Conversations in Science Series
A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
LOCATION: Sonderegger Science Center (Click here for parking information)
1000 Edgewood College Drive Madison, Wisconsin

Professor Monica Turner
Department of Zoology

“Burning Questions About Forest Fires in the West”

The Conversations in Science series brings together UW-Madison science researchers and Dane County science teachers. Designed to stimulate discussion between scientists and science educators at all levels, these conversations connect high-, middle-, and elementary school classrooms with the University's cutting-edge research. Questions and ideas are freely exchanged between expert and an audience of K-12 educators.


Fires burn each year in the western US, and the frequency of large fires is increasing. Many consider the 1988 Yellowstone fires—the size and severity of which surprised everyone—to have ushered in this new era of forest fires. The Yellowstone fires also provided an unparalleled opportunity to study a large, natural disturbance in an ecological system minimally affected by humans. We have gained new insights about the nature, mechanisms and importance of change from studying the fires in Yellowstone. Despite conclusions drawn at the time, the 1988 fires were by no means an ecological catastrophe. This conversation will highlight what has been learned from studying the 1988 fires, distinguish different fire regimes in the West, and discuss how fires may change under future climate.


Dr. Monica G. Turner is the Eugene P. Odum Professor of Ecology in the Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. She obtained her PhD in Ecology in 1985 from the University of Georgia, spent seven years as a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and joined the faculty of UW-Madison in 1994. She has published over 180 scientific papers and has authored or edited six books, and she is co-editor in chief of the journal, Ecosystems. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, and, in 2008, she received the Ecological Society of America’s Robert MacArthur Award, the ECI Prize in Terrestrial Ecology and a WARF distinguished professorship from UW-Madison. Turner’s research emphasizes the causes and consequences of spatial heterogeneity in ecological systems, especially the interactions of disturbances (fire and insects), vegetation dynamics, and nutrient cycling in Greater Yellowstone; effects of historic and contemporary land use on southern Appalachian forests; and land-water interactions in Wisconsin landscapes. Her lab web site can be found here.

SELECTED READING (all can be downloaded from Turner's lab web site)

A recent article (“Rishing from the Ashes”, by Jill Sakai) in the summer 2008 issue of On Wisconsin, the UW-Madison alumni magazine, provides a nice synthesis of Turner’s work on fires in Yellowstone written for a general audience.