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Center for Resilient Landscapes Fellowships


USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Center for Resilient Landscapes Fellowship Application - 2019


The Center for Resilient Landscapes, a joint venture of the USDA Forest Service (FS) and Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station is pleased to announce this opportunity for summer funding for graduate research. Fellowships will be offered to currently enrolled students interested in exploring research in collaboration with Forest Service scientists and local organizations associated with the project opportunities identified below.

Fellows will be part of a team of faculty and USDA-FS scientists who are studying urban natural resources stewardship and the development of social-ecological system resilience, from short-term recovery, to longer-term restoration, to fundamental system re-organization.  The fellows may be based in New Brunswick, NJ on the Rutgers Cook Campus, in Philadelphia, or in New York City depending on the project. The research and collaborative team is expected to have a regional focus and will develop programmatic linkages throughout (but not limited to) the Silas Little Experimental Forest; the USDA-FS Urban Field Station network; the Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden; and other regional university programs, as opportunity allows. Centrally located between the USDA-FS Urban Field Stations of Philadelphia and New York City, there will be opportunities to form collaborative relationships across and between locations. For this reason, fellows may be required to travel throughout the region. The specifics of different projects will be addressed during the interview process.

Applicants with a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds will be considered, including geography, computational sciences, entomology, ecology, plant pathology, forestry, horticulture, environmental sociology, planning, and natural resource management. The fellowship is a one year program but most of the work is expected to happen during the summer. Fellows are expected to work at the FS Field Stations for 12 weeks, though there is flexibility based on the awardees’ schedule and project.  During the remainder of the year, students will continue any remaining data analysis or writing required to meet their goals (e.g. publication or poster presentation). For most of the projects, fellows will not be required to have a car but they will need to have a valid driver’s license and be able to drive safely.

The fellowships are open to currently enrolled Rutgers graduate students. The fellowship is designed for early-career graduate students to develop their fellowship project in tandem with their thesis or dissertation proposals, as well as offer the opportunity for a late-career graduate student to add another chapter or paper to their CV.

Expectations for Fellows
Exploring – Each fellow should expect to conduct and provide a literature review related to their project.
Researching – Each fellow will develop their own research questions and project within the framework of an existing project. Fellows are expected to spend time at the preferred locations and to attend occasional Field Station team meetings.
Contributing – Each fellow is expected to spend substantial time working with their mentors on data collection or analysis of existing data. This may vary considerably for each project, but most students should expect to spend the majority of the summer working with FS scientists and partners. These interactions will serve as an opportunity for fellows to develop relationships with researchers and practitioners in their area of interest. A project statement, short progress report at end of summer, and continued communication with the CRL team is required to maintain the program web site, in addition to any possible graduate committee or USDA FS team reporting requirements.
Sharing – Develop a poster or oral presentation for use at conferences and Field Station programs, including a CRL Symposium held during the fall of 2019. In addition, we expect each fellow to share the work that they have done either through a regularly maintained blog, twitter feed, webinar, PowerPoint presentation, or paper. We encourage students to try to publish their results and we will help support that if your results lend themselves to publication.

What you can expect from USDA Forest Service and our partners
Funding - $5,000 Fellowship award
Mentoring - Mentorship from Forest Service scientists and help with project visibility and career development. Mentors will also help with developing research questions, finding relevant literature, and communicating your experience and work to others.
Linking - Access to local organizations, community groups, and practitioners

Application Requirements
Applicants must be currently enrolled at Rutgers. Graduate students from any department are welcome and encouraged to apply. Applicants need to submit:

1. A CV or resume.
2. Two letters of recommendation (one of which should be from a faculty member).
3. A statement of interest describing which project you would like to apply for, what you hope to learn from this fellowship, why you are interested in this topic, and how this fellowship fits into your professional or academic goals.
4. A brief description of how you will communicate your work to others (e.g., blog, twitter, presentation, poster, publication) and what kinds of outreach efforts could be applied to the project (e.g., work with high school teachers and students, present at a conference, present at public forum, create a web tool).

Applications will be accepted until February 15, 2019 by e-mail to: Title the subject line as follows: name_ CRL_ application materials.

A selection committee will be convened in late February to develop interviews in March with applicants, the committee, and the relevant research team.


2019 Potential Fellowship Project Opportunities:


Forest Patch Shifts in Philadelphia’s Watershed Parks

Advising: Lara Roman and Vince D’Amico (US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station), Tara Trammell (University of Delaware)

Context: Parks constitute a major portion of urban tree canopy in many cities, therefore any shifts in a given city’s park canopy cover have substantial impacts on tree cover in that city as a whole. In Philadelphia, PA, the Fairmount Park system constitutes nearly one-tenth of the city’s land area, and today holds approximately one-third of the city’s tree cover. Most of that tree cover is in seven watershed parks, which were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s to protect the city’s water supply and create opportunities for recreation. The parks were formed on areas that were formerly agriculture, mills, and estates, with afforestation occurring after the lands became public property. The parks today are a mix of wooded natural areas, lawns for recreation, and cultural institutions.

