Graduate Students

Michael Commons

michael commons michael commons-3

 Ph.D. Student

Research Interests 
Disturbance ecology
Fire ecology
Forest succession
Fluvial geomorphology

Current Research
The effects of timber and fire management contribute to natural hillslope processes that continue down slope into the stream network.  I am interested in the linkages that exist between these hillslope processes (human and non-human origins) and the dynamic diversity of riparian forests.

Thanks to the S.U. Department of Geography I was able to travel to my study site and spend the entire summer of 2011 conducting preliminary research.  I spent over sixty nights in a tent along the banks of the South Fork of the Trinity River in northern California.  Upon submerging into the lush riparian forests that surround the stream network I gathered empirical evidence necessary to begin answering some of my research questions.  This first step has led me along a path of understanding what patterns of riparian diversity exist throughout a stream network.  At the basin scale, I found significant increases in riparian diversity near tributary junctions; and at the reach scale I found specific (and very surprising) patterns of species diversity in the areas around tributary junctions.

With continuing support from the S.U. Department of Geography I will continue my field research this summer.  I plan to expand into the Trinity River watershed, investigating similar trends in both damned and undammed rivers with varying upland land cover histories.

Teaching Experiencemichael commons-2
Syracuse University
The Natural Environment Teaching assistant

California State University, Chico
Physical Geography Lab instructor
Introductory ArcGIS teaching assistant
GIS and Cartography Lab assistant

Conference Presentations
Association of American Geographers 2012 Conference: “Effects of Stream Network Structure on Riparian Vegetation Diversity in the South Fork of the Trinity River watershed, northern California”

Association of American Geographers 2009 Conference: “Environmental Driving Forces of Centaurea solstitialis: A Spatial Prediction Model”

California Geographical Society 2008 Conference: (1) Cartographic Competition: “Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace: Race to the Theory of Evolution”; (2) Paper Presentation: “Environmental Controls of Centaurea solstitialis”; (3) Session Chair: Undergraduate Papers

CSU-Chico Behavioral and Social Sciences 2008 Symposium: “Predicting the Spatial Distribution of Centaurea solstitialis within Whiskeytown N.R.A.” 

CSU-Chico Behavioral and Social Sciences 2007 Symposium: “Expansion of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association Survey of May, 2005: Issues of Concern Identified and Prioritized for Proposed Management Action” 

A Student’s Developing Perspective on Nature. The CGS Bulletin. 63:1. ( 

Revisiting a Honduran Landscape Described by Robert West: An Experiment in Repeat Geography. Journal of Latin American Geography. 8:1, 7-27. (cartographic elements only)

Some interesting articles relating to my research
Arkle, R.S. and D.S. Pilliod.  2010.  Prescribed fire as ecological surrogates for wildfires: a stream and riparian perspective.  Forest Ecology and Management.  259: 893-903.

Bisson, P.A., B.E. Rieman, C. Luce, P.F. Hessburg, D.C. Lee, J.L. Kershner, G.H. Reeves, and R.E. Gresswell.  2003.  Fire and aquatic ecosystems of the western USA: current knowledge and key questions.  Forest Ecology and Management.  178:213-229.

Naiman, R.J. and H. Décamps.  1997.  The ecology of interfaces: riparian zones.  Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics.  28:621-658.

Osawa, T., H. Mitsuhashi, and A. Ushimaru.  2010.  River confluences enhance riparian plant species diversity.  Plant Ecology.  209:95-108.

Poole, G.C.  2002.  Fluvial landscape ecology: addressing uniqueness within the river discontinuum.  Freshwater Biology.  47:641-660.

Poole, G.C.  2010.  Stream hydrogeomorphology as a physical science basis for advances in stream ecology.  Journal of the North American Benthological Society.  29:12-25.

Wiens, J.A.  2002.  Riverine landscapes: taking landscape ecology into the water.  Freshwater Biology.  47:501-515.

Link to CV