PhD Student Receives Graduate Research Innovation Award from the Joint Fire Science Program

Kyra Wolf received a $25,000 Graduate Research Innovation (GRIN) award from the federally-funded Joint Fire Science Program for her proposal titled “Impacts of burn severity, microclimate, and soil properties on initial post-fire tree regeneration.”

Wolf, a PhD student in the Systems Ecology program in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, will use the funding to study how ecosystems change during the first two years following large wildfires that burned across the Lolo National Forest in Montana during the summer of 2017. Specifically, she will examine the role of microclimate and soil conditions in driving changes in tree regeneration after a fire by looking at conifer seedling recruitment and survival.

The goal of the study is to address uncertainties about if and how forests will regenerate after wildfires in the northern Rocky Mountains, a region experiencing increasing fire activity and warmer temperatures in recent decades. Wolf is pursuing the research in collaboration with post-doctoral scientist Kimberley Davis and her graduate advisor, Associate Professor Philip Higuera. She began work in the Lolo Peak Fire and Sunrise Fire burn areas this past summer.  

“The first year after a fire is critical for tree regeneration, because that’s when most tree seedlings establish,” Wolf said. “This is a really fortunate opportunity to take advantage of recent fires near Missoula to better understand what’s happening during those first couple of years.”

Wolf’s work complements her dissertation research as part of the National Science Foundation-funded Big Burns Project, which investigates the relationships and feedbacks among changes in climate, wildfire activity and ecosystems over the past 2,500 years through a unique combination of paleoecological reconstructions and ecosystem modeling.

 “It feels great to work on a really relevant project and have it funded through a competitive award,” Wolf said. “I’m excited to work on research that’s applicable to management challenges and provide data that are useful to land managers tasked with ensuring that trees grow back after wildfires.”

Prior to attending the University of Montana, Wolf graduated from Colorado College in 2016, suma cum laude, with a B.A. in environmental science.