Cara Nelson

Photo of Nelson, Cara

Cara Nelson

Professor of Restoration Ecology; Chair, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences

Curriculum Vitae: View/Download CV


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.

Courses Taught

·                  Elements of Ecological Restoration (NRSM 265)

·                  Restoration Ecology (NRSM 365)

·                  Integrative Ecological Restoration (NRSM 444)

·                  Advanced Problems in Restoration Ecology (FOR 565)

Research Interests

Restoration Ecology Lab Web site

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

Carver, S., I. Convery, S. Hawkins, R. Beyers, A. Eagle, Z. Kun, E. Van Maanen, C. Yue, M. Fisher, S. Edwards, C.R. Nelson, G. Gann, S. Shurter K. Aguilar, A. Adrade, W. Ripple, J. Davis, T. Sinclair, M. Bekoff, R. Noss, D. Foreman, H. Pettersson, M Root-Bernstein, J.C. Svenning, P. Taylor, S. Wynne-Jones, A. Watson Featherstone, C. Fløjgaard, M. Stanley-Price, Mark; L. Navarro, A. Parfitt, M. Soule. 2021. Guiding principles for rewilding. Conservation Biology.

Weidlich, E. W. A., C.R. Nelson, J.L. Maron, R.M. Callaway, B.M. Delory, and V.M. Temperton. 2021. Priority effects and ecological restoration. Restoration Ecology 29(1): e13317.

Maher, C.T., C.I. Millar, R.E. Keane, D.L.R. Affleck, A. Sala, A.J. Larson, and C.R. Nelson. 2020. Alpine treeline ecotones are potential refugia for a montane pine species threatened by bark beetle outbreaks. Ecological Applications. e2274.

Etter, A., J. Cortés, A. Andrade, C.R. Nelson, J. Cortés, and K. Saavedra. 2020. Assessing restoration priorities for high-risk ecosystems: an application of the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. Land Use Policy 99: 104874.

León-Lobos P., M. A. Bustamante-Sánchez, C.R. Nelson, D. Alarcon, R. Hasbun, M. Way, H. Pritchard, and J.J. Armesto. 2020. Lack of adequate seed supply chain is a major bottleneck for effective ecosystem restoration in Chile: Friendly amendment to Bannister et al. (2018). Restoration Ecology 28(2): 277-281.

Maher, C.T., C.R. Nelson, and A.J. Larson. 2019. Winter damage is more important than summer temperature for maintaining the krummholz growth form above alpine treeline. Journal of Ecology. 108(3): 1074-1087.

McWethy, D.A., T. Schoennagel, P. Higuera, M. Krawchuk, B. Harvey, E.C. Metcalf, C. Schultz, C. Miller, A.L. Metcalf, B. Buma, A. Virapongse, J.C. Kulig, R.C. Stedman, Z. Ratajczak, C.R. Nelson, and C. Holden. 2019. Rethinking resilience to wildfire. Nature Sustainability 2: 797-804.

Gann G.D., McDonald T., B. Walder, J. Aronson, C.R. Nelson, J. Jonson, J.G. Hallett, C. Eisenberg, M.R. Guariguata, J. Liu, F. Hua, C. Echeverría, E. Gonzales, N. Shaw, K. Decleer, K.W. Dixon. 2019. International principles and standards for the practice of ecological restoration. Second edition. Restoration Ecology 27(S1): S1–S46.

·       C.R. Nelson lead author of Section 2 Principle 3, Ecological restoration practice is informed by native reference ecosystems, while considering environmental change. Pages 26-31.

·       C.R. Nelson lead author of Section 4 Part 1, Developing reference models for ecological restoration. Pages 65-68.

Gaulke, S., E. Martelli, L. Johnson, C. G. Letelier, N. Dawson, and C.R. Nelson. 2019. Threatened and endangered mammals of Chile: Does research align with conservation information needs? Conservation Science and Practice 1(9):e99.

Higuera, P., A. Metcalf, C. Miller, B. Buma, D. McWethy, E. C. Metcalf, Z. Ratajczak, C.R. Nelson, B. Chaffin, R. Stedman, S. McCaffrey, T. Schoennagel, B. Harvey, S. Hood, C. Schultz, A. Black, D. Campbell, J. Haggerty, R. Keane, J. Kulig, R. Rafferty, and A. Virapongse. 2019. Integrating subjective and objective dimensions of resilience in fire-prone landscapes. BioScience 69: 379-388.

Cohen-Shacham, E., N. Dudley, M. Jones, A. Andrade, C. Kumar, S. Maginnis, C.R. Nelson, F. G. Renaud, S. Maynard, H. Gosnell, J. Dalton, R. Welling, G. Walters.  2019. Core principles for successfully implementing and upscaling Nature-based Solutions. Environmental Science and Policy 98: 20-29.

Wiggins, H.L., C.R. Nelson, A. Larson, and H. Stafford. 2019. Using LiDAR to develop high-resolution reference models of forest structure and spatial pattern. Forest Ecology and Management 434: 318-330.

Gibson, A.L., C.R. Nelson, S. Rinehart, V. Archer, and A. Eramian. 2019. Importance of considering soils in seed transfer zone development: Evidence from a study of the native Bromus marginatus. Ecological Applications 29(2):e01835.

Amberson, J., M. Keville, and C.R. Nelson. 2018. Effects of disturbance on tree community dynamics in whitebark pine ecosystems. Forests 9, 566: 1-23.

Maher, C.T., C.R. Nelson, A.J. Larson, and A. Sala. 2018. Ecological effects and effectiveness of silvicultural restoration treatments in whitebark pine forests. Forest Ecology and Management 429: 534-548.

Gann, G.D., T. McDonald, J. Aronson, B. Walder, J.G. Hallet, K.W. Dixon, K. Decleer, D.A. Falk, E. Gonzalez, C. Murcia, C.R. Nelson and A.J. Unwin. 2018. The SER Standards: a globally relevant and inclusive tool for improving the practice of ecological restoration—a reply to Higgs et al. Restoration Ecology 26(3): 426-430.

Gibson, A.L., C.R. Nelson, and D. Atwater. 2018. Response of bluebunch wheatgrass to invasion: Differences in competitive ability among invader-experienced and naïve populations. Functional Ecology. 32(7):1857-1866.

McManamen, C., C.R. Nelson, and V. Wagner. 2018. Timing of seeding after herbicide application influences rates of germination and seedling biomass of native plants used for restorationRestoration Ecology 26(6): 1137-1148.

Masin, E., M. Valliant, and C.R. Nelson. 2018. Can sheep control invasive forbs without compromising efforts to restore native plants? Range Ecology and Management 71(2): 185-188.

Nelson, C.R., K. Bowers, J. Lyndall, J. Munro, and J.T. Stanley. 2017. Professional certification in ecological restoration: improving the practice and the profession. Restoration Ecology 25(1): 4-7.

Urgenson, L.S., Nelson, C.R., R.D. Haugo, C.B. Halpern, J.D. Bakker, C.M. Ryan, A.E.M. Waltz, R.T. Belote, and E. Alvarado. 2018. Social perspectives on the use of reference conditions in restoration of fire- adapted forest landscapes. Restoration Ecology 26(5): 987-996.

Carnwath, G.C. and C.R. Nelson. 2017. Effects of biotic and abiotic factors on resistance versus resilience of Douglas fir to drought.PLOS One 12(10): e0185604.

Gatica-Saavedra, P, C. Echeverría