If you are interested in pursuing undergraduate or graduate (Masters and PhD) research in one of these thematic areas please contact Christy Briles.  

Research Themes

1) Holocene ecological responses to climate change, human activities, and fire

We are working to understand the history (10,000+ years) of forests and landscapes by examining how biotic and abiotic controls, such as climate change, disturbance, and humans, give rise to and maintain plant community composition and structure. This research helps develop an understanding of how environmental variability at different scales has facilitated the development of plant communities and how to manage ecosystems in the face of future climate change. For example, in northern Vietnam we are  documenting how climate and humans have influenced late Holocene ecosystems and testing hypotheses on the relative impact of agriculture and warfare on burning patterns. In addition, ongoing work in the Klamath Mountains of northern California is examining how environmental gradients (precipitation and topographic) have impacted biodiverse forests and burning patterns during the Holocene.   Besides n. California and Vietnam, we are conducting studies in central and southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.

The paleoecological work provides historical benchmarks for understanding present and predicting future ecosystem conditions, and documents the ecological response to centennial-to-millennial scale climate variability beyond the tree-ring record. For example, the Klamath Mountains  research helps inform debates on the nature of recent fires (i.e. if fire severity and frequency are unprecedented) in northern California and how climate change will impact plants on different substrates. 

2) Palynology and pollen as a geolocation tool
We are interested in methodological questions in palynology that explore how to use pollen as a geolocation tool, arrive at quick and inexpensive species-level identifications of pollen, and quantify pollen production, dispersal and deposition. Every location on Earth has a unique pollen "fingerprint," and through precise identification of pollen and an understanding of phytogeography, we are able to track objects and individuals involved in criminal activities (i.e. forensic palynology) or where items originated.  In addition, we are examining the foraging behavior  and diversity of  bees along an urban-wildland gradient in the greater Denver area. This is part of the CU Denver Urban Bee Project.   

                Studies being conducted include:
    • Characterizing modern pollen and the relationship with modern vegetation in sagebrush and steppe environments of the western US
    • Honey pollen signatures, quality, and truth in labeling  (melissopalynology). 
                CU Denver Urban Bee Project (link)