Cara Nelson

Cara Nelson

Associate Professor of Restoration Ecology

Office: CHCB 460C

Personal Website

Current Position

Associate Professor of Restoration Ecology 


·                  Elements of Ecological Restoration (NRSM 265)

·                  Restoration Ecology (NRSM 365)

·                  Integrative Ecological Restoration (NRSM 444)

·                  Advanced Problems in Restoration Ecology (FOR 565)


Ph.D. Forest Ecosystem Analysis. 2004. College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

M.S. Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development. 1997. Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

M.S. Forestry. 1997. Department of Forest Ecology and Management, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

B.S. 1990. The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington.

Research Interests

Restoration Ecology Lab Website

Research in the Restoration Ecology Lab focuses on three primary areas:1) effects of large-scale disturbance on understory plants and trees, 2) efficacy and ecological impacts of ecological restoration treatments, and 3) sampling methods for detecting changes in understory plant abundance. These topics are being explored at landscape, population, and organism scales, through field experiments, retrospective studies, and meta-analyses.  Cara and her students are particularly interested in projects that contribute to basic knowledge of plant ecology, provide managers with timely information about the ecological effects of management interventions, and increase understanding of the conceptual foundations of ecological restoration.

Selected Publications

Gibson A, L. Fishman, and C.R. Nelson. 2016. Polyploidy: a missing link in the conversation about restoration of a commonly seeded native grass in western North America. Restoration Ecology DOI: 10.1111/rec.12408.

Gibson A, and C.R. Nelson. In press. Comparing provisional seed transfer zones for a commonly seeded grass, Pseudoroegneria spicata. Natural Areas Journal.

Carnwath, G.C., and C.R. Nelson. 2016. The effect of competition on responses to drought and inter-annual climate variability of a dominant conifer tree of western North America.  Journal of Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12604.

Hauer, R.F, H. Locke, V.J. Dreitz, M. Hebblewhite, W.H. Lowe, C.C. Muhlfeld, C.R. Nelson, M.F. Proctor, S.B. Rood. 2016. Gravel-bed river floodplains are the ecological nexus of glaciated mountain landscapes. Sciences Advances DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600026.

Wagner, V., P.M. Antunes, M Irvine, and C.R. Nelson. 2016. Narrowing the knowledge gap:  Herbicide usage for invasive non-native plant management in wildland areas of North America. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Gibson, A.L., E. Espeland, V. Wagner, and C.R. Nelson. 2016. Determining local adaptation in plants: the state of the science and its application to land management. Evolutionary Applications. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12379.

Parks S.A., L. M. Holsinger, C. Miller, and C.R. Nelson. 2015. Wildfire as a self-regulating mechanism: the role of previous burns and weather in limiting fire progression.  Ecological Applications.  25: 1478–1492.

Hobbs, R.J., E.S. Higgs, C.M. Hall, P. Bridgewater, F.S. Chapin III, E.C. Ellis, J.J. Ewel, L.M. Hallett, J.A. Harris, K.B. Hulvey, S.T. Jackson, P.L. Kennedy, C. Kueffer, L. Lach, T.C. Lantz, A.E. Lugo, J. Mascaro, S.D. Murphy, C.R. Nelson, M.P. Perring, D.M. Richardson, T.R. Seastedt, R. J. Standish, B.M. Starzomski, K.N. Suding, P.M. Tognetti, L. Yakob, and L. Yung. 2015. Managing the whole landscape: historical, hybrid and novel ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 557-564.

Wagner, V., and C.R. Nelson. 2014. Herbicides negatively affect seed performance in native plants. Restoration Ecology 22:288-291.

Parks, S.A., C, Miller, C.R. Nelson, and Z. A. Holden. 2013. Previous fires moderate burn severity of subsequent wildland fires in two large western US wilderness areas.  Ecosystems DOI: 10.1007/s10021-013-9704-x.

Harris, J.A., S.D. Murphy, C.R. Nelson, M. Perring, and P. Tognetti. 2013. Characterizing novel ecosystems:  challenges for measurement. Chapter 24 in Hobbs, R. and E. Higgs, Novel Ecosystems: When and How Do We Intervene in the New Ecological World Order? London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hulvey, K.B., R.J. Standish, L.M. Hallett, B.M. Starzomski, S.D. Murphy, C.R. Nelson, M.R. Gardener, P.L. Kennedy, T. Seastedt, and K.N. Suding. 2013. Incorporating novel ecosystems into management frameworks. Chapter 18 in Hobbs, R. and E. Higgs, Novel Ecosystems: When and How Do We Intervene in the New Ecological World Order? London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Carnwath, G.C., D.W. Peterson, and C.R. Nelson. 2012. Effect of crown class and habitat type on climate-growth relationships of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. Forest Ecology and Management 285: 44-52.

