michael-commons-02Michael Commons, PhD Student


Research Interests

  • Disturbance ecology
  • Fire ecology
  • Forest succession
  • Fluvial geomorphology

Current Research

The effects of timber and fire management contribute to natural hill slope 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 Experience

  • 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 Presentation

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. (http://www.csun.edu/~calgeosoc/bulletins/cgs_bulletin_sp2009.pdf)

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.

Michael Commons' CV