Soil and atmospheric conditions play a central role in controlling plant and animal physiology, behavior, and distribution, as well as regulating fundamental biogeochemical processes such as water, carbon and nutrient cycling. It is therefore crucial to accurately measure environmental conditions at relevant spatial and temporal scales when examining how variables such as temperature, precipitation and soil moisture drive ecological patterns and processes, and for predicting how climate changes may influence ecosystem structure and function in the future.
Forest canopies are characterized by substantial vertical gradients in light, temperature, wind, and humidity that have substantial impacts on tree performance. Over the years I have installed dozens of automated solar-powered sensor systems to monitor microclimatic conditions at multiple canopy positions from the forest floor to the treetop in both coast redwood and giant sequoia forests. These data are being used to characterize how environmental conditions vary throughout the range of California's redwood forests, to track how conditions change over time, and to help understand how environmental drivers influence coast redwood and giant sequoia tree and canopy structure, physiology, and growth.
I am also currently working on a collaborative project to monitor microclimate and vegetation phenology at field stations with the UC Institute for the Study of Ecological and Evolutionary Climate Impacts and Northern Arizona University. Eighteen sites representing diverse coastal, valley, mountain, and desert ecosystems in California and Arizona have been instrumented with networked wireless data loggers and sensors designed to measure environmental parameters relevant to a wide range of animal and plant species. Each site is instrumented with soil temperature and moisture sensors as well as surface temperature at multiple biologically salient heights, additional sensors to collect data on temperatures of endothermic and ectothermic animal taxa, and automated cameras to record vegetation phenological changes driven by climate change. These data, together with research that uses them, allow us to monitor current and forecast future climate impacts on biotic systems, and to eventually assess historical impacts of climate in and around each of the field stations.