Scientists & Staff

Brian J. Palik

Research Ecologist
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. 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.

Professional Organizations

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

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: Wednesday, July 11, 2018