Colin Tucker, Ecosystem Ecologist

    Postdoctoral  Research Ecologist
 Canyonlands Research Station
    Southwest Biological Science Center
    United States Geological Survey

Research Interests

As an ecologist, I study interactions between organisms and their physical and biological environments. At the Canyonlands Research Station, we are analyzing how climate warming and altered precipitation regimes affect the plants, soils and biological soil crusts of the Colorado Plateau and surrounding desert regions. I am focused, in particular, on soil carbon and nitrogen cycles, and how those link plants, soils and the broader climate system. Further, we want to know how we can use restoration approaches to help increase the resilience of ecosystems to a warmer future climate: what types of biological soil crust might improve ecosystem health now and in the future, and how do we get it to regenerate or grow in disturbed areas?

Previously, I worked in the Spatial Ecology Lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as part of a team that is  trying to understand how terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic are responding to ongoing climate change, and the impacts those changes will have on Arctic communities. For my dissertation research in the Program in Ecology at the University of Wyoming, 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

  • Current Projects
    • Adaptive biological soil crust restoration for a warming climate.
    • Measuring and modeling the responses of biological soil crust to climate change.
    • Biophysical controls on soil carbon and nitrogen cycling in drylands.
    • Modeling ecosystem change on the Colorado Plateau.
  • Past 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.
    • 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.