(530) 902-8135

The John Muir Institute - UC Davis

The Barn - One Shields Ave.

Davis, CA 95616


The UC Davis Malcolm North Lab is an interdisciplanary group consisting of undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. All members share an interest in the ecology of forests in western North America but specialties cover a broad range of topics and use an equally broad suite of methods including common stand exams, genetics, physiology, dendrochronolgy, and GIS. Occasionally, we even dabble in critters that move!


Principal Investigator


Malcolm North CroppedMalcolm North

My general research interests are stand dynamics, disturbance regimes, and ecosystem processes of western coniferous forests. In particular I’ve focused on understanding how disturbance alters forest structure producing changes that propagate through the ecosystems’ processes, food webs and species diversity.






Post-doctoral Scholar


Brian Smithers (Doctoral)


GLORIA Great Basin


I am interested in how tree communities assemble at and above treeline using climate change as a human-timescale proxy for changing environmental conditions.  My work focuses on the “sky island” Basin and Range Mountains of the North American west such as the White Mountains in California where I use plot sampling, experimental common gardens, dendrochronology, and population genetics to study the population dynamics of limber pine and Great Basin bristlecone pine, some of which are the oldest individual living organisms on earth.


I am also the Director of GLORIA Great Basin, an organization that conducts research in alpine environments to study the long-term community effects of climate change on mountains.


Brian’s CV



Smithers, BV, Maxwell, T, da Silva, L. 2017. Proximity effects on water use efficiency in Great Basin sub-alpine forests. (in prep).


Smithers, BV, North, MP. 2018. Germination and survival in limber pine and Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, Great Basin, USA. Ecology (in review).


Smithers, BV, Millar, CI, Latimer, AM, North, MP. 2018. Leap frog in slow motion: Divergent responses of tree species and life stages to climatic warming in Great Basin subalpine forests. Global Change Biology 24:2, DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13881. [PDF}


Smithers, BV. 2017. Soil preferences in germination and survival of limber pine in the Great Basin White Mountains. Forests 11:8, DOI: 10.3390/f8110423. [PDF]


Smithers, BV. 2017. Mechanisms of range shift in in Great Basin sub-alpine forests (Doctoral dissertation).


Smithers, BV.  2010. Organic Gardening in Fiji.  Peace Corps, Fiji.


Congdon, BC, Krockenberger, AK, Smithers BV.  2005.  Dual foraging and coordinated provisioning in a tropical Procellariiform, the wedge-tailed shearwater.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 310: 293- 301. [PDF]


Peck, DR. BV Smithers, AK Krockenberger, and BC Congdon.  2004.  Sea surface temperature constrains wedge-tailed shearwater foraging success within breeding seasons. Marine Ecology Progress Series 281: 259-266. [PDF]


Smithers, BV, DR Peck, AK Krockenberger, and BC Congdon.  2003.  Elevated sea-surface temperature, reduced provisioning and reproductive failure of wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.  Marine and Freshwater Research54: 973-977. [PDF]



Current UC Davis Students





Jan Ng (Doctoral)



My research interests stem from work in New England, Southeast Asian, Pacific Northwest, and Sierra Nevada forests. I have developed a fascination with the functional roles of coarse woody debris across systems with varying disturbance regimes, as well as with the patterns and drivers of tree spatial distributions. I am also interested in forest management strategies, and how cultural perceptions of nature influence the ways in which we interact with it. Currently, I am focusing on forest systems in the western United States, namely the Gifford Pinchot in western Washington and the Yosemite area in California.




Michael Koontz (Doctoral)
email: mkoontz@ucdavis.edu
website: http://michaeljkoontz.weebly.com/
orcid: 0000-0002-8276-210X
twitter: @_mikoontz
github: mikoontz
cv: http://michaeljkoontz.weebly.com/cv.html


My dissertation work focuses on how spatial patterns of vegetation affects the resilience of California forests to wildfire and bark beetle disturbance. I borrow techniques from geography (e.g. Google Earth Engine, drone photography), forestry (e.g., stem mapping), and statistics (e.g., hierarchical models, geospatial analyses) to investigate the feedbacks between forest structure and disturbance. I’m also a Board member of GLORIA Great Basin, a regional nonprofit chapter of GLORIA International comprising volunteers and scientists using long-term monitoring to measure vegetation change on mountain summits in the Great Basin region.

In addition to my ecology research, I advocate strongly for human diversity and inclusion in science (via the Graduate Group in Ecology’s Diversity Committee) as well as democratizing data science skills (via teaching introductory courses in programming and reproducible workflows with the Data Carpentry community)

My past work included studying how species distributions may shift under climate warming scenarios, and how multiple introduction events may affect the evolutionary ecology of a colonizing population in a novel environment.




