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Fire and ecosystem change

Trees and shrubs have increased in abundance across many of Earth’s semi-arid grasslands over the last several decades. Woody plant encroachment (WPE) has been variously attributed to changes in fire and grazing regimes, climate change, and CO2 fertilization. The degree to which WPE drives changes in soil carbon and nutrient storage and cycling is variable, yet the shift from herbaceous to woody vegetation represents a profound transition in the degree to which biomass pools are stored aboveground versus belowground and the rate at which they turnover. Expansion of conifers into formerly treeless grassland has increased dramatically across much of the Northern Great Plains over the last several decades, but the drivers and ecosystem consequences are poorly understood. To understand climate-fire-vegetation interactions we study plant-soil dynamics, and the effects of wildfire and prescribed burning across grasslands and conifer savannas in in a “hot spot” of WPE in the Northern Great Plains of Montana.  


Recent Publications: 

Gay, J.D*., B. Currey*, K.T. Davis, E.N.J. Brookshire. 2024. Functional attributes of conifers expanding into semi-arid grasslands modulate carbon and nitrogen fluxes in response to prescribed fire. Under review

Wendt, J.A.F.*, D.B. McWethy, G.P. Hempson, E.N.J. Brookshire, S.D. Fuhlendorf. 2023. Past and present biomass consumption by herbivores and fire across productivity gradients in North America. Environmental Research Letters.


Pellegrini, A.F.A., P.B. Reich, S.E. Hobbie, C. Coetsee, B. Wigley, E. February, K. Georgiou, C. Terrer, E. N. J. Brookshire, A. Ahlström, L. Nieradzik, S. Sitch, J. Melton, M. Forrest, F. Li, S. Hantsen, C. Burton, C. Yue, P. Ciais, R.B. Jackson. 2023. Soil carbon storage capacity of drylands under altered fire regimes. Nature Climate Change.


Currey, B., D.B. McWethy, N. Fox, E.N.J. Brookshire. 2022. Large contribution of woody plant expansion to recent vegetative greening of the Northern Great Plains. Journal of Biogeography. doi: 10.1111/jbi.14391

Epstein, K., J. Haggerty, K. Roemer, B. Currey*, H. Duff, J. Gay*, H. Goemann*, S. Loewen, M. Milligan, J.   Wendt*, D. Wood, E.N.J. Brookshire, L. McNew, D. McWethy, P. Stoy, B. Maxwell. 2021. Towards an urgent yet deliberate conservation strategy: sustaining social-ecological systems in rangelands of the Northern Great Plains, Montana. Ecology and Society.

Brookshire, E.N.J, P.C. Stoy, B. Currey, and B. Finney. 2020. The greening of the Northern Great Plains and its biogeochemical precursors. Global Change Biology.  DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15115

Pellegrini, A.F.A., Hobbie, S., Reich, P., Jumpponoen, A, Ismert, K., Brookshire, E.N.J., Caprio, T.,Coetsee, C. and Jackson, R.B. 2020. Repeated fire shifts carbon and nitrogen cycling by changing plant inputs and soil decomposition in multiple ecosystems. Ecological Monographs.  e01409. 10.1002/ecm.1409

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