Dr. Todd Ontl, Northern Forests Climate Hub Fellow

Current Research 

Todd pursues research across several themes. His primary research activities as a USDA Climate Hub Fellow with the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub* and the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS)** focus on understanding the motivations for and implementation of climate adaptation actions on forests across the Midwest and Northeast region (Forest Service Eastern Region footprint). This work is in close collaboration with the Climate Change Response Framework. The Framework aids forest land managers (private, industry, tribal, and local, state, and federal agencies) in understanding the potential effects of climate change impacts relevant to their location, and provides tools to incorporate climate change considerations into on-the-ground management, planning and decision-making activities.

Through these collaborations, numerous forest adaptation demonstration projects have been developed within northern forests throughout the Northeastern and Midwest U.S. region. These projects provide a unique collection of adaptation approaches occurring across ownership and forest types, and at a range of spatial scales. This research will provide a synthesis of the climate vulnerabilities and impacts land managers are concerned with and the forest adaptation actions that are implemented within the region.  These evaluations will provide valuable linkages between land management goals, and climate change impacts that may affect meeting management goals, the adaptation actions that are currently implemented, as well as how managers are monitoring to determine success in meeting their goals under a changing climate. The lessons learned from this work will be used to improve how NIACS, the Climate Change Response Framework and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub assist stakeholders in making climate-informed decisions in their planning and management, as well as to inform future field research and landscape modeling efforts intended to understand ecological outcomes of adaption approaches. 

Other research activities and interests of focus on understanding the impacts of land use and climate change in belowground carbon cycling. He studies how soil properties, land use and/or plant functional types and impacts of climate change alter belowground processes and change soil carbon stocks. In particular, he is interested in understanding root dynamics across a variety of ecosystem types (agroecosystems, forests, and peatlands), and the consequences of root-soil interactions on carbon storage mechanisms and carbon fluxes within soils. 

  • *The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub, coordinated by NIACS, is part of a USDA network of regional climate hubs dedicated to enhancing climate change adaptation and mitigation activities in agriculture and forestry. The USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub has a sectoral-specific focus on forest ecosystems, working to integrate climate change considerations into management planning and activities in forests across the Midwest and Northeast.
  • **The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) is a highly collaborative institute chartered by public and private organizations and led by the U.S. Forest Service. NIACS synthesizes and delivers research related to climate change science, forest response, and management strategies for adaptation and mitigation to diverse audiences of within the natural resource and forestry communities.
  • Read more about Todd on the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub website.


Featured tools 

Forest management actions are necessary to support maintaining or enhancing the forest carbon sink, which offset about 15 percent of total U.S. fossil fuel emissions. Management actions can be designed to maintain existing carbon stocks or enhance sequestration capacity while providing co-benefits for other sustainable resource management objectives, such as timber supply, wildlife habitat, or water quality. Todd is developing a new tool for forest managers to use in adaptation planning, a menu of adaptation strategies and approaches for forest carbon management. This menu focuses on vegetation management, and is suited for those preparing ecosystems for changing conditions.

Drawing from a large body of scientific literature and designed to be used with the Adaptation Workbook, this new resource will help managers understand and select from a wide variety of climate-informed actions that support carbon mitigation and increase the ability of forests to cope with climate change impacts. It does not provide specific recommendations, but rather serves as a decision-support tool for incorporating adaptation considerations into current management objectives.


Featured work

  • Ontl TA, C Swanston, LA Brandt, PR Butler, AW D’Amato, SD Handler, MK Janowiak, PD Shannon. 2017. Adaptation pathways: Ecoregion and landownership influences on climate adaptation decision making in forest management. Climatic Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-017-1983-3
  • Ontl, T.A., Cambardella, C.A., Schulte, L.A., Kolka, R.K. 2015. Factors influencing soil aggregation and particulate organic matter responses to bioenergy crops across a topographic gradient. Geoderma 255:1?11. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2015.04.016.
  • Ontl, T.A., Hofmockel, K.S., Cambardella, C.A., Schulte, L.A., Kolka, R.K. 2013. Topographic and soil influences on root productivity of three bioenergy crops. New Phytologist 199:727-737. doi: 10.1111/nph.12302.
  • Schulte, L.A., Ontl, T.A., Larsen, GLD. 2013. Biofuels and Biodiversity, Wildlife Habitat Restoration, In: Levin, S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, 2nd edition, Volume 1, pp.540-551. Academic Press, Waltham, MA.
  • Ontl, T.A., Schulte, L.A. 2012. Soil carbon storage. Nature Education Knowledge 3(7):22.