Forest Carbon Resilience

Forests play a pivotal role as carbon cycling and climate change with human activity. In the decades around the turn of the last century, healthy trees in intact forests converted about a quarter of human carbon pollution into new wood and soil. Some of the carbon that forests did not absorb stayed in atmosphere where it enhanced the greenhouse effect and destabilized earth’s climate. Resulting extreme weather in the form of heatwaves, droughts and strong storms stresses trees and has sparked extensive forest dieback. As dead trees decompose, microbes release stored carbon back into earth’s atmosphere. Exactly how will determine whether and when earth’s forest carbon sink becomes a carbon source making climate change even more difficult to manage.

My main areas of research expertise are in forest inventory analysis, wood decay mechanisms and ecological restoration for carbon sequestration. Most of my questions involve developing multilevel statistical models. For more information and relevant citations, see below.

Forest Structure

I examine the causes and consequences of variation in forest structure with climatic gradients using spatial analysis of national forest inventories and stem-mapped forest plots.

Wood Decay

I combine experiments, observations and models to evaluate how wood traits, environments and microrganisms interact to regulate greenhouse gas emissions during wood decay.

Ecological Restoration

I apply insights from basic research on forest structure and function to guide large-scale, experimental habitat restoration for enhanced carbon sequestration.

Multilevel modelling

Datasets that I analyze are complex, so I develop multilevel statistical models. 

Relevant Publications & Grants

Forest Structure

Oberle, B., K. Ogle, A. Zanne, C. Woodall. 2018. When a tree falls: controls on wood decay predict standing dead tree fall and new risks in changing forests. PloS one, 13(5), e0196712.

Oberle, B., A. M. Milo, J. A. Myers, M. F. Walton, D. F. Young, A.E. Zanne. 2016. Direct estimates of downslope deadwood movement over 30 years in a temperature forest illustrate impacts of treefall on forest ecosystem dynamics. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 46: 351-361 doi: 10.1139/cjfr-2015-0348

Osazuwa-Peters, O. L., I. Jimenez, B. Oberle, C. A. Chapman, A. E. Zanne. 2015. Selective logging: Do rates of forest turnover in stems, species composition and functional traits decrease with time since disturbance? – A 45 year perspective. Forest Ecology and Management 357:10-21.

Spasojevic M. J., E. E. Yablon, B. Oberle, J. A. Myers. 2014. Ontogenetic trait variation influences tree community assembly across environmental gradients. Ecosphere 5:129.

Oberle, B., J.B. Grace and J.M. Chase. 2009. Beneath the veil: plant growth form influences the strength of species richness—productivity relationships in forests. Global Ecology and Biogeography 18: 416-425.

“The Tyson Research Center Forest Drought Laboratory: Establishing a Long-term Resource for Linking Climate Change, Extreme Droughts, and Ecosystem Dynamics”, International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability. B. Oberle (co-PI): $43,000

Wood Decay

Oberle, B., Lee, M. R., Myers, J. A., Osazuwa-Peters, O. L., Spasojevic, M. J., Walton, M. L., Young D. F. & Zanne, A. E. 2019. Accurate forest projections require long-term wood decay experiments because trait effects change. In revision, Global Change Biology. ecoevorxiv preprint 10.32942/

Lee, M. R., Powell, J. R., Oberle, B., Cornwell, W. K., Lyons, M., Rigg, J. L., & Zanne, A. E. 2019. Good neighbors aplenty: Fungal endophytes rarely exhibit competitive exclusion patterns across a span of woody habitats. Ecology.

Oberle, B., K. Covey, K. Dunham*, E. J. Hernandez, M. F. Walton, D. F. Young, A.E. Zanne. 2018. Dissecting the effects of diameter on wood decay emphasizes the importance of cross-stem conductivity in Fraxinus americana. Ecosystems 21(1): 85-97 doi 10.1007/s10021-017-0136-x

Zanne, A. E., B. Oberle, K. Dunham, A. Milo, M. Evans, D. Young. 2015. A deteriorating state of affairs: How endogenous and exogenous factors determine plant decay rates. Journal of Ecology 103:1421-1431

“CAREER: Influences of plant traits on wood decomposition rates across scales: From fungal microbe communities to carbon turnover”. U.S. National Science Foundation. B. Oberle (named post-doctoral scholar): $780,000

Ecological Restoration

Oberle, B., J. Beithaupt, A. M. McTigue*, R. Stryker*, M. Cladas, C. Bass, M. Leahy, M. Nell, D. F. Young. Blue carbon dynamics in restored coastal habitats depend on local management goals. In prep.

“Enhancing coastal habitat in the Gulf of Mexico by identifying best practices in mangrove restoration for multiple ecosystem services” B. Oberle (PI). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $294,200.

Multilevel Modelling

Oberle, B., K. Ogle, J. C. Penagos, J. Sweeney and A. Zanne. 2016. A Bayesian model for xylem vessel length accommodates subsampling and reveals skewed distributions in species that dominate more seasonal habitats. Journal of Plant Hydraulics e003 1-17