Vikki Rodgers, Babson College – New England Forests and Climate Change

On Babson College Week: Climate change will be alter forests.

Vikki L. Rodgers, associate professor of ecology & environmental science at Babson College, examines how dry seasons in New England will take a toll on certain trees.

Dr. Rodgers joined Babson College in September 2007 and has taught a variety of ecology, botany and environmental science courses. She currently teaches courses in: Case Studies in Ecological Management (NST2020), Economic Botany (SCN3630), and Art & Ecology (ENV4610). Dr. Rodgers received her B.S. in Biology at the University of New Hampshire in 1999 and her Ph.D. in Forest Ecology and Biogeochemistry at Boston University in 2007. Her doctoral research focused on the impacts of invasive plant species on soil nutrient cycling, microbial populations, and native plant communities in forests of New England. She regularly presents her research at national conferences and her work has been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as: BioScience, Journal of Ecology and Oecologia. She was awarded the Deans Award for Teaching Excellence in 2012 and the Faculty Scholarship Award in 2014.

Dr. Rodgers’ research interests are focused on understanding the numerous effects humans are having on various natural ecosystems. She is interested in all aspects of global environmental change, including the effects of climate change, land use change, nitrogen deposition, and the spread of invasive species. In addition, Dr. Rodgers performs pedalogical research to explore effective teaching strategies to engage non-STEM majors in environmental science. She also actively participates in a variety of outreach programs to encourage young women and other underrepresented groups to pursue careers in science.

New England Forests and Climate Change

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Climate change is warming air temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns. Predicting the effects of climate change for individual species and communities is critical for understanding the future state of our forests and the vital ecosystem services humans depend upon. Already, climatic shifts are modifying forest structure and function and have resulted in widespread forest die-back. This leads to questions of which species will be the winners and losers in a future climate changed world.

In my research at the Boston Area Climate Experiment in Waltham, MA we use a fully factorial precipitation by warming field experiment to investigate these changes. Using infrared heaters and polycarbonate roofing slats with adjacent sprinklers we have created four levels of warming crossed with three levels of rainfall manipulation (ambient, 50% reduced rainfall and 50% added rainfall). This unique design allows us to characterize overall ecosystem responses to climate change, as opposed to testing impacts of single step increases.

In my recent research on planted tree seedlings we discovered that the combination of warm and dry conditions suppressed the leaf production of six common New England tree species, and this pattern was strongest in the most productive species, sweet birch and American elm. Interestingly, we found that overall the tree seedlings responded more strongly to the reduced precipitation treatment than to the warming treatment and that added rainfall did little to ameliorate the negative response to the high warming treatment. One species that is likely to lose out in the future is big-toothed aspen, with both warming and reduced precipitation causing significant seedling mortality.

Our results indicate that, in the northeastern US, dry years in a future warmer environment could have damaging effects on the growth capacity of these early secondary successional forests, and this should be included in refining current-generation climate models.

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