Our previous research in Philadelphia shows that canopy cover increased considerably in the park system from 1970 to 2010 (net gain +14%), with this jump in tree cover taking place well after the parks were originally established. The increase is potentially due to mowing cessation in lawn areas, and resulting edge expansion of forested patches (i.e., afforestation that was not purposefully guided). Local park staff suggest that mowing cessation was due to budget cuts and limited resources for lawn maintenance. Indeed, forest emergence can produce wooded patches in cities that developed in forested biomes, particularly in times of economic decline: overgrown vacant small lots, estates, and industrial areas can reflect the phenomenon of ‘volunteer’ tree growth on lands where mowing and other intense management stop. Analysis of forest fragment dynamics in the park system therefore holds broader relevance to emergent forest patches across urbanized landscapes.

To better understand the shifts in forested patches within the park system in Philadelphia, we invite a student to join our research team for summer 2019. Specifically, the student would map forested areas of East and West Fairmount Park (the oldest sections of the Fairmount Park System). The other tree cover analysis mentioned above (1970-2010) was based on the random point method of visually interpreting aerial photos, which gives an estimate of tree cover for an area, but not a spatially explicit map depicting forested patches, and associated insights into the geographic extent of patch size and shape. The proposed new analysis would differ in several ways to provide deeper insights into tree cover in the park landscapes. The analysis will involve drawing polygons around forest patches above a minimum area (to be determined based on aerial quality), and potentially going further back in time. The research goals would be to 1) determine the extent of net tree cover change over time, 2) describe how forest patch size and shape changed, and 3) characterize different transition pathways between land cover types (e.g., lawn or agricultural to forested). Ultimately, the intent is for this exercise in East and West Fairmount Park to be replicated in the other parks within the city, and throughout the Delaware Valley region, so the student will be charged with fine-tuning the method for future research. This project would be well-suited to a masters thesis or early dissertation work related to forest succession, afforestation, or urban forestry. There is the potential to hire an undergraduate research assistant to work alongside the Rutgers graduate student, or to join the forest patch mapping with ground-truthing field work to assess successional stage of forest growth. Additionally, depending on student interests, other forms of data could be pursued, such as a small amount of field work to evaluate successional stage and species composition of forest edge environments, or accessing Parks & Recreation records documenting where recent mowing cessation occurred.

Fellow Responsibilities: The student will be tasked with mapping forest fragments in East and West Fairmount Park, including decision-making about the appropriate minimum size threshold for patch size that would be relevant for this analysis (and building on previous research in other cities). The student will then analyze changes in tree cover extent, patch size, and patch shape. GIS skills are essential. The student will coordinate with a research team of ecologists and foresters, and meet with our partners at Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Ideally, the student would be primarily based in Philadelphia, but the work could also be done remotely with trips once per week to the Philadelphia Field Station office (100 N. 20th St., accessible by train from New Brunswick).

Relevant Literature:
Armstrong RP. 2012. Green space in the gritty city: The planning and development of Philadelphia’s park system, 1854-1929. Dissertation, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA.

O’Neil-Dunne JPM. 2011. A report on the City of Philadelphia’s existing and possible tree canopy. University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab.

Ogden LA, et al. In Press. Forest ethnography: An approach to the study of environmental history and political ecology of urban forests. Urban Ecosystems.

Parmehr EG, et al. 2016. Estimation of urban tree canopy cover using random point sampling and remote sensing methods. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 20: 160-171.

Roman LA, et al. 2017. Growing canopy on a college campus: Understanding urban forest change through archival records and aerial photography. Environmental Management 60: 1042-1061.

Zhou Z, et al. 2011. 90 years of forest cover change in an urbanizing watershed: Spatial and temporal dynamics. Landscape Ecology 26: 645-659.


Multi-scalar policies and plans and their influence on urban and urbanized greenspaces

Advising: Michelle Johnson (NYC Urban Field Station), in collaboration with Miranda Mockrin (Baltimore Field Station) and Myla Aronson (Rutgers University)

Context: For this fellowship opportunity, the CRL Fellow would assist with two projects that involve document analysis and GIS mapping of land use policies and plans.

