As a leading expert on forest ecology, Christy develops tools essential to understanding how pressures from climate change and human management impact the world around us.
A key member of the Arboretum’s Forest Ecology Lab, Christy studies the causes and consequences of plant community distributions across spatial and temporal scales. Her research focuses on how interactions among climate, disturbance, and community composition influence species distributions and ecosystem functioning through time at individual sites and entire landscapes.
At large scales, climate appears to drive species distribution, but these patterns do not clearly align with the results of individual-based studies of species recruitment, growth, and survival. Christy seeks to develop cohesive, scalable explanations of climate and community assembly through three main areas of research:
- Identifying the key mechanisms and feedbacks involved in the process of community assembly;
- Documenting when and where these processes drive changes in species distributions;
- Quantifying the ecosystem-level consequences of plant community change.
The Forest Ecology Lab focuses on drivers of change in trees and forest ecosystems—particularly the impacts of both natural and human-induced changes in climate, disturbance, and land cover on forest composition and health. Much of this work connects individual tree responses to sub-seasonal events, such as drought or the timing of budburst or fall color, to decadal- or centennial-scale patterns of tree growth, forest community change, and species range limits.
The Lab utilizes a variety of field-based and computational approaches, including citizen science phenology observations, dendrochronology (tree-rings), statistical modeling, and terrestrial ecosystem modeling.