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Biology Department


Who We Are

Roger in New ZealandRoger del Moral
Professor of Biology

Dr. del Moral received his doctorate with C. H. Muller at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1968. He immediately joined the Botany Department at the University of Washington. Here he began a series of studies of vegetation patterns in forests and alpine sites. In 1976-1977, he spent a year in Australia at the CSIRO in Queensland and at Melbourne University. Along with David Ashton, he was the first to demonstrate that Eucalyptus inhibited native Australian shrubs in nature. His pioneering work on plant competition in stable alpine habitats was interrupted by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. He was among the first ecologists to begin study of the recovery of this volcano, studies which have produced one of the longest continuous records of primary succession now extant. In 1984, he worked on reclamation of derelict sites in the U.K. (with A. D. Bradshaw, A. Fitter and M. Chadwick), while in 1985 he was introduced to a wide variety of Japanese volcanoes (S. Kawano, H. Tagawa, M. Numata, M. Shizuoka). He has explored volcanoes in the Russian Far East with Sergei Grishin), in Sicily with Prof. Emilia Poli Marchese (during his Sabbatical), in Iceland (Hekla and Surtsey) with Dr. Borgthor Magnusson and in New Zealand with Professor Bruce Clarkson. In 2007, he published Environmental disasters, natural recovery and human responses, a general book on restoring the landscape using the lessons gained from nature.

Research Interests
Dr. del Moral has studied and described vegetation structure in forests, prairies, wetlands and meadows throughout Washington. His approach is deductive, rather than purely inductive, in that his projects test a priori hypotheses rather than merely describing communities. He has studied factors that control community structure in stable communities, but since 1980, his work has centered on primary succession and its relationship to restoration. Most of this work has explored the mechanisms of vegetation recovery on Mount St. Helens, but he has conducted research on several other volcanoes.  A series of papers have combined long-term plot records, focused field experiments and laboratory trials to explore mechanisms of primary succession. Several bits of "conventional wisdom" have been modified or shown to be overly simple. Stochastic processes are very important during early succession and landscape effects, more than any other factor, dictate the nature of early species assemblages. In contrast to prevailing theory, abiotic amelioration is much more important that biotic facilitation, physical safe-sites are initially more important than nurse plant effects, refugia contribute little to the development of their surroundings, and mycorrhizae play a very limited role on volcanic succession. His studies in Japan and the Russian Far East have shown that similar processes have controlled succession on volcanoes in these regions. In Sicily, working on Mount Etna, he has found that there has been little vegetation convergence on lavas during eight centuries. In 2005, the 50th paper from his lab concerning primary succession was published.  With Lars Walker of UNLV, he completed a book on the current concepts of primary succession that summarizes the historical and developing concepts surrounding how landscapes are recolonized after devastating disturbances. Widely recognized as a major synthesis of the state of knowledge in primary succession, the book has won praise from ecologists and restorationists alike.
In 2007, he published a book on ecological responses to natural disasters intended for a more general public. He and Lawrence Walker hopes that this book stimulates a wider knowledge of ecological principles in the service of great quality of life.
His doctoral students have also worked on a many projects. Rex Cates performed ground-breaking studies in plant-animal chemical interactions. Ted Hinds produced detailed energy budgets for cheat grass communities. The late Joy Belsky quantified environmental gradients in subalpine meadows, while Martha Cushman developed predictive models to relate vegetation structure to avalanche frequency. Virginia H. Dale modeled bumblebee foraging behavior in alpine habitats of Mount Rainier, while David Wood demonstrated that successional sequences were based on contingent factors. C. L. Huang showed how competition altered expected successional pathways. More recently, Jon Titus developed elegant experiments that demonstrated that primary succession on Mount St. Helens did NOT require mycorrhizae, while Dennis Riege demonstrated that old-field succession in the Olympic Rainforest was controlled largely by competition from introduced herbs. Chad Jones completed his study of invasions of glacier forelands in the North Cascades and Tara Fletcher Ramsey recently finished a though study of the mechanisms by which ivy invades natural vegetation.  Current students are investigating several aspects of succession on Mount St. Helens. 

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