Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution with a Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Information Science
Dissertation Research: Landscape modeling of anthropogenic influences on fire and forest composition in the Pinelands of New Jersey
Dr. Inga La Puma's research has been to predict the effects of climate change and land use decisions on fire and forest composition in the New Jersey Pinelands, including the potential changes in their biomass storage and carbon sequestration capacities. Studying spatial fire history of the Pinelands, Inga has determined that adjacency to altered land influences fire regimes resulting in forest composition transition from pine to oak forests with implications for forest succession and carbon uptake. She has developed geospatial models that allowed her to assess how carbon uptake is influenced by the interactions of increased temperatures, loss of forest cover and fire regime interactions. Her research addressed mechanisms of regional change with climate implications including human influence, disturbance regimes and forest succession. Model forecasts suggest that combining the human influences of both altered land and climate change will result in rapid succession from pine dominated forests to oak dominated forests in the Pinelands. These modeled forest composition changes can be attributed to a reduction in the area available for wildfire as well as differences in oak versus pine physiology under a changing climate.
Inga's expectation is that in a warming world, her research will inform planners and fire managers with a range of possible outcomes in New Jersey's Pinelands ecosystem; yet it can be valuable to areas beyond New Jersey's Pinelands. I think my research would apply to any area where fire-prone ecosystems are in close proximity to populated areas. New Jersey's Pinelands serve as prime example of a natural area surrounded by dense development. Other 'islands' of natural forested areas could benefit from my methodologies as well as model outputs to assist them in understanding the long- term impacts of land use and climate change best and worst case scenarios on natural disturbance processes through ecological pathways such as forest succession, notes Inga.
In reflecting upon the importance of the Greenberg fellowship to her research, Inga sums it up this way: The flexibility of the Greenberg Fellowship allowed me to balance work and family life so that I could complete my dissertation and be proud of my accomplishments in my professional as well as my personal life. I also feel privileged to have met Phyllis Greenberg and share my research with her first hand. She takes a keen interest in her fellows and I feel that I can carry the title of Greenberg Fellow with pride. If it wasn't for the Greenberg Fellowship, I would never have had the chance to pursue the highly relevant climate change aspect of my project. Forest establishment and growth as well as fire regimes are highly dependent on climate change; therefore adding climate change into my dynamic forest landscape disturbance and succession model improves my predictions for long term forest composition change."
Dr. Inga LaPuma presents results of her research "Fire in the Pines: A Landscape Perspective of Human-Induced Ecological Change in the Pinelands of New Jersey" to the NJ Pinelands Commission staff. Dr. LaPuma's research predicts that increasing CO2 and temperature accelerates the loss of pine cover in favor of oak-dominated systems. A copy of her presentation is available pdf here (7.59 MB) .