Department of Biological Sciences

The Cottonwood Ecology Group, established in 1979, is an interdisciplinary research team comprised of scientists from NAU and several other universities across the country. Current research focuses on the development of community and ecosystem genetics using cottonwoods as a model system. These collaborative studies show how communities and ecosystem processes are affected by plant genotype, which is important for understanding community evolution and can help improve environmental restoration.

  • The Cottonwood Ecology Group is currently working with $5.5 million in grants, much of which comes from a National Science Foundation Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) grant and a Bureau of Reclamation grant that emphasizes riparian habitat restoration.
  • The work has contributed to more than 30 graduate degrees and yielded more than 110 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Science, Nature, and Nature Reviews Genetics.
  • More than 200 invited talks and symposia have focused on the group’s research. For the last two years, the National Science Foundation's Office of Emerging Frontiers has featured the group's research as a project that best supports NSF's strategic plan.
  • The group’s work is informing decisions by local land managers seeking to restore habitats and maximize biodiversity. Its investigators have testified at the federal level as part of far-reaching dialogues about the Endangered Species Act and genetically modified food.

Fremont cottonwood is a foundational tree species throughout the Southwest that defines a much larger community of organisms, including microbes, insects, birds, and mammals. In collaboration will the Bureau of Reclamation, the Cottonwood Ecology Group is planting thousands of trees to restore riparian habitat.

Tom Whitham, Principal Investigator
Biological Sciences, Bldg. 21
Box 5640
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5640
Phone: (928) 523-7215
Fax: (928) 523-7500
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