Many of the field studies concluded recently or currently in progress seek to answer questions about climate change, nutrient cycling, and improved management strategies for invasive plants, animals, and diseases. Currently, researchers seek to better understand the mechanisms of how the natural world adapts to, or is influenced by, changing conditions and human impacts on ecosystems.
For example, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying processes that lead to the stabilization of carbon in soil columns, thus influencing atmospheric carbon compounds that play a significant role in climate change. With our decreasing ability to use fire as a management tool, both for reasons of air quality and liability, fire ecologists at UC Berkeley are looking at Hopland’s chaparral communities that were subject to either controlled burning or mastication over a decade ago, in an attempt to learn whether there are ways to sustain native plant communities in the absence of fire. Disease ecologists are investigating a species of malaria whose host is the western fence lizard, in order to better understand the dynamic nature of malarial infections. With warming climates in North America, types of malaria (and other tropical diseases that infect humans) are likely to become more prevalent.
Studies involving livestock and crops in recent years often focus on interrelationships between agricultural activities and important natural resource values, such as how grazing affects soils and water quality, how crops can be successfully grown using water-saving irrigation technologies, and under what circumstances changes in plant or insect biodiversity can reduce the likelihood of plant disease or pest outbreaks. Increasingly, such avenues of research require the cooperation of multi-disciplinary teams of scientists conducting work over multiple years in secure research locations.