Overview of the ACE Lab

Developing practical theory in support of real-world solutions - Our lab studies the conservation ecology of species to ecosystems with the goal of understanding the processes affecting their distribution, dynamics and interactions. We seek to apply our results to land use planning and stewardship problems in order to prioritize the conservation of species diversity and landscapes, the sustainable management of our natural capital, and the recovery of our endangered and threatened biological resources. Below we briefly describe the main research topics currently being addressed by our lab members.

See Projects for more details.


Focal ecosystems - Our focal ecosystem research explores biodiversity relationships, patterns and dynamics of fire-prone, xeric woodland and savanna ecosystems of temperate North America (pine barrens, oak barrens, rock outcrops, etc.). These ecosystems make excellent model systems for studying conservation, biodiversity and restoration questions given their patchy nature (connectivity and area effects), their dependence on fires to maintain savanna-like conditions, and the limitation of nutrients and moisture that often drive species diversity. We are currently examining the ant, bee, and plant diversity of pine barrens near Edmonton (including the post-fire dynamics associated with the May 2009 Bruderheim fire).




Focal species & conservation planning - Much of our research focuses on the habitat, behaviour and population ecology of rare or threatened species in support of their maintenance and recovery. Currently we are working on grizzly (brown) bears in the Rocky Mountains of southern Canada (this has been our main research focus since 2000) and more recently greater short-horned lizards in southern Saskatchewan (Grasslands National Park). In addition to our focal species conservation studies, we have used species distribution modeling for conservation planning and scenario analysis.




Biodiversity - We are currently designing field experiments to examine regulating factors of biodiversity. This includes a landscape scale connectivity and species-area study for the boreal forest using a natural experiment designed around small lake islands, a long-term meso-scale biodiversity experiment based on manipulations of disturbance, soil pH, and fertility. And, finally, this research area involves the examination of top-down regulation of biodiversity by grizzly bears.



Our Research Approach - Most often our research approach is to combine field-based studies with laboratory computer modeling and analysis (GIS, landscape simulations/scenarios, remote sensing, agent-based modeling, etc.). We are not tied, however, to any single methodology or discipline. In fact, we encourage problem-orientated and interdisciplinary approaches to our research whereby the question (hypothesis) and application are the most important elements, not the method itself or traditions associated with a particular discipline.


Funding Support and Partners

Dr. Nielsen is a participant in the Land Reclamation International Graduate School (LRIGS) program sponsored by NSERC CREATE.



“We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.” - Aldo Leopold, 1938 (Conservation)

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