Ryan Kelly Ryan Kelly

Ph.D. Student


I am a Ph. D. student in the Department of Plant Biology interested in quantitative solutions to broad-scale ecological questions. My dissertation project is a paleoecological data-model comparison investigating Holocene variability in the fire regime of the Alaskan boreal forest. In this work, I aim to characterize the long-term drivers and consequences of boreal forest burning, ultimately to constrain projections of ecosystem response to future climate scenarios. Wildfire is a defining characteristic of the boreal forest biome, with important ecological, biogeochemical, and socioeconomic consequences, yet our understanding of how the boreal fire regime can change over decades to centuries is limited because observational records for most of the biome are prohibitively short. I use charcoal particles in lake sediment cores to reconstruct past burning as a supplement to these empirical fire histories, and simulation modeling to elucidate the drivers of inferred fire regime shifts as well as their effects on ecosystem structure and function. Insights from this work are directly relevant to boreal-forest land management, and also have important implications to our understanding of broad-scale earth system processes through the carbon cycle effects associated with boreal forest burning.


Department of
Plant Biology

School of
Integrative Biology

Department of

Program in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

University of Illinois

updated 08/06/2013