The first project would focus on contributing to a larger research project, Social and ecological drivers of change over time in urban forest patches. This larger Social-Environmental Synthesis Center project Pursuit brings together experts in urban ecology, social science, forest ecology, and remote sensing with managers of urban forest patches. The team is focused on integrating high-resolution, long-term data describing biodiversity and ecological conditions of urban, suburban, and rural forest patches along multiple urban-to-rural gradients with social drivers of forest change, such as management and stewardship actions, land ownership patterns, socioeconomic demographics, housing values, and other urbanization metrics, as well as remotely-sensed indicators of locally-provided ecosystem services like water quality and urban cooling to identify the strength and direction of each driver in contributing to urban forest patch dynamics.

The second project the fellow would contribute to, Rebuilding for resilience: change in green infrastructure following Hurricane Sandy, is examining changing land use policies and greenspace allocation and condition at multiple scales of government for a set of case studies, in response to Hurricane Sandy. In this project, we seek to understand how event-based policy change in housing and land use interact with the amount, condition, and location of green infrastructure in coastal communities. Ultimately, does recovery from disaster create opportunities to enhance green infrastructure and open space? If so, under what conditions do these opportunities emerge? We will draw upon planning documents, expert interviews, and publically available data on housing loss and recovery to examine how disaster recovery (including buyouts) at the local, state, and federal levels contributed to open space and green infrastructure development, across a range of local jurisdictions impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Both projects include an aspect of document analysis. The Fellow’s role in the urban forest patch project would involve gathering and analyzing land use plans and policies to spatialized maps of land use policies and management practices across entire metropolitan areas in up to 4 cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, and Chicago. The Fellow’s role in the Rebuilding for resilience project would include document gathering and analysis, and, potentially, associated land use mapping.

Fellow Responsibilities: The Rutgers CRL Fellow for this project would assist with document gathering, analysis, and GIS mapping. Such tasks would involve social science skills of qualitative coding and content analysis, as well as GIS mapping and analysis skills. The Fellow would be expected to identify their own research question related to one or both of these two research projects. Some travel would be expected to the NYC Urban Field Station in Bayside, Queens, and/or lower Manhattan over the course of the fellowship.

Relevant Literature:
Birkland, TA (2006) Lessons of disaster: Policy change after catastrophic events. Georgetown University Press.
Dow, K. Social dimensions of gradients in urban ecosystems. Urban Ecosystems 4, 255–275 (2000).

Hobbs, E. R. Species richness of urban forest patches and implications for urban landscape diversity. Landscape Ecology 1, 141–152 (1988).

Hunter, A. J. & Luck, G. W. Defining and measuring the social-ecological quality of urban greenspace: a semi-systematic review. Urban Ecosystems 18, 1139–1163 (2015).

Mockrin, MH, S.I. Stewart, P. Alexandre, V. C. Radeloff, Hammer, RB (2015) Adapting after wildfire: recovery from home loss. Society and Natural Resources 28, 839-856.

Nitoslawski, S. A., Duinker, P. N. & Bush, P. G. A review of drivers of tree diversity in suburban areas: Research needs for North American cities. Environ. Rev. 24, 471–483 (2016).

Pais, JF, Elliott, JR (2008) Places as recovery machines: Vulnerability and neighborhood change after major hurricanes. Social Forces 86, 1415-1453.


Testing woody plant adaptation to high soil metal concentrations

Advising: Frank Gallagher (Rutgers), Rich Hallett (USFS), Jason Grabosky (Rutgers)

Context: Novel assemblages often referred to as “urban wildlands” appear to function and be resilient in spite of the environmental stressors associated legacy soils from past industrial activities. They developed unique patterns of species diversity/distribution; models of primary productivity (Gallagher 2008ab, Dahle et. al. 2014); and carbon sequestration (Renninger, et. al. 2012) that are driven by threshold tolerances, as well as develop along nontraditional guild trajectories (Gallagher. 2011). In addition, the ecological risk associated with uptake and transfer of various contaminants appears not to follow traditional biomagnification scenarios (Gallagher et al., 2008a; Qian et al., in review). Vegetative assemblages that naturally occur on sites like these benefit from abiotic selective pressures and are likely to be tolerant of conditions that normally induce plant stress. This project will take advantage of different management histories for two well-known urban brown fields by propagating naturally occurring tree species growing on soils with a high metal load and testing their success on another site with high metal loads. 

In 1995 under contract with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the United States Army Corps of Engineers collected and analyzed soil samples for the 125 priority pollutants (NJDEP 1995), from the abandon rail yard within Liberty State Park (LSP). One composite sample was collected by split spoon from the A and C1 horizons from 98 sampling points. Soil metals were analyzed using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAA). A second soil metal data set was collected in 2005 by NJDEP in 32 of the plots from the 1995 study. Three samples were collected at each plot with a soil borer at a depth of 10 to 25 cm (C1 horizon), the depth of greatest root density (Gallagher et al. 2008a). Sixteen additional sites were used to further define areas of unusually high metal concentrations. A total metal load (TML) index for each study plot in the site (Gallagher et al. 2008b). TML is a rank-sum index based on total soil metal concentration. These data were then kriged to develop a TML map for the entire site. Seven of the sites sampled in 2005, those with established early successional hardwood forest assemblages, were again sampled in 2014/15 to assess changes over the past decade (Salisbury et al., 2017).

