Researcher focuses on restoring disturbed ecosystems

Bob Shriver, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, focuses his teaching and research on understanding and predicting how local plant population demographics, such as survival and growth, respond to climate, disturbance and human management.

As part of the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, Shriver’s work centers on restoration ecology, or the practice of restoring ecosystems and habitats damaged and destroyed by human intervention. This fall, he is teaching a course on the principles of restoration ecology and is planning a graduate course in the spring on ecological forecasting. This course will teach students to predict how ecological processes respond to climate change and human management.

In addition to teaching courses, Shriver also conducts research as part of the College’s Experimental Station Unit on barriers to the recovery of plant populations after disturbances. As part of this work, he is investigating how to restore greater sagebrush in the Great Basin region after populations have been disturbed or destroyed by wildfire. He hopes this research will inform new strategies to improve sagebrush restoration outcomes in the region using hands-on research such as testing new planting techniques.

“The College and the Department are thrilled to have Bob on board,” said Claus Tittiger, Acting Department Chair. “He has quickly settled in to build his research and teaching programs, and we are excited about the positive impact he is bringing to NUR.”

Another of his research projects involves predicting where pine and juniper forests will expand into other ecosystems, and how those forests will shift due to climate change. Pine and juniper forests have expanded into lower elevation environments over the past century, particularly in the Great Basin, although climate change may create a tipping point where these forests begin to shrink. With this work, Shriver hopes to identify where these significant ecosystem changes could occur in the future and inform land managers of best practices for managing these changes.

After earning his doctorate in ecology from Duke University, Shriver did postdoctoral research at the US Geological Survey in Arizona, where he began studying rangeland restoration. Additionally, he studied how plant productivity and forage production respond to climatic variations at Utah State University. Throughout his studies, he focused his work on climates and ecosystems in the West.

“I was really interested in staying in the western United States after my postdoctoral studies,” Shriver said. “I chose college because I was able to continue working in the ecosystems I know and love.”

Looking ahead, Shriver plans to continue his teaching and ongoing projects. Most of his future research projects will focus on similar topics, as the environment continues to change with climate change and human disturbances.