Human activities have changed the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere, resulting in climate change, loss of precious agricultural lands, pollution of our freshwater resources, and a growing demand for renewable energy. In order to solve current environmental issues, we first need to understand the changing relationships between human actions and our environmental systems. To address these challenges, we have built a highly successful interdisciplinary research program that centers on developing an improved understanding of the linkages between the climate system, land use, biogeochemical cycling, and biology in ecosystems. Our work addresses both theoretical and applied aspects of environmental research, with a strong focus on agricultural systems. Our research encompasses a variety of disciplines including biology, ecosystem ecology, agronomy, atmospheric science, and agricultural systems modeling.
Three of our major research themes:
Numerical modeling of carbon, water, nutrient and energy cycles. We use the Agro-IBIS agroecosystem model (Kucharik, 2003), a comprehensive numerical model of land surface and terrestrial ecosystem processes for global change studies that simulates carbon, water, energy, and nutrient balance for both natural and managed ecosystems, including bioenergy crops like Miscanthus and switchgrass. Agro-IBIS has played a critical role in cutting edge research for predicting the response of natural and managed ecosystems to climate change/variability and land management options to assess tradeoffs between productivity and other ecosystem services. Several national and international research groups have adopted Agro-IBIS in their own research activities.
Biophysical, biogeochemical, and ecological field research. The goal of our field research program is to increase our understanding of coupled carbon, water, nutrient, and energy cycling in restored prairies, grasslands, and croplands across the Midwest U.S. Prof. Kucharik is part of the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative (WBI) and many lab members are part of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) sustainability science team. We study the impacts of alternative crop management to support biofuel production on biogeochemical cycling, water quality, and carbon sequestration. We have also established a diverse network of field study sites across southern Wisconsin with an overall vision to transfer scientific knowledge to fulfill energy policy-making needs, while educating landowners on the benefits of improved land management and conservation of soil resources. This research has created critically needed synergy among (1) ecosystem scientists; (2) farmers, private landowners, conservancies, and special interest groups; (3) energy and utility companies which have a vested economic interest in “carbon-crediting” and trading; and (4) state and local government officials.
Climate change, land use change, and agriculture. We have specifically been involved in research related to the impacts of changing climate and land use on crop phenology, crop production, and coupled biogeochemical and energy cycles. Prof. Kucharik was part of a group of scientists from the UW system and the Wisconsin DNR that formed the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) in 2008. Our goal is to provide a scientific basis for the development of adaptation strategies that would be put into place via public officials, municipalities, farmers, resource managers, and businesses to reduce the risk associated with continued climate change. Our research plays a prominent role in WICCI, as we developed a Wisconsin historical climate dataset for the purposes of quantifying climate change and to support other studies of the impacts of climate change on natural resources, and in particular agroecosystems.