Mathew E. Dornbush
Ph.D. Iowa State University 2005

Example Research Projects

I am an active member of the Environmental Science & Policy Graduate Program at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay.  We offer M.S. degrees with emphases in Ecosystem Studies, Resource Management, and Environmental Policy & Administration.  If you are interested in pursuing a M.S. degree under my direction, please contact me directly.

Maximizing Ecological Services and Economic Returns from Targeted Establishment of Biomass Grasslands for Electricity and Heat Generation in Wisconsin

M. Dornbush (UW-GB), K. Fermanich (UW-GB), J. Stoll (UW-GB),
and P. Baumgart (UW-GB)

Project Abstract:

Our objective is to evaluate the economic and environmental outcomes of converting poorly drained, marginal agricultural areas into perennial, biomass yielding grasslands for electricity and heat Generation in Wisconsin. We target poorly drained, marginal cropland for three main reasons. First, planting these areas into annual row crops is often delayed, prevented, or unprofitable in wet years. However, seasonal (spring) soil saturation is expected to maximize warm season grass production by providing ideal moisture availability in summer. Second, the wetter conditions and finer textured soils (more clay) characterizing low-lying areas should maximize C-sequestration rates. Establishing grasslands in these areas will also maximize C sequestration per unit lost agricultural productivity for food supply. Third, establishing perennial grasslands in the low-lying areas juxtapositioned between agricultural uplands and aquatic systems will reduce nutrient and sediment loading into aquatic systems, thereby providing an additional ecological service for the same conversion costs. In combination, we argue that the establishment of biomass production systems should be targeted at low-lying locations to maximize profitability, C-sequestration, and water quality benefits. Our targeted approach may also benefit from shared interest and cost-sharing with existing USDA/NRCS conservation programs, as well as potential phosphorus trading opportunities between point sources and agricultural sources within the Fox-Wolf basin through the on-going Lower Fox River TMDL being conducted by WDNR, USEPA and local partners. Our study will evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of implementing this strategy on a watershed level in NE Wisconsin by utilizing a combination of economic analyses, water quality modeling using the USDA Soil and Water Assessment Tool model (SWAT), and with field evaluations of soil carbon stocks, soil C inputs, and aboveground biomass yields. Farm budgeting analysis will evaluate changes in per acre returns resulting from altered production practices. Regional economic impacts from altered expenditure patterns will be estimated using IMPLAN. The economic value of C-sequestration will be examined utilizing carbon pricing data from carbon auction markets and value associated with water quality changes will be garnered from existing literature. These analyses will provide an estimate of the social desirability of our proposed program and the differential distribution of its costs among agricultural producers and other members of society. Recognition of this latter issue will lead to a better understanding of the viability of the proposed program and the manner in which a politically acceptable implementation process can be designed.

Interacting forces drive garlic mustard invasion and dominance in Wisconsin woodlands

M. Dornbush (UW-GB) and M. Draney (UW-GB)

Project Abstract:

This experiment at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay, WI is designed to investigate the mechanisms by which Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard), invades and subsequently maintains dominance within NE Wisconsin forests.  Land management organizations currently spend millions of dollars per year on the control and management of invasive plant species in the United States.  However, without a clear understanding of the how and why that invasive species succeed, this money may be used inefficiently and ineffectively.  For example, should invasive species simply be a symptom of larger environmental problems, money spent on direct control of invasive species may never actually address the true problem, and thus serve grossly ineffective.  To address this issue, in this collaborative project we are evaluating how multiple factors may interact to promote A. petiolata success.  Our objective is to determine if and how native plant communities can be successfully returned to A. petiolata invaded forests.  In this experiment we are directly testing the effect of active restoration of the native flora, the elimination of two apparently widespread ecosystem stressors (grazing by the exotic slug, Deroceras reticulatum, and browsing by white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virgianus), and the effect of the direct removal of  A. petiolata on community restoration.


Root niche partitioning facilitates the maintenance of local richness in tallgrass prairie

M. Dornbush (UW-GB) and B. Wilsey (Iowa State University)

Project Abstract:

This project seeks to understand factors promoting the high local plant richness typical of tallgrass prairie, by examining the importance of root-partitioning of soil depth as a means of promoting or prolonging coexistence among tallgrass prairie species.  This project is founded upon the contradictory patterns reported from observational studies of decreasing plant richness with increasing soil depth, and the very high local richness reported from fertile, deep soil prairies of the Midwest.  There is also considerable existing evidence for interspecific differences in plant rooting depth, and foraging strategies, but few direct evaluations of the importance of these differences for shaping plant community composition and for affecting ecosystem processes.