No part of the world can be truly understood without a knowledge of its garment of vegetation, for this determines not only the nature of the animal inhabitants but also the occupations of the majority of human beings.
- Ellsworth Huntington
Terrestrial vegetation is one of earth's most vital natural resources. Crops provide food, fiber, and fuel that sustain human life, while native vegetation preserves biodiversity, builds and protects soil, and plays a key role in the water cycle. Human impacts on earth systems are often mediated by vegetation, through land cover conversion, cultivation of crops and transport of organisms around the globe. Besides the obvious value of crops, vegetation can also provide ecosystem services including erosion control, storage and filtration of water, wildlife habitat, and aesthetic appeal. Vegetation also plays a key role in the transfer of material between the atmosphere, soil and water bodies.
Our program focuses on the interactions between vegetation and other critical components of the earth system. Our work ranges from evaluating impacts of crop management on productivity and environmental quality at the field scale to modeling impacts of large-scale land use changes, like deforestation and biofuel production. We also investigate the impacts of global climate change on managed and natural vegetation in our region.