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) Quaternary ecological responses to climate change, human activities, and fire

We examine how controls in the past, such as climate change, disturbance, substrates, topography and humans, give rise to and maintain plant community composition and structure.  This research helps develop an understanding of how environmental variability has facilitated the development of plant diversity and how to manage ecosystems in the face of future climate change.  Of particular interest is how plant communities respond to abrupt environmental change in the past.  Plant species respond individualistically to climate change, but the nature of the response  is complex and not well known.  The results of these paleoenvironmental studies provide insights that can be used in forest conservation, restoration, and management practices.  Studies currently being conducted include:  
  • Holocene vegetation and fire history of the La Sal (Utah), Sawatch (Colorado) and Klamath (California) Mountains
  • Holocene human-environmental interactions in southeastern Australia and north-coastal Vietnam

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.  Studies currently 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).