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Dr. Merritt Turetsky
Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair, Tier 2

Merritt Turetsky


Office: SSC 2469
Ext.: 56166
Lab: SSC 2407/2408
Ext.: 56008

Lab website


I am an ecosystem ecologist broadly interested in plant ecology and biogeochemistry. Research in my lab centers on ecosystem analysis, with emphasis on the interactions between soil, water, plants, and the atmosphere that control biological communities and the cycling of nutrients. We use a variety of approaches, from large-scale manipulations to laboratory experiments and paleoecological reconstructions, to understand the resilience of plant communities and ecosystem processes to environmental changes. I am excited by integrative research questions that span levels of biological organization, particularly questions that explore the evolutionary, physiological, and ecological mechanisms that contribute to species controls on ecosystem processes.

We work on a variety of research issues including permafrost degradation and changing wildfire regimes that are important to global change and environmental policy arenas. However, lab members work on a diversity of topics that range from microbial and plant species controls on trace gas emissions to paleoanalysis of peat deposits.


B.Sc. - Villanova University 1997
Ph.D - University of Alberta 2002
Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow, U.S. Geological Survey 2002-2004


Several important research themes in my lab include:

Plant Controls on Biogeochemical Cycling.

Plants can have direct and indirect influences on ecosystem processes and soil environments. In boreal regions, I examine how mosses, particularly Sphagnum species, influence decomposition and nutrient cycling. In many regions, wetlands are vulnerable to invasive species invasions due to their hydrologic function. We are beginning to examine the role of invasive species on biogeochemical processes in wetlands of the Great Lakes basin.

Climate change and disturbance in boreal regions.

The boreal region is a landscape mosaic shaped by disturbances, but in many regions climate change has caused pronounced shifts in the frequency and severity of disturbances such as wildfire, permafrost degradation, and insect outbreaks. Fire has strong controls over carbon sequestration across boreal landscapes, and we are beginning to examine the influence of burning on other aspects of biogeochemistry such as mercury cycling. I am particularly interested in how fire impacts peatlands, given the large organic matter stocks that reside in these ecosystems. We also are very interested in rates of permafrost degradation, and the impacts of thaw on greenhouse gas emissions between ecosystems and the atmosphere.

Whole Ecosystem Experiments in Climate Change.

Given that many boreal regions are experiencing or will experience warmer and drier conditions, we are examining how wetland communities and biogeochemical processes will respond to changing climatic and fire regimes. We recently established a series of water table drawdown and soil warming experiments in fens in interior Alaska. This work is affiliated with the Bonanza Creek LTER site. See the Turetsky lab website for more details on this project

Selected Publications

Turetsky, M.R., B.W. Benscoter, S. Page, G. Rein, G. van der Werf, and A. Watts. 2015. Global vulnerability of peatlands to fire and carbon loss. Nature Geoscience, doi: 10.1038/NGEO2325

Turetsky, M.R., A. Kotowska, J. Bubier, N. Dise, et al. 2014. A synthesis of methane emissions from 71 northern, temperate, and subtropical peatlands. Global Change Biology, 20: 2183-2197

Klapstein, S.J., M.R. Turetsky, A.D. McGuire, J.W. Harden, C.I. Czimczik, X. Xu, J.P. Chanton, J.M. Waddington. 2014. Controls on the rate and age of methane released through ebullition from Alaska peatlands following permafrost degradation. Journal of Geophysical Research, 119: 418-431

Turetsky, M.R., B. Bond-Lamberty, E. Euskirchen, J. Talbot, S. Frolking, A.D. McGuire, E.-S. Tuittila. 2012. The resilience and functional role of moss in boreal and arctic ecosystems. Tansley Review for the New Phytologist, 196: 49-67

Turetsky, M., E.S. Kane, J.W. Harden, R.D. Ottmar, K.L. Manies, E. Hoy, E.S. Kasischke. 2011. Recent acceleration of biomass burning and carbon losses in Alaskan forests and peatlands. Nature Geoscience, 4: 27-31

Turetsky, M.R., W. Donahue, B.W. Benscoter. Experimental drying intensifies burning and carbon losses in a northern peatland, Nature Communications, in press.

Turetsky, M.R., M.C. Mack, T. Hollingsworth, J.W. Harden. Patterns in moss productivity, decomposition, and succession: Implications for the resilience of Alaskan ecosystems. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 40: 1237-1264

Turetsky, M.R., S.E. Crow, R.J. Evans, D.H. Vitt, R.K. Wieder. 2008. Tradeoffs in resource allocation among moss species control decomposition in boreal peatlands. Journal of Ecology 96: 1297-1305

Turetsky, M.R., C.C. Treat, M. Waldrop, J.M. Waddington, J.W. Harden, A.D. McGuire. 2008. Short-term response of methane fluxes and methanogen activity to water table and soil warming manipulations in an Alaskan peatland. Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences, 113, doi: 10.1029/2007JG00496

Complete list of publications can be found here


Effective teaching and mentoring both in and out of the formal classroom are important components of my program. My goal as a teacher is to challenge students to think, to communicate, and to become life-long learners. I currently am teaching IBIO*6630 (Scientific Communications) and BIOL*2060 (Ecology).

Graduate Students

Graduate students in my lab are expected to identify novel research hypotheses, develop approaches to testing these hypotheses, and take advantage of opportunities and research interests in the lab. My goals as a faculty advisor are to mentor students through the scientific process, to challenge students to achieve their academic potential and meet career goals, and to encourage a creative, interactive, and fun learning environment. If you are interested in joining our research team, please view our lab website for more information on how to apply.

Current Lab Members

Dr. David Olefeldt (postdoc)
Lucas Jacob Albano (MSc student)
Natalie Zwanenburg (MSc student)
Zhichao Jiao (MSc student)
Jennifer Bernard (MSc student)
Tobi Oke (MSc student)
Dan Greenacre (undergraduate student)
Abra Miller (undergraduate student)
Arielle Garrett (undergraduate student)
Megan Nelson (undergraduate student)


Turetsky lab website
PeatNet: fostering international collaborations in peatland science
APEX: The Alaska Peatland Experiment