Heidi Asbjornsen

Professor of Ecosystem Ecology

My research interests fall broadly within the disciplines of ecosystem ecology, applied forest ecology, and sustainable agriculture, while encompassing aspects of plant ecophysiology, restoration ecology, ecohydrology, and sustainability science. The overarching question that I seek to address through my research is: What are the key ecological processes that determine an ecosystem's capacity to sustainably provide diverse benefits to society while maintaining resilience to change, and how can these processes be actively reinforced and strengthened through management?   

I am particularly interested in the effects of climate change and land use change on the water cycle, and the linkages between plant-water interactions and nutrient and carbon cycles, in both forest and agricultural systems.  An important component of my research program involves transferring information about ecological processes across scales -- from the individual leaf or whole tree to the ecosystem, watershed, and landscape.  I utilize a variety of approaches and tools to address this question, including stable isotopes of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, plant ecophysiological measurements, long-term monitoring of ecosystem processes, micrometeorology, and modeling. 

Currently active research projects in my lab include: I currently maintain four primary research projects in my lab.  The first involves understanding the ecohydrological impacts, feedbacks, and interactions between climate change, land use, and water-carbon-nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems in the northeastern US and at regional scales.  The second project is examining the biophysical and socioeconomic implications of increasing the production of food, biofuel, and fiber in New England and the potential for balancing the provisioning of multiple ecosystem service with maintaining the resilience and stability of ecosystems to environmental change.  My international research focuses on the ecohydrological impacts of land use and climate change in diverse ecosystems (e.g., montane cloud forests, dry deciduous forests), and assessing the implications for policies such as payments for ecosystem services.  Lastly, I am involved in long-term watershed scale research in the Corn Belt region of the Midwestern US to assess the potential for improving water quality, hydrologic regulation, and other ecosystem services by integrating small amounts of perennial vegetation in strategic locations within rowcrop agriculture.