Koontz, Michael J, Meagan F Oldfather, Brett A Melbourne, Ruth A Hufbauer. 2017. Parsing propagule pressure: Number, not size, of introductions drives colonization success in a novel environment. biorXiv.
Preprint: https://doi.org/10.1101/108324
GitHub repository: https://github.com/mikoontz/ppp-establishment
FigShare repository: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.4648865.v1


Oldfather, Meagan F, Matthew N Britton, Prahlad D Papper, Michael J Koontz, Michelle M Halbur, Celeste Dodge, Alan L Flint, Lorriane E Flint, David D Ackerly. 2016. Effects of topoclimatic complexity on the composition of woody plant communities. AoB PLANTS.
Paper: doi:10.1093/aobpla/plw049


Hufbauer, RA, M Szucs, E Kasyon, C Youngberg, MJ Koontz, C Richards, T Tuff, BA Melbourne. 2015. Reply to Wootton and Pfister: The search for general context should include synthesis with laboratory model systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112(44):E5904.
Paper: doi:10.1073/pnas.1517210112


Hufbauer, RA, M Szucs, E Kasyon, C Youngberg, MJ Koontz, C Richards, T Tuff, BA Melbourne. 2015. Three types of rescue can avert extinction in a changing environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112(33):10557-10562.
Paper: doi:10.1073/pnas.1504732112
Data: doi:10.5061/dryad.p96b7


Cole, RJ, CM Litton, MJ Koontz, and RK Loh. 2012. Vegetation recovery 16 years after feral pig removal from a wet Hawaiian forest. Biotropica 44:463-471.
Paper: doi:10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00841.x



Maxwell Odland (Masters)



I’m interested in the effects of prescribed fire and thinning on diversity in fire-dependent western forests. Specifically, how do the differing disturbances that result from different combinations of management actions affect diversity in understory plant communities fine-scale environmental heterogeneity in mixed-conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada?




OJens Stevens. 2015-2016. Post-doc. Studied the effects of canopy disturbance on beta diversity and the consequences of forest fuel management on forest hydrology.


Current Position: Post-doc in the Scott Stephens Labd, UC Berkeley. www.stevensjt.net








Gabrielle Bohlmann. 2015. MS. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Thesis: “Shrub removal in reforested post-fire areas increases plant species richness.”


Present Position: USFS Region 5, Ecology Program.







Mason Earles. 2015. PhD. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Thesis: “Forest carbon and water transport dynamics from physiological to global scales.”



Present Position: Post-doctoral research Yale University and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. www.jmearles.net





Esther with frog in cloud forest

Esther Cole. 2014. Ph.D. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Thesis: “Population dynamics of amphibian species in tropical and temperate latitudes.”


Present Position: Conservation Program Assistant Manager, Land Use and Environmental Planning, Stanford University, CA.




Jamie Photo

Jamie Lydersen. 2011. M.S. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Thesis: “Topographic variation in active-fire forest structure under current climate conditions.”


Present Position: Research and lab Technician, Scott Stephen’s Lab, U.C. Berkeley.





Kip van de Water. 2011. M.S. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Thesis: “Fire regimes, stand structure, fuel loads, and fire behavior in riparian and upland forests.”


Present Position: Fire Planner on the Klamath National Forest.








Matthew Hurteau.  2007.  Ph.D.  University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology. Dissertation:  “The effects of climate change and nitrogen deposition on the Sierran mixed-conifer understory plant community.”


Present Position:  Associate Professor, University of New Mexico.








Becky Wayman in field

Rebecca Wayman.  2005.  M.S. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology.  Thesis:  “Initial response of a Sierran mixed-conifer understory community to burning and thinning restoration treatments.”


Present Position:  Research Scientist, Dept. of Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis.








Marc Meyer.  2004-2006.  Post-doc.  Worked on small mammals, truffles and forest structure associations in Sierran mixed-conifer forests.


Present position: Province Ecologist, Southern Sierra Nevada, USFS.






Brian Oakley.  2003. Ph.D. College of Forest Resources.  University of Washington.  Dissertation:  “An investigation into the ecology and biogeography of the Ceanothus-Frankia symbiosis.”


Present Position: Associate Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University, Pomona, CA.









Agneta Plamboeck. 2002-2004.  Post-doc.  Worked on mycorrhizal networks in Sierran mixed-conifer forests.  University of California, Berkeley.


Present Position: Project Leader, European CBNRE Centre, Umea University









Seth Bigelow.  2001-2005.  Post-doc.  Worked on tree regeneration dynamics in Sierran mixed-conifer forests.


Present Position: Research Scientist, W. Jones Center for Ecological Research.








Rob Fiegener.  2002. M.S. University of California, Davis, Graduate Group in Ecology.  Thesis: “The influence of sampling intensity on the fire history of the Teakettle Experimental Forest, Sierra Nevada, California:  Small fire detection, the composite fire chronology, and fire interval calculation.”


Present position: Program Director for Native Seed Network, Institute for Applied Ecology, Corvallis, OR.




Betsy Lyons.  1998.  M.S. Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA.  Thesis:  “Crown structure and spatial distribution of epiphytes on western hemlock, Wind River, WA.”


Present Position:  Senior Capital Projects Coordinator, Seattle Public Utilities.





Key words: University of California, Davis, UC Davis, Malcolm North Lab, Forest ecology, Fire ecology