Scientists & Staff

Rakesh Minocha

Rakesh Minocha

Plant Physiologist / Biochemist
271 Mast Road
Durham, NH, 03824
Phone: 603-868-7622

Contact Rakesh Minocha

Current Research

My research is focused on the physiological response of trees to injury, infection, and environmental change. Sources of injury may be obvious such as those from fire, storms, pests, pathogens and human activity. Significant, yet less obvious change in foliar chemistry as well as soil microbial communities may come from perturbations in soil chemistry due to change in environment.

Current research examines:

•I examine wood and foliar metabolism and chemistry (inorganic cations, polyamines, amino acids, soluble proteins, and chlorophyll) at various sites in the Northeastern USA, Europe and Asia. Our goal is to determine relationship and interdependencies between these parameters and data collected on root, soil, and soil solution chemistry collected by our cooperators and collaborators. So far, putrescine, a polyamine, amino acids arginine and proline, and phytochelatins (metabolites that are synthesized to protect plants from heavy metal stress) have shown the potential to be used as early indicators of physiological stress under field conditions.

•The applicability and limitations of dendrochemistry to provide markers of environmental change.

•The effect of environmental pollution on the structure and functions of soil microbial communities.

Research Interests

Trees have complex biochemical mechanisms to detect, respond to, and survive multiple concurrent environmental stresses. Stress has the ability to affect metabolism, and usually the effects of multiple stresses are additive. Many stress-related metabolic pathways are interconnected via common signal transduction pathways many of which use Ca as a second messenger. Stress-related pathways often share and may even compete for common precursor metabolites. Such biochemical interactions mean that changes in cellular levels of one metabolite will have multiple effects on several other metabolites within the same and related pathways. Presently, there are only a few metabolic changes that can be easily measured to monitor stress in forest trees; with the exception of heavy metal stress, none can be used alone as a marker for a specific stress.

The metabolites synthesized or interconverted in response to stress do cost the cells energy that is diverted from productive and growth processes. The primary focus of my research is to delineate the biochemical and physiological basis of stress response and develop early indicators to detect environmental stress in forest trees. Stress detection prior to the appearance of visual symptoms could lead to corrective forest management. The long-term goal of my research is to develop a set of metabolic markers that can be used to monitor health of forest trees by detecting physiological stress. This diagnostic kit should be applicable to all species, across regional, continental and temporal scales in a way blood tests are used for human health.

My research requires collaborative teamwork with a large network of interdisciplinary scientists to assemble the needed data on environmental factors, soil and soil-solution chemistry, growth rates of trees, nutrient cycling, and tree physiology with minimal intrusion and small-scale sample collection. More recently I have also been studying he effects of environmental stress on soil microbial diversity. The goal is to develop models of interactions among the various factors from which accurate inferences can be drawn to propose and test efficient and effective forest management practices.

Why This Research is Important

Stress from mechanical injury, subsequent infection, and environmental change are facts of life for wild, rural, and urban trees. This stress often impacts the diverse goals of forest management, wildlife conservation, high-quality wood products, or the desire for safe and healthy trees in our communities. Maximizing the benefits of trees for forests and communities requires understanding how these goals are linked to tree biology and early detection of tree response to environmental change.

Professional Organizations

  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Ecological Society of America
  • International Society of Environmental Bioindicators

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Minocha, Rakesh; Long, Stephanie; Turlapati, Swathi A.; Fernandez, Ivan. 2018. Dynamic species-specific metabolic changes in the trees exposed to chronic N+S additions at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine, USA. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.

National Research Highlights

Alan Ellsworth (left), U.S. Park Service and Jason Siemion (right), U.S. Geological Survey taking soil samples at one of the twelve intensive sites in set up along the Appalachian Trail corridor. Kenneth Dudzik, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Appalachian Trail Study Fills in the Gaps on Spatial Patterns of Acidic Deposition Effects

Year: 2016

A multiagency and multidisciplinary investigation along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail provided an extensive dataset that filled the gaps in scientists knowledge regarding the spatial patterns of acidic deposition effects on soil, stream water, plant communities, and tree biology.

American elm cuttings growing in the greenhouse. Kathleen Knight, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Elm Disease Resistance Research Gets a Boost

Year: 2016

Great news for disease-tolerant American elm! A grant from The Manton Foundation has provided the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station with an opportunity to accelerate American elm research in collaboration with Nature Conservancy.

Project SMART provides opportunities for students to conduct hands-on research in environmental sciences. Stephanie Meyer, Forest Service

Project SMART: Educating and Motivating Talented High School Students in Math and Science

Year: 2011

Forest Service funding from the Northern Research Station's Civil Rights Diversity Committee's Special Project Funds and Conservation Education's More Kids in the Woods helped 39 students from 11 states and 3 foreign countries attend Project SMART, a 4-week summer institute at the University of New Hampshire. Students participating in Project SMART put science into action through research projects in areas of marine and environmental science, bio- and nanotechnology, and space science.

Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2015