Carl Bernacchi's Research Group

line decor
line decor

Our research falls, generally, into the following categories:

Plants and Global Change

Plants are intricately linked with their environment. As humans continue to alter the globe, it is critical to not only understand how plants will respond to global changes but also to find strategies to increase food production in light of these changes. To this end, we study, through in-field manipulation of CO2 and plant canopy temperature, the impact of global changes on physiology, growth, and yield of major food crops. This research occurs at the SoyFACE Research Facility where plants grown under elevated CO2 are exposed to both season-long increases as well as short-duration/high intensity increases in canopy temperatures.

Biogeochemical and Biophysical Interactions Between Plants and their Environment

Plants not only respond to but can make significant impacts on their environment. This coupling between the vegetation and the environment is complex. Our research investigates the complex interactions between vegetation and biogeochemical and biophysical factors associated with ecosystems. The focus on biogeochemical cycles include the role that plants play in ecosystem carbon and water cycles through large-scale field measurements as well as influence of vegetation on other key greenhouse gases. The ecosystems we study include:

  • Land Use Change to Accommodate Bioenergy Feedstocks Significant opportunities exist to replace fossil fuels with alternative and renewable energy sources. One of the many potential opportunities involves using vegetation as a means to produce energy. In the Midwestern U.S., the perennial grasses Miscanthus and Switchgrass have been identified as potentially promising feedstocks. We investigate key differences in ecosystem carbon and water fluxes between these perennial grasses and the tradiational row crops they are replacing. This research is conducted at the University of Illinois Energy Farm.
  • Grazing and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes Management decisions can have a strong influence on fluxes of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide (the three major greenhouse gases). We conduct research on the influence of grazing intensity on fluxes of these GHGs in subtropical pastures in Central Florida at the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center.
  • The interactions between subtropical wetlands and pasture management decisions on greenhouse gas emissions Wetlands are known to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions,. hHowever, little is known about how management decisions in surrounding agricultural fields can influence these fluxes. We conduct research at the plot and ecosystem scale that seeks to quantify the fluxes of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide from subtropical wetlands in Florida at the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center.
  • High Throughput Field Phenotyping of Major Crops

    Recent interest in the research group is beginning to focus on means by which key phenotypic information from plants growing the in the field can be collected in a high-throughput yet inexpensive manner. The focus of our research is linking key physiological measurements using traditional techniques with automated data collection platforms including, but not limited to, ground rovers and UAVs.


    A significant effort in the lab is placed on taking the large datasets collected over a wide range of experiments and integrating this information into mechanistic models. Our modeling ranges over timescales from the second to the century and on spatial scales from the leaf to the Midwest.