Paul Zedler Lab Group Logo of a controlled burn

Paul Zedler

Paul Zedler

Paul Zedler

Professor of Environmental Studies
Associate Director for Research and Education, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Senior Scientist, UW-Madison Arboretum

Contact Information
Phone: 608-265-8018
Email: phzedler@wisc.edu
Office: 115a Science Hall

Address
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Gaylord Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies
550 North Park Street
122 Science Hall
Madison, WI 53706-1491

Research Interests
My research concerns plant community and population ecology, mostly in terrestrial environments. Within this general area I have focused on a variety of specific problems, often involving the response of species to extreme events or stressful habitats. I have a continuing interest in fire ecology especially in mediterranean-climate shrub communities (chaparral, coastal sage scrub, cypress woodland) and more recently, prairie.

Key words:
Ecology of shrublands, forests, prairies, and temporary wetlands; fire ecology; restoration and creation of habitat for endangered species, rare species monitoring; conservation and restoration in agricultural landscapes

My research concerns plant community and population ecology, mostly in terrestrial environments. Within this general area I have focused on a variety of specific problems, often involving the response of species to extreme events or stressful habitats. I have a continuing interest in fire ecology especially in Mediterranean-climate shrub communities (chaparral, coastal sage scrub, cypress woodland) and more recently, prairie. The common thread is a search for understanding ecosystem resilience, and the role of plant life history and community processes in determining it. A special case of this is the study of endangered habitats and species, most notably vernal pools and their endemic flora. These concerns have also involved in a number of monitoring projects that track the change in plant populations. A new interest concerns the preservation and enhancement of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, which may be seen as another aspect of system resilience. As a professor in an institute for environmental studies, I have also been involved in directing interdisciplinary theses that include significant policy and social elements, but always with a connection to issues of the conservation and preservation of natural biodiversity.

I have been interested in fire in natural ecosystems since graduate school days, but my main research on fire and fire effects has focused on Southern California, where massive wildfires in shrub-dominated systems have become more social and economic problems than strictly natural resource issues. As a scientist, I ascribe to the doctrine that adjustments in the social/economic sphere have to be based on a sound understanding of the dynamics of the (more or less) natural systems. Therefore, it is important to understand the physical and biological limits within which solutions must be sought. One important biological limit, not universally recognized by politicians and the general public, is the one which separates solutions which allow the persistence of native ecosystems and those that do not. Putting this in the jargon of the present means finding the limits to the resilience of natural systems with respect to fire.

My present position in the prairie-forest border region allows me to consider the role of fire in systems with some similarities but many significant differences from the semi-arid ecosystems of the West. In the upper Midwest, the issue is not concern about too much fire or the devastation caused to the urban fringe of giant urban centers , but not enough fire to sustain the ecosystems that historically were present. The emphasis then shifts from controlling wildfire to imposing management fires. But there is also conceptual overlap, because many of the schemes for controlling wildfire in the west require consideration of techniques by which management fires might be used to create sustainably, and less explosively flammable ecosystem types. Many believe that in the allegedly halcyon days before European land use patterns were imposed, such natural systems were controlled by frequent benign fires, and the objective is to restore systems that can allow this historical fire regime to be recreated. Working to this objective is much the same as devising a burning management program that will sustain natural biodiversity in the upper Midwest.

My recent teaching has been mostly split between a graduate course in the Land Resources degree program (ES 993) and directing interdisciplinary capstone seminars for undergraduates in the Environmental Studies certificate program (ES 600). Both of these are connected to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. My affiliate status in the Botany Department allows me to accept students in that program. I also can accept students in the Nelson Institute programs of which the land Resources program and the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development program are the most relevant to my research.

My teaching responsibilities in an interdisciplinary institute have stimulated my interest in the general topic of interdisciplinarity and its role in solving environmental problems in general and cological problems in particular. My current views on this subject are presented in a class handout prepared for the ES 993 class.

Zedler, P. H. (in press) Grasslands and fire. In: E. A. Johnson and K. Miyanishi (eds.) Plant Disturbance Ecology: The process and the response. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

ZEDLER, P. H., AND F. C. REGO. 2006. Regimes do fogo e biodiversidade: respostas dos ecossistemas e alternativas de gest"o. In J. S. Pereira, J. Periera, M. C., F. C. Rego, J. M. Neves, and T. P. da Slilva [eds.], Inc├Źndios Florestais em Portugal, 199-227. ISA Press, Lisbon.

ZEDLER, P. H., AND C. BLACK. 2004. Exotic plant invasions in an endemic-rich habitat: The spread of an introduced Australian grass, Agrostis avenacea J. F. Gmel., in California vernal pools. Austral Ecology 29: 537-546.

LUKE, C., P. H. ZEDLER, AND S. SHAPIRO. 2004. Fire management along the wildland-urban interface in southern California: A search for solutions at the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve. Proceedings of the 22nd Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference (2001).

ZEDLER, P. H. 2003. Vernal pools and the concept of isolated wetlands. Wetlands 23: 597-607.

DESIMONE, S. A., AND P. H. ZEDLER. 2001. Do native shrub colonizers of unburned southern California grassland fit generalities for woody colonizers from other regions? Ecological Applications 11: 1101-1111.

KEELEY, J. E., AND P. H. ZEDLER. 1998. Evolution of life histories in pines. In D. M. Richardson [ed.], Ecology and biogeography of Pinus, 219-250. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.