The Rubenstein School emphasizes interdisciplinary research and scholarly pursuit that fall into three themes: Applied Ecology; Environment and Society; and Development and Use of Innovative Tools, such as spatial analysis, modeling, and mapping, to study the environment/human interface. Healthy and sustainable ecosystems, which in the School's definition include vibrant human communities, depend upon the integration of knowledge and skills developed in all three of these areas. The emphasis on integration contributes to the distinctiveness, quality, and growing national and international reputation of the School.
Forest and Ecosystem Ecology
Rubenstein School faculty, staff, and students study forest ecosystems and various impacts on their health. Studies include relationships of acid rain and nutrient depletion to decline in tree species' health and response to environmental stressors, ways to improve restoration of tree species and their habitats to northeastern forests, use of remote sensing for early detection of invasive insect and disease outbreaks, host tree genetics in plant-insect pest interactions, and potential biocontrol agents for invasive forest insects, among other topics. Researchers also study climate change impacts on forest ecosystems, carbon storage, and decomposition and how ecologically-based silvicultural systems, structure and function of old-growth and riparian forests, natural disturbance ecology, and restoration ecology impact forest biodiversity.
Wildlife and Landscape Change
Rubenstein School faculty, staff, and students study how wildlife populations respond to landscape change. Our research involves a combination of field studies and modeling to describe populations of wildlife, such as bobolinks, bears, and bobcats, and explore the impacts of a variety of landscape changes such as those from climate change, energy generation, farming practices, and urban development. Our faculty includes members of the Vermont Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and many of our projects occur in collaboration with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
Water Resources, Lake, and Watershed Science
Faculty, staff, and students with expertise in aquatic ecology, lake studies, and fisheries biology are conducting research on a broad array of topics including food web dynamics and eutrophication in Lake Champlain, sources and control strategies for nonpoint source pollution in agricultural and developed watersheds, ecology of toxic cyanobacteria blooms, nonnative and invasive species impacts on aquatic ecosystems, fish population dynamics and restoration, and climate change impacts in arctic and local watersheds and potential adaptation strategies. State-of-the-art research laboratories in the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory and the UVM research vessel Melosira on the Burlington waterfront support this work.
Rubenstein School faculty, staff, and students design ecological systems that use ecological principles and natural organisms to treat wastes, manage storm water run-off, and restore damaged ecosystems. They study ways to promote sustainable community development and problem-solving through holistic landscape and building design and planning.
Environment and Society
Faculty, staff, and students develop, test, and implement innovative methods and models that reflect the need to integrate the social, built, natural, and human capital components of our world. They research ways to shift the world's economies away from their present emphasis on infinite economic growth and toward a focus on sustainable human well-being. To forge fresh and visionary approaches to the economic challenges and opportunities that await us in the 21st century, they bring together experts, teachers, students, and stakeholders from many disciplines to pioneer vital, new developmental tools and ideas.
Environmental Policy and Planning
Faculty, staff, and students with expertise in environmental policy and planning pursue studies of various dimensions of collective action and governance related to environment, energy, and natural resources. They address questions of how politics, policy, laws, conflict, collaboration, and social values are reflected in collective efforts at local, regional, national, international scales to define and respond to environment and natural resource issues. Researchers are involved in projects that examine how we use policies, planning processes, markets, communication, stakeholder engagement, and community-based initiatives to manage natural resources and promote environmental and energy sustainability.
Environmental Thought and Culture
Faculty, staff, and students with expertise in environmental thought, culture, education, and behavior pursue studies of environmental ethics and social justice; environmental interpretation and education; sustainability values and advocacy; environmental and human health; and how cultural, religious, and gender identities emerge from and shape perceptions of the natural environment.
Recreation and Tourism
Faculty and students study social and cultural aspects of outdoor recreation and tourism. Special focus is placed on sustainable development of tourism in resource dependent communities in Vermont, the United States, and abroad.
Landscape Analysis and Conservation
Faculty, students, and staff pursue a holistic approach to understanding and managing the natural and working landscape. This is an interdisciplinary research area that considers conservation of natural habitats and their biodiversity, people's connection to and impact on the environment, and sustainability. There is an emphasis on an application of the work with community partners. Some projects include developing strategies for engaging communities and citizens in decision-making, exploring innovative land use options, and ecological planning for conservation and preservation of natural areas, reserves, protected ecosystems, and the more natural components of our human influenced landscapes.
Development and Use of Innovative Tools
Spatial Analysis and Modeling
Rubenstein School faculty, staff, and students develop and use innovative spatial analysis, modeling, and mapping tools as part of their research methods. In the Spatial Analysis Laboratory (SAL), in particular, researchers use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related technology to quantify and evaluate ecological patterns, including wildlife habitat, landscape fragmentation, biological diversity, forest health, and invasive species. The SAL incorporates this information into conservation-planning efforts that help develop priorities for protecting landscapes and their natural resources. They use sophisticated computer models and historical data to develop alternative scenarios of policy strategies, infrastructure investments, and demographic and economic changes. They run cutting-edge urban simulation and transportation modeling software to visualize effects of these scenarios on development patterns, traffic, and other socioeconomic factors.