Carissa Brown

Department of Geography
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's, NL
A1B 3X9

Office: SN 2020
Tel: (709) 864-8981
Fax: (709) 864-3119



Climate and Environmental Change

I am interested in the drivers and controls of the spatial distribution of plant species, particularly trees, under climatic change. As environmental constraints on species’ distributions lessen with warming temperatures in northern ecosystems, we expect species to shift their distributions northward and upward (in alpine environments); however, a species’ establishment and persistence is controlled by many factors beyond climate, and I am particularly interested in phenomena beyond direct climate effects that drive species’ distributions.

I combine field experiments with observational studies of demographic patterns and environmental conditions across species’ ranges to test hypotheses on current constraints on the potential for future range expansion. My current research program addresses these hypotheses in three systems. 1) I am testing non-climatic constraints on tree species’ range expansion in temperate forests by reciprocally transplanting soil and seed across an elevational gradient to disentangle climatic versus substrate constraints on the distribution of sugar maple (with Mark Vellend, Université de Sherbrooke). 2) I am investigating the effects of climate-induced shifts in disturbance regimes on ecosystem structure and function in sub-arctic black spruce forests, where climate-induced shifts to the fire regime have resulted in the retraction, rather than expansion, of treeline forests (with Jill Johnstone, University of Saskatchewan). 3) I have spearheaded the Global Treeline Range Expansion Experiment (, a globally distributed experiment, to test the generality of mechanisms driving treeline. I look forward to expanding my research program to include some of the many exciting ecosystems Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer.


Post-doc (2011-13) - Université de Sherbrooke
Ph.D. (2011) - University of Saskatchewan
M.Sc. (2005) - Carleton University
H.B.Sc. (2003) - Lakehead University


Brown, C.D., and Vellend, M. Non-climatic constraints on upper elevational plant species’ range expansion under climate change. Proceedings of Royal Society B in press.

Vellend, M., Srivastava, D., Anderson, K., Brown, C.D., Jankowski, J., Kleynhans, E., Kraft, N., Alathea, L., MacDonald, A., Maclean, J., Myers-Smith, I., Norris, A., Xue, X. Assessing the relative importance of neutral stochasticity in ecological communities. Oikos in press.

Vellend, M., Baeten, L., Myers-Smith, I.H., Elmendorf, S.C., Beauséjour, R., Brown, C.D., De Frenne, P., Verheyen, K., and Wipf, S. 2013. A global meta-analysis reveals no net change in local-scale plant biodiversity over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110: 19456-19459.

De Frenne, P., Rodriguez-Sánchez, F., Coomes, D.A., Baeten, L., Verstraeten, G., Vellend, M., Bernhardt-Römermann, M., Brown, C.D., et al. 2013. Microclimate moderates plant responses to macroclimate warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110: 18561-18565.

Buma, B., Brown, C.D., Donato, D.C., Fontaine, J.B., Johnstone, J.F. 2013. The impacts of changing disturbance regimes on serotinous plant populations and communities. BioScience 63: 866-876.

Vellend, M., Brown, C.D., Kharouba, H.M., McCune, J.L., and Myers-Smith, I.H. 2013. Historical ecology: Using unconventional data sources to test for impacts of global environmental change. American Journal of Botany 100: 1294-1305. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1200503.

Viglas, J.N., Brown, C.D., and Johnstone, J.F. 2013. Age and size effects on seed productivity of northern black spruce. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 43(6), 534-543. doi: 10.1139/cjfr-2013-0022.

Brown, C.D., and Johnstone, J.F. 2012. Once burned, twice shy: Repeat fires reduce seed availability and alter substrate constraints on Picea mariana regeneration. Forest Ecology and Management 266: 34-41. doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2011.11.006.

Brown, C.D., and Johnstone, J.F. 2011. How does increased fire frequency affect carbon loss from fire? A case study in the northern boreal forest. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20(7): 829-837. doi: 10.1071/WF10113.

Brown, C.D. 2010. Treeline retreat? Adding fire to climate change predictions. Arctic 63(4): 488-492.

Brown, C.D. and Boutin, C. 2009. Linking past land use, recent disturbance, and dispersal mechanism to forest composition. Biological Conservation 142(8): 1647-1656. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2009.02.035.

Starzomski, B.M. and Brown, C.D. 2009. Ecology, evolution and genetics join together on Canada's east coast. Biology Letters 5(6): 726-728. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0489.


Department of Geography

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000