Scientists & Staff
I pursue research across several themes. My primary research activities as a USDA Climate Hub Fellow with the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub* and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS)** focus on understanding the motivations for and implementation of climate adaptation actions on forests across the Midwest and Northeast region (FS Region 9 footprint). This work is in close collaboration with the Climate Change Response Framework. The Framework aids forest land managers (private, industry, tribal, and local, state, and federal agencies) in understanding the potential effects of climate change impacts relevant to their location, and provides tools to incorporate climate change considerations into on-the-ground management, planning and decision-making activities. Through these collaborations, numerous forest adaptation demonstration projects have been developed within northern forests throughout the Northeastern and Midwest U.S. region. These projects provide a unique collection of adaptation approaches occurring across ownership and forest types, and at a range of spatial scales. This research will provide a synthesis of the climate vulnerabilities and impacts land managers are concerned with and the forest adaptation actions that are implemented within the region. These evaluations will provide valuable linkages between land management goals, and climate change impacts that may affect meeting management goals, the adaptation actions that are currently implemented, as well as how managers are monitoring to determine success in meeting their goals under a changing climate. The lessons learned from this work will be used to improve how NIACS, the Climate Change Response Framework and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub assist stakeholders in making climate-informed decisions in their planning and management, as well as to inform future field research and landscape modeling efforts intended to understand ecological outcomes of adaption approaches.
Other research activities and interests of mine focus on understanding the impacts of land use and climate change in belowground carbon cycling. I study how soil properties, land use and/or plant functional types and impacts of climate change alter belowground processes and change soil carbon stocks. In particular, I am interested in understanding root dynamics across a variety of ecosystem types (agroecosystems, forests, and peatlands), and the consequences of root-soil interactions on carbon storage mechanisms and carbon fluxes within soils.
*The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub, coordinated by NIACS, is part of a USDA network of regional climate hubs dedicated to enhancing climate change adaptation and mitigation activities in agriculture and forestry. The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub has a sectoral-specific focus on forest ecosystems, working to integrate climate change considerations into management planning and activities in forests across the Midwest and Northeast.
**The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) is a highly collaborative institute chartered by public and private organizations and led by the U.S. Forest Service. NIACS synthesizes and delivers research related to climate change science, forest response, and management strategies for adaptation and mitigation to diverse audiences of within the natural resource and forestry communities.
Research InterestsI work on research questions broadly focused on decision-making of climate adaptation and conservation strategies in agricultural and forested landscapes. Additionally, I continue to be interested in the response of roots, soil organic matter pools, and carbon fluxes to both climate change impacts and land use change. I have also recently led research assessing ecosystem mercury pools as a consequence of small-scale artisanal gold mining activities in West Africa.
Past ResearchOntl, T.A., Cambardella, C.A., Schulte, L.A., Kolka, R.K. 2015. Factors influencing soil aggregation and particulate organic matter responses to bioenergy crops across a topographic gradient. Geoderma 255:1─11. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.04.016.
Ontl, T.A., Hofmockel, K.S., Cambardella, C.A., Schulte, L.A., Kolka, R.K. 2013. Topographic and soil influences on root productivity of three bioenergy crops. New Phytologist 199:727─737. doi: 10.1111/nph.12302.
Schulte, L.A., Ontl, T.A., Larsen, GLD. 2013. Biofuels and Biodiversity, Wildlife Habitat Restoration, In: Levin, S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2nd edition, Volume 1, pp.540-551. Academic Press, Waltham, MA.
Ontl, T.A., Schulte, L.A. 2012. Soil carbon storage. Nature Education Knowledge 3(7):22.
Why This Research is ImportantClimate change is anticipated to have variable impacts on both ecosystem structure and functioning, and ultimately to land manager's abilities to meet management goals. There is a clear need to deliver information on climate change impacts to inform management decisions. As adaptation tactics become integrated into land management, it is critical to understand how the contexts of spatial scale, ecosystem type, and land ownership patterns affect the translation of the science on climate impacts into informed climate-smart decisions for on-the-ground management. Although less applied in nature, studies on belowground processes and impacts on soil carbon stocks are necessary for understanding the processes related to the functioning of ecosystems and how they are influenced by human activities. Globally there is over four times as much carbon stored in soils compared to the atmosphere. Understanding how human actions and changes in climate impact that stored carbon has important consequences for greenhouse gas levels into the future.
- Iowa State University, Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2013
- Colorado State University, M.S. Rangeland Ecosystem Science , 2006
- University of Iowa, B.S. Microbiology (with Honors), 1996
- Post-doctoral Fellow, Michigan Technological University 2013 - 2015
- Ecological Society of America
- Soil Science Society of America
Emil Truog Soil Science Award Committee; Francis and Evelyn Clark Soil Biology Scholarship Committee
Awards & Recognition
- Fellow, USDA Climate Hub, 2016
- Research Excellence Award, Iowa State University, 2013 For outstanding graduate research accomplishments
- J.N. "Ding" Darling-Sherry Fisher Award, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation , 2013 For excellence in science communication
- Fellow, Plant Sciences Institute, Iowa State University, 2008
- Fellow, College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University , 2004
Publications & Products
- Swanston, Chris; Brandt, Leslie A.; Janowiak, Maria K.; Handler, Stephen D.; Butler-Leopold, Patricia; Iverson, Louis; Thompson, Frank R.; Ontl, Todd A.; Shannon, P. Danielle. 2018. Vulnerability of forests of the Midwest and Northeast United States to climate change. Climatic Change. 146(1-2): 103-116.
- Iversen, Colleen M.; Childs, Joanne; Norby, Richard J.; Ontl, Todd A.; Kolka, Randall K.; Brice, Deanne J.; McFarlane, Karis J.; Hanson, Paul J. 2017. Fine-root growth in a forested bog is seasonally dynamic, but shallowly distributed in nutrient-poor peat. Plant and Soil
- Janowiak, M.; Connelly, W.J.; Dante-Wood, K.; Domke, G.M.; Giardina, C.; Kayler, Z.; Marcinkowski, K.; Ontl, T.; Rodriguez-Franco, C.; Swanston, C.; Woodall, C.W.; Buford, M. 2017. Considering Forest and Grassland Carbon in Land Management. General Technical Report, Washington Office
- Ontl, Todd A.; Swanston, Chris; Brandt, Leslie A.; Butler, Patricia R.; D'Amato, Anthony W.; Handler, Stephen D.; Janowiak, Maria K.; Shannon, P. Danielle. 2017. Adaptation pathways: ecoregion and land ownership influences on climate adaptation decision-making in forest management. Climatic Change
Ontl TA, CA Cambardella, LA Schulte, RK Kolka. 2015. Factors influencing soil aggregation and particulate organic matter responses to bioenergy crops across a topographic gradient. Geoderma 255:1─11. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.04.016.
Ontl TA, KS Hofmockel, CA Cambardella, LA Schulte, RK Kolka. 2013. Topographic and soil influences on root productivity of three bioenergy crops. New Phytologist 199:727─737. doi: 10.1111/nph.12302.
Schulte LA, TA Ontl, GLD Larsen. 2013. Biofuels and Biodiversity, Wildlife Habitat Restoration, In: Levin, S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2nd edition, Volume 1, pp.540-551. Academic Press, Waltham, MA.
Ontl TA, LA Schulte. 2012. Soil carbon storage. Nature Education Knowledge 3(7):22.