Research in the lab has generally been within a group of thematic areas, with individual projects that can be considered under more than one area. Both current projects, and some past project are listed to give the range of work that we do. Our work has usually focused on questions in the northern Great Lake states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, and particularly in forest ecosystems of the northern portions of this region.

Historical Ecology

Historical ecology is an area of ecology that has been coalescing in recent years. In simplest terms, it is research that uses information about the past to understand current systems, and how it may influence future ecosystem states. Historical data can come from written records, pollen, maps, and many others.

Land Use Change

U.S. Public Land Survey:  This is both a major data set used in the lab and the base for much research we have done. Considerable work has gone on over the years creating a digital database of information recorded by the original U.S. government land surveys to systematically divide the land for sale and use. In this region, it occurred from the early to late 1800s. We have created this database for Wisconsin and made use of the data for many studies.

Bordner Survey:  The Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory of the 1930s was another detailed mapping survey, this one a land use inventory. We have digitized part of these maps for the state and are using them in several studies.

Forest Ecosystem Structure, Function, and Management

Our research in this area has focused on field-based studies of differences in structure, function, and diversity in old-growth forests and younger managed forests. Research has included deer and wolves as a part of the forest ecosystem.

“Old-growth project”

Flambeau Forest Experiment




Forest Biomass for Bioenergy

In the last decade there has been an increase in interest of using biomass from both natural forests or plantations for bioenergy use. Our research has investigated the consequences of both more intensive removal of wood from natural stands for biomass and carbon stocks, habitat, as well as greenhouse gas emissions associated with establishing plantations in open lands within the forest northern parts of the region.


Regional forests

Fine wood removals and biomass guidelines

Climate Change

Research has focused on regional questions of habitat, biomass, and carbon change using landscape modeling asking how forests in the region will change under scenarios of changing climate, forest management, and other effects such as disturbances by fire, wind, or insects and pathogens.

USFS regional modeling, carbon, climate change, management

Art, Science, and Climate Change

Forest Habitat modeling in northern Wisconsin

Landscape Ecology

Our lab has a long tradition of research in landscape ecology, addressing questions of the consequences of changes in landscape composition and structure by past and current human use and natural disturbance. Research has examined effects on habitat and wolf population, regional forest change in composition and structure, and consequences for regional carbon sequestration. Projects here bridge a number of the other thematic areas.


LANDIS, now LANDIS-II, is a spatial model of forest change that I began developing in my lab about 1990. The model has evolved and changed through collaborative research with many others, and many funding sources. Currently the model web site and user information are managed by Rob Scheller at Portland State University. We have also incorporated as a non-profit organization to support the model improvement and user training.

John T. Curtis

John Curtis was a Wisconsin forest community ecologist in the 1950s who along with Robert Whittaker in the eastern U.S. defined quantitative forest community ecology, and demonstrated the individualistic behavior of species in relation to environment, as earlier stated by Gleason.