodlands
2. Multi-scale interactions between seasonal wetlands and upland forests
3. Approaches for sustaining functional riparian forests
4. Quantifying natural disturbance regimes in red pine ecosystems

Why This Research is Important

My research on black ash forest response to emerald ash borer and climate change is novel in the research community, as it uses whole-ecosystem manipulation based on natural forest dynamics, as well as stand-scale emulation of EAB mortality.  It is important because results contribute to guidelines and strategies aimed at pre-emptive management of this vast forest type in the face of these threats.

My work on climate adaptation approaches in red pine forests is novel in the research community globally, because it combines long-term silivcultural experiments with large-scale, whole-ecosystem manipulations to examine a wide range of response variables.  This research is important because results are used to help stakeholders develop expectations and approaches for climate change adaptation.

My work on assisted migration of tree species in operational management experiments is novel globally.  It is important because managers need real world information on species choice and expectations for performance.   

My work on natural forest disturbance and development in both longleaf pine and red pine ecosystems has advanced our fundamental understanding of how these forest work.  This research is important because it contributes to models for ecological silviculture aimed at sustaining ecosystem function in managed forests.

My formulation of an ecological approach to silviculture based on natural models is the first of its kind globally.  It is important because increasingly stakeholders are charged with managing forest for timber in ways that ensure sustainability of ecosystems broadly.

Professional Organizations

  • IUFRO Uneven-Age Silivculture Working Group
  • Society of American Foresters (SAF)
  • The Forest Stewards Guild

Awards & Recognition

  • Forest Service Eastern Region Honor Award, 2017
  • Northern Research Station Technology Transfer Award, 2007
  • Presidential Early Career Award, 1998
  • Chief's Early Career Scientist Award, 1997

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

With loss of black ash, forests get wetter and develop dense herbaceous vegetation, making tree establishment difficult. Brian Palik, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Adapting Black Ash Wetlands to Emerald Ash Borer and Climate Change

Year: 2016

Black ash is a foundational species in the vast wetland forests of the upper Midwest. Loss of black ash from emerald ash borer will profoundly change these forests, while climate change may limit the ability of other tree species to replace black ash. This project is evaluating adaptation strategies designed to keep black ash wetlands in a forested condition in the face of these challenges.

Black ash killed by gridling to simulate EAB mortality.

Assisted Migration of Replacement Tree Species in Black Ash Wetlands

Year: 2015

Black ash is a foundational species of deciduous wetland forests in the western Great Lakes region because of its considerable influence on wetland hydrology and related ecosystem services. Loss of ash trees due to emerald ash borer infestation will profoundly change the function of these ecosystems, while climate change may limit the ability of native trees that co-occur with black ash to replace black ash. Forest Service scientists are assessing various tree species for suitability to replace the ecological role of black ash and that are also adapted to possible future climates.

Harvest for woody biofuels. Anthony D'Amato, University of Minnesota

Ecological Limits to Biomass Harvesting

Year: 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.

In the dry tropical forest zone of Ghana, a combination of extractive logging without adequate regeneration, fire, and invasion by Chomolaena odorata resulted in severly degraded forests. John Stanturg, USDA Forest Service

Restoring Forest Landscapes

Year: 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.

Contrasting low (left) and high (right) stocking in ponderosa pine forest in Taylor Woods, Fort Valley Experimental Forest. Alessandra Bottero, University of Minnesota

Building Forests That are Adapted to Drought

Year: 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.

A structurally complex and diverse red pine forest. Christel Kern, USDA Forest Service

Diversity is Key to Restoring Resilience of Iconic Great Lakes Pine Forests

Year: 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.

An energy-wood harvest on Potlatch Lands in Minnesota. Anthony D'Amato, University of Minnesota

Ecosystem Impacts of Wood Harvests For Biofuel

Year: 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.

Black ash trees girdled to emulate emerald ash borer attack. Brian Palik, USDA Forest Service

The Future of Ash Forests in Minnesota

Year: 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 modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2019