Prospective Students

Please read the information below and contact Michelle directly ( with questions.

Things to consider:  Are we interested in similar questions?  Are we interested in similar approaches?  Is the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University right for you?

1) My research is in ecosystem ecology: the study of element cycling and energy flow between the biotic and abiotic components of the environment. I am generally interested in understanding factors that control the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems. In particular, I am interested in how the suites of physiological and life history traits present in a plant community affect ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and plant productivity, and how changes in plant composition, especially those mediated by disturbance, alter feedbacks between ecosystems and the changing atmosphere. More recently I have become interested in plant-microbe interactions and their dynamics in changing ecosystems.

My lab group is currently doing field work in boreal forest and Arctic tundra of Alaska, at the forest-tundra ecotone in the Russian Arctic, and in the conifer forests of the Colorado Plateau.  Some questions that I am currently excited about:

How do plant-soil interactions interact with climate change to drive shrub expansion in Arctic tundra?  What are the consequences of shrub expansion for carbon cycling feedbacks to climate?  What is the role of plant-microbial symbioses in shrub expansion?  How do interactions among shrubs, microbes, and mosses affect the rate of shrub growth?

How are Arctic and Boreal disturbance regimes changing in response to climate warming? How are these changes altering controls over the carbon cycle?

How do deciduous tree species maintain high levels of net primary productivity in boreal forests?  How do evergreen conifers maintain low levels of productivity?

How important is deep soil nutrient acquisition for plant productivity in Arctic and boreal ecosystems, and how might this change as permafrost warms and thaws?

How much nitrogen and phosphorus resides in permafrost soils, and what determines their fate when permafrost thaws?  When does thaw result in increased nutrient availability to plants, and when does it result in increased nutrient loss?

I am, of course, interested in many other questions, but these are what are at the forefront right now.

2) Please read some of my publications (e.g., Mack and D’Antonio 2003, Mack et al. 2004, Mack et al. 2011) to get a sense of my approach to science. If, after reading these, you are still interested, please contact me and tell me about what type of science makes you most excited, what types of research questions you are interested in, and what experiences have prepared you for graduate school.

3) I take Master’s and Doctoral students through the Department of Biological Sciences.