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Michael Just

Global Change Fellow Alumnus | Plant and Microbial Biology | North Carolina State University

2013 – 2014 Global Change Fellow

Where are they now?

Upon completing a fellowship with Dr. Steve Frank at NCSU, Michael accepted a position with the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.

Statement of purpose:

I am a PhD student under the tutelage of Dr. William Hoffman at North Carolina State University in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. My interests are in applied ecology and I am currently pursuing this interest through fire ecology research in the North Carolina Sandhills. I am interested in working with land managers and conservationists to improve or validate current ecological practices, while anticipating future conditions.

Description of research:

Many of Earth’s ecosystems are shaped by reoccurring disturbances (e.g., floods, wildfire, etc). I study the relationships between fire behavior, climate, and plants. These relationships can be considered a feedback loop, where fire, climate, and plants influence each other. My work is concentrated in transitional areas between savannas and wetlands where these relationships are complex. For example, the savannas maintain a positive feedback loop (promote fire) and conversely, the wetlands maintain a negative feedback loop (inhibit fire). These relationships can be strong, but are not absolute. Alterations to fire behavior might disrupt these relationships and ecosystem changes (e.g., more or less savanna or wetland) may result from modified relationships. I am examining these dynamics to understand their capacity to withstand possible future global changes and to predict their continued ability to shape ecosystem characteristics. My research will contribute to SECSC’s Science Theme 2: Land Use and Land-Cover Change Projections, Task 3: Conduct research on biological responses to changing land use and climate. Both land use and climate changes impact fire behavior and I am developing empirical models to project future savanna-wetland boundaries under changing conditions. My research will also contribute to Science Theme 4: Ecological Research and Modeling, Task 3: Conduct laboratory and field experiments to document ogranismal responses to climate change. My research includes experimental fire return frequencies which can simulate a changing environment and I am monitoring fire, climate, and vegetation responses in an effort understand current conditions and to model future scenarios.

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