Earth, Wind, and Fire: Ecosystem Response to Disturbance, Climate Variability, and Human Impacts

Wed, Feb 20, 12:00 pm
126 Barnard Hall
Speaker Name: 
Dr. Dave McWethy and Graduate Students
Montana State University
Earth Sciences

 Dave McWethy - Assistant Professor, MSU Department of Earth Sciences

My research focuses on how past and present climate variability, natural disturbances and human activities shape the structure and function of ecosystems worldwide. I am particularly interested in identifying the mechanisms responsible for dynamic, disturbance-mediated vegetation transitions that are increasing worldwide. My research involves the analysis and integration of multi-scale records of fire, climate, and vegetation (i.e., lake and peat sediments) across biophysical, environmental and human impact gradients. One of the primary goals of this research is to develop a framework for understanding the vulnerability of ecosystems to shifting fire regimes resulting from rapid climate and land-use change.

Pico Alt (M.S.)


Mio (Pico) Alt, from New York, NY, received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Juilliard School of Music, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University in Environmental Sciences.  She obtained a Master of Science degree from Montana State University working in the paleoecology laboratory with Drs. Cathy Whitlock and David McWethy, where she still currently researches fire and vegetation changes in the Northern Rocky Mountains. 

Nick Kichas (Ph.D.)


Nick Kichas is a Ph.D. student currently in his third year of research at Montana State University. He completed his undergraduate degree in forestry and wildland fire management at Humboldt State University in 2015. His research interests include ecological disturbance (fire, insects, pathogens) and underlying mechanisms influencing tree mortality. He is currently investigating growth-defense relationships for whitebark pine across high-elevation mixed-conifer sites on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana. He is grateful for the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes who have allowed him to conduct this research on their ancestral lands.

John Wendt (Ph.D.)


John Wendt is interested in how herbivore-fire interactions influence long-term ecotone dynamics and associated ecosystem processes. He is working to create new records of past herbivore impacts using biomarker molecules found in lacustrine sediments. John received his B.S. from Colorado State University where he studied Rangeland Ecology and Restoration Ecology. After several seasons of ecological field work, rangeland consulting, and geospatial data development, John joined the MSU Paleoecology Lab in fall 2018.

Peter Billman (M.S.)


Broadly, I am interested in teasing apart the particular mechanisms by which species are responding to contemporary climate change, especially in regard to their distribution and population structures. I earned my Bachelor’s degree here at Montana State University in Fish and Wildlife Ecology in 2016, with a minor in Water Resources, before coming back for my Master’s in Earth Sciences. My current research examines the direct and indirect impact of aridity and other climatic factors on montane mammals that live in fragmented populations, using the American pika (Ochotona princeps) as a model organism.

Shelby Sly (M.S.)


Raised in the mountains of Park City, Utah, Shelby went on to receive her Bachelor's of Science in Geography and Environmental and Sustainability Studies from the University of Utah in 2017. During her time there she worked in the Records of Environment and Disturbance lab under Dr. Andrea Brunelle, using methods like charcoal counting and pollen analysis to investigate past climate change and its links to ancient human populations in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. She is currently a Master's student at MSU under Dr. Dave McWethy in the Paleoecology Lab studying past fire regimes and climatic change at high elevation sites on Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribal lands. 


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