Parisien, M. A., S. Snetsinger, J. A. Greenberg, C. R. Nelson, T. Schoennagel, S. Z. Dobrowski, and M. A. Moritz. 2012. Spatial variability in wildfire probability across the western United States. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(4) 313-327.

Switalski, T. A. and C. R. Nelson. 2011. Efficacy of road removal for restoring black bear habitat in the Northern Rocky Mountains, USA.  Biological Conservation 144: 2666-2673

Alexander, S., C.R. Nelson, J. Aronson, D. Lamb, A. Cliquet, K. Erwin, M. Finlayson, R. de Groot, J. Harris, E. Higgs, R. Hobbs, R.R. Lewis III, D. Martinez, and C. Murcia. 2011. Opportunities and challenges for ecological restoration within REDD+. Restoration Ecology. 19:683-794

Schoennagel, T., and C.R. Nelson. 2011. Restoration relevance of recent National Fire Plan treatments in forests of the Western US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9:271-277.

Abrahamson, I., C.R. Nelson, and D. Affleck. 2011. Assessing the performance of sampling designs for measuring abundance of understory plants. Ecological Application 21(2): 452-464.

Grant, A.S., C.R. Nelson, T.A. Switalski, and S. Rinehart. 2011. Restoration of native plant communities after road decommissioning: effect of seed mix composition and density on vegetation establishment. Restoration Ecology  19(201): 160-169.

Sutherland, S. and C.R. Nelson. 2010. Nonnative plant response to silvicultural treatments: a model based on disturbance, propagule pressure, and competitive abilities. Western Journal of Applied Forestry 25:27-33.

Schoennagel, T., C.R. Nelson, D.M. Theobald, G.C. Carnwath, and T.B. Chapman. 2009. Implementation of National Fire Plan treatments near the wildland-urban interface in the western United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:10706-10711.

Manolis, J., K. M. Chan, S. Stephens, M. Finkelstein, C.R. Nelson, J. B. Grant, and M. P. Dombeck. 2009. Leadership: A new frontier in conservation science. Conservation Biology. (Early view: January).

Nelson, C.R., T. Schoennagel, and E. Gregory.  2008.  Opportunities for academic training in the science and practice of restoration within the United States and Canada. Restoration Ecology 16:225-230.

Nelson, C.R., C.B. Halpern, and J.K. Agee. 2008. Thinning and burning have little effect on native plant communities but promote low-level invasion by nonnative plants. Ecological Applications 18:762-770.

Nelson, C.R., C.B. Halpern, and J.A. Antos. 2007. Variation in responses of late-seral herbs to disturbance and environmental stress. Ecology 88:2880-2890.

Grant, J.B., J.D. Olden, Lawler, J.J, C.R. Nelson, and B. Silliman. 2007. Academic institutions in the United States and Canada ranked according to performance in the field of Conservation Biology. Conservation Biology 21:1139-1144.

Lawler, J.J, J.E. Aukema, J.B. Grant, B. Halpern, P. Kareiva, C.R. Nelson, J.D. Olden, K. Ohleth, M.A. Schlaepfer, B. Silliman, and P. Zaradic. 2006. Conservation science: a twenty-year report card. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4:473-480.

Nelson, C.R. and C.B. Halpern. 2005. Edge-related responses of understory plants to aggregated retention harvest in the Pacific Northwest. Ecological Applications 15(1):196-209.

Nelson, C.R. and C.B. Halpern. 2005. Short-term effects of timber harvest and forest edges on ground-layer bryophytes in the Pacific Northwestern United States. Canadian Journal of Botany 83: 610-620.

Nelson, C.R. and C.B. Halpern. 2005. Short-term responses of vascular plants and bryophytes in forest patches retained during structural retention harvest. In: Peterson, C. E. and Maguire, D. A., eds. Balancing ecosystem values: innovative experiments for sustainable forestry. PNW-GTR-635. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. Pages 366-368.