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100 Faces of Forestry
Joshua Halofsky

Joshua Halofsky

Studying Ecology at Different Scales

Joshua Halofsky, graduate student in the Department of Forest Resources, remembers hiking every summer with his father during his youth. “Since I was 5-years-old, he would take a week off from work, and we’d go camping in the mountains, just the two of us. I think that really spurred my interest in the outdoors,” he says. Josh continued studying the natural environment in high school. “By the time I was a senior, my biology teacher predicted that I’d be an ecologist,” Josh laughs, “I guess my interest was really apparent even back then.”

After completing his undergraduate work at Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in Environmental Science, Josh headed off to Rutgers to earn his M.S. in Geography. At Rutgers, he became interested in the concepts of pattern and processes at fine and broad scales. “It really fascinated me to see how an ecological pattern or process could change depending on my perspective, which in turn could change my interpretation and understanding of the pattern or process.”

Josh’s first landscape-scale research was related to forest fires and the variability within a fire. “When you are on ground, you can see that some individual trees burn while some do not,” he says. “As you get farther and farther from the burn, such as in an airplane above the fire, you lose a lot of that fine-scale information—what you can understand about the landscape changes when you are either looking at it up close or from far away.”

Now working on his doctorate with Professor Bill Ripple, Josh gets a chance to apply his skills in ecology to investigate aspen recruitment and elk predation risk in Yellowstone National Park. Their research is centered on patterns of aspen decline and regeneration in the park and the processes that influenced those patterns. They investigated fire, climate, and other possible causes, including the large numbers of elk that browse the aspen. “The decline in the number of aspen growing in the study area only started to occur during the 1920s— a time when wolves were being exterminated from the park. We have indications of what might be a reversal of that trend only since the mid-1990s, coincident with wolf reintroduction in 1995,” he says. “This is not necessarily conclusive, but in conjunction with other evidence, the results support the idea that elk herbivory changed when wolves disappeared and has begun to change again since wolves were reintroduced.”

Josh will be working for the Washington Department of Natural Resources after his Ph.D. studying how policy decisions and forestry techniques influence the habitat and prey of endangered species. However, he considers the time he spent conducting research in Yellowstone to be extremely important. “I feel like my time in Yellowstone has given me the perspective to look at most ecological interactions on broader scales. I feel pretty lucky that I was able to work there,” he says. “What I love about my current research is that I get to examine interactions between plants and animals, not just patterns of aspen growth, but also how elk and wolves might influence aspen. It’s really great to be able to study the relationships between species.”

Bio of Josh Halofsky written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry

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