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Geography welcomes Dr. Carissa Brown, Biogeographer
J. Thorburn
Carissa Brown

The Department of Geography is delighted to welcome Dr. Carissa Brown, a plant biogeographer, to Memorial University.

Growing up in Thunder Bay is what first inspired Carissa’s interest in the natural world and forest ecosystems, inspiring her to complete a B.Sc. at Lakehead University and then her M.Sc. at Carleton University in Ottawa. After working in consulting for a year, Carissa started a Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan focusing on treeline dynamics in the Yukon. Just prior to joining our department, Carissa completed a two-year post-doc at l’Université de Sherbrooke in southern Québec.

Carissa was drawn to Memorial for a variety of reasons. “St. John’s is actually pretty similar to Thunder Bay. Both cities are set in a landscape of rocks, trees, and big water,” she explained. “They are both many hours travel from any larger city, and they both have economic ties to shipping, forestry, and fisheries – although some to a greater extent than others in each city. Being from the centre of Canada, I’ve always thought of Newfoundland as a faraway, rugged place with so much potential for adventure. It didn’t take any convincing at all for me to want to start an adventure here myself.”

The research opportunities were another reason Carissa was interested in Memorial. After all, she points out, “where better to study biogeography than on an island” One of Carissa’s research areas is the expansion of more southerly tree species into northern boreal forest stands. “There are several tree species present on the island, and many more on Cape Breton, that have the potential to expand their ranges northward with increasing summer temperatures. The question is: are the non-climatic conditions favourable for their establishment?”

“I am also excited about working in boreal and sub-arctic ecosystems again, as I did during my PhD research in the Yukon,” she explained. Carissa has spearheaded a globally distributed experiment at arctic and alpine treelines around the world called the Global Treeline Range Expansion Experiment (G-TREE). “Currently, researchers from across North America, Europe, Central and South America, Australia, and New Zealand are implementing the field experiment I designed with my collaborators,” noted Carissa. “I am really excited about how this experiment has taken off. You can read more about the research goals and participating sites at treelineresearch.com.”

“In addition to continuing the G-TREE project, I will be initiating a field research program on climate-induced changes to the fire regime in boreal forest stands of Labrador,” continued Carissa. “As summer temperatures increase and the growing season lengthens in Labrador, we expect (and are starting to see) more fire activity. This will have an impact on forest regeneration after fire, which in turn will influence ecosystem structure and function. Black spruce forests are well adapted to fire; however, fires that are too frequent or severe can interrupt their cycle of post-fire regeneration, and boreal forest ecosystems could potentially shift to a new state.”

If this sounds like research that interests you, keep an eye on her web site: carissabrown.wix.com/home. Carissa will be starting her field research program this spring, and she is looking forward to recruiting some graduate students who are excited about how species are responding to climate change! Welcome to the Geography Department, Carissa.

Oct 28th, 2013

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