Peter Weisberg named CABNR’s 2013 Researcher of the Year
No one can accuse Dr. Peter Weisberg, an associate professor of Landscape Ecology in CABNR's Natural Resources and Environmental Science department, of being the kind of scientist who never leaves the lab.
Weisberg's research takes him to some of the most spectacular locations in the West, particularly the Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River and the Great Basin, where he and the students he mentors use GIS, remote sensing, landscape simulation models and tree-ring research to reveal historical fire regimes or tree population dynamics. They integrate their field observations with statistical, spatial and dynamic simulation modeling that, alas, often requires work indoors in front of a computer.
"My idea of fun involves spending a lot of time in the landscapes I study, including hiking in the Sierra or Great Basin and rafting through the Grand Canyon," Weisberg says. "But a lot of time is also spent hunched over a computer."
It's that combination of tireless research into how broad landscapes are affected by big forces - from climate change to fire to invasive species - that led to Weisberg being named CABNR's Researcher of the Year for 2012.
"Peter's performance in 2012 is consistent with his performance throughout his career with CABNR," said Mark Walker, the former department chair for the natural resources department.
Weisberg began working at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2003 after what he calls a "long and meandering academic training" that included graduate and postdoctoral stops in Laramie, Wyo., Corvallis, Ore., Ft. Collins, Colo., and Zurich, Switzerland. He earned his B.S. degree in Forest Biology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1992.
His research over the years has ranged from treeline change, fire history and forest dynamics to ecological modeling of ungulate competition and herbivory effects. As the mentor for the Great Basin Landscape Ecology Lab, he's worked with students on historical and contemporary landscape changes in the Great Basin, Sierra Nevada and Mojave Desert, including woodland expansion, invasive species and altered fire regimes. Other projects have examined riparian systems and desert springs, particularly in relation to plant invasions and managed water flows. Other work has led to the development of new methods for managing or monitoring forests, rangelands and riparian systems.
Weisberg stays busy sharing his research findings. In 2012, he was the author or co-author of seven papers and had 11 in press or in review. He was the author or co-author of 14 presentations given at 11 different conferences, and he had 11 active projects with a budget of $1.4 million.
The goal of his Great Basin Landscape Ecology Lab is to better understand the causes and consequences of landscape change, including natural disturbances, effects of anthropogenic land use and climate change, and invasive species. Recent projects include studies on the fire history and ecology of mountain big sagebrush communities; tamarisk invasions along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon; and the effect of climate change and grazing on aspens.
Weisberg and his student Meredith Gosejohan, in collaboration with CABNR professor Laurel Saito and her Master's student Ashton Montrone, are also looking at the effects of livestock and hydrology on Dr. Peter Weisberg collects data in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe ephemeral ponds, called vernal pools, on the Modoc Plateau in Northern California. These vernal pools support highly specialized animal and plant species - such as the slender Orcutt grass, which is considered a threatened species by the federal government. That project utilizes remote photography and geodetic surveys to evaluate the hydrology of the pools.
The Landscape Ecology Lab also has several projects in the Tahoe Basin that are ongoing or recently completed, including an examination of tree crown mortality associated with roads in the Tahoe Basin. This study, in collaboration with CABNR professor Bob Nowak and recently graduated M.S. student Yuanchao Fan, combines remote sensing, GIS data and nearly 25 years of satellite images with data on snowfall and de-icing salt application data to quantify de-icing salt damage and distinguish it from damage from other factors. Another project, completed by former NRES Master's student Jane Van Gunst, has mapped and analyzed patterns of forest mortality for each year across three decades in every 30-m grid cell across the Tahoe Basin.
In addition, Weisberg has served as co-director for the EECB interdisciplinary graduate program, and has graduated two Ph.D. students and 10 M.S. students since coming to UNR in 2003. He's also engaged four undergraduates in summer research through the National Science Foundation's Research for Undergraduate Education program.