Colin Tucker, Ecosystem Ecologist

Postdoctoral Fellow
    Spatial Ecology Lab
    Institute of Arctic Biology
    University of Alaska Fairbanks

What I do...

As an ecologist, I study interactions between organisms and their physical and biological environments. Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Spatial Ecology Lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Here, I work as part of a team that is  trying to understand how terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic are responding to ongoing climate change. We focus in particular on plant and soil ecology and biogeochemistry. My work analyzes the responses of different plant functional types to fire and permafrost thaw in Alaskan Arctic tundra, and I use the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model to simulate the role of fire and permafrost in structuring plant communities.
For my dissertation research, I studied how plant roots and soil micro-organisms drive the terrestrial carbon cycle. More specifically I quantified winter soil respiration (loss of carbon from the soil) in winter-dominated ecosystems, such as sagebrush steppe and sub-alpine forests, and explored the mechanisms underlying winter soil respiration.

My first, and overarching, research interest is the interaction between a changing climate and terrestrial biogeochemistry and community ecology. The exchange of carbon and nitrogen (and other elements) between plants, soils, atmosphere and water, is highly sensitive to climate, along with being a major factor in climate regulation. I am working to develop and improve methods for integrating data from experimental manipulations and monitoring studies into large scale ecological simulation models. Based on this work, I want to improve the way ecological models are used to inform environmental decision making. 

From a broader perspective, I approach the science of ecology as a tool to help people better manage our interactions with the natural world. Industrialization has resulted in significant degradation of the natural world, upon which we depend for numerous ecosystem services. To provide for our own security, and to act as good stewards of the Earth, we need to explore better ways of using our natural resources.

Research projects

I work with Dr. Eugenie Euskirchen and Dr. Dave McGuire, modeling the responses of Arctic ecosystems to ongoing climate change.
  • Current Projects
    • Modeling the responses of plant functional types to climate change in Alaskan Arctic tundra.
    • Using models to evaluate potential changes in ecosystem services for Alaskan Arctic communities.
  • Past Projects
    • Bayesian data model integration for ecosystem ecology.
    • Process based stable isotope partitioning of ecological processes.
    • Mechanisms of winter soil respiration in cold-dominated ecosystems.
    • Soil microbial ecology in response to variable snowpack in sagebrush steppe.
    • Vegetation surveys of Great Basin, Mojave and Rocky Mountain regions.
    • Plant litter chemistry and plant-plant competition in alpine meadows.
    • The biology of knapweed invasions in the Colorado Front Range.