These data appear to indicate that the soil’s total metal load exerts a threshold effect on the plant assemblages. Above a certain level productivity and diversity diminish significantly (Gallagher, et. al. 2008) Such findings raise the question, are plant assemblage response to anthropogenic soils site specific or can common trends be identified through the use of a standard metric of soil conditions? 

Freshkills Park (FP) in Staten Island, New York offers a prime opportunity to explore such questions within the same geographic region however having a different industrial history. Fifty-three soil samples were collected in Summer 2014 from randomly selected spots across the site from a sample depth of 0-10 cm. Plant available elements were estimated using a 1.25 M ammonium acetate solution and a mechanical vacuum extractor. A preliminary TML was also created for the site. A comparison of soil metal concentration at both the single element and aggregated levels indicates that both sites have soil metal loads associated with metal induced abiotic stress within postindustrial landscapes.  

Liberty State Park has vegetative assemblages which include native tree species that are not showing signs of physiological stress related to a metal load gradient (Salisbury et al., 2018). Species like Willows and Poplars can be vegetatively propagated and tested for their ability to root and grow in soils collected from individual sites via a phytorecurrent selection process (Zalesny & Hallett, 2014).

Fellow Responsibilities: A student fellow would be expected to collect genetic material from trees growing at Liberty State Park across a soil metal gradient and design a greenhouse study to identify tolerance levels of that material to soils collected from both Liberty State Park and Freshkills Park. In addition, these genotypes can be tested against genotypes of the same species currently being used in restoration projects and not sourced from high metal load sites. The best performing genotypes from this selection process will be planted at the Freshkills and Liberty State Parks site in a common garden experimental design.

Relevant Literature:
Gallagher, F. J., Pechmann, I., Bogden, J. D., Grabosky, J., and Weis, P. (2008a). ͞Soil metal
concentrations and vegetative assemblage structure in an urban brownfield.͟ Environmental
Pollution, 153(2), 351–361.

Gallagher, F. J., Pechmann, I., Bogden, J. D., Grabosky, J., and Weis, P. (2008b). ͞Soil metal concentrations and productivity of Betula populifolia (gray birch) as measured by field
spectrometry and incremental annual growth in an abandoned urban Brownfield in New Jersey.͟
Environmental Pollution, Elsevier Ltd, 156(3), 699–706.

Gallagher, F.J., Pechmann, I. Holzapfel, C., Grabosky, J.  2011. Evidence for the Alternate Stable State Theory within the Vegetative Assemblages of an Urban Brownfield. Environmental Pollution. 159 1159-1166.

Qian, Y., Feng, F. H., Gallagher, F.J., Zhu, Q., Wu, M., Liu, C.J., Jones, K.,and Tappero, R Risk assessment and interpretation of heavy metal contaminated soils on an abandoned urban brownfield site. Chemosphere. In review.

Salisbury, A. Grabosky, J.C., Gallagher F.J., Soil Metals as an Abiotic Filter of Urban Soils. Soil Science. In edit 12/16.

USDA Forest Service, 2001.

Salisbury A., Gallagher, F.J., Caplan, J. Grabosky, J.C. 2018.Maintenance of photosynthetic capacity despite high load of trace metals in contaminated anthropogenic soils. Science of the Total Environment. 625:1615–1627.

Zalesny, R., Hallett, R., Falxa-raymond, N., Wiese, A. H., & Birr, B. (2014). Propagating native Salicaceae for afforestation and restoration in New York City’s five boroughs. Native Plants Journal, 15(1), 29–41.


Independent Ideas

Advising: To Be Determined (contact Forest Service colleagues at one of the locations listed at

If a potential candidate has a research idea that they would like to propose as a potential CRL Fellowship Project, the idea can be submitted for consideration under this project title. The project must be appropriate to the mission of the Center for Resilient Landscapes and must be reasonable in scope to correspond with the available funding. The project must address some aspect of landscape resilience with implications for both New Jersey and the Northeast Region or beyond in the management and stewardship of environmental resources, social connection to such resources or ecological function in changing environments, or disturbances. The applicant is expected to reach out to one or more Forest Service scientists with their project idea prior to applying for the CRL fellowship.


You can read about previous CRL fellowship projects on the “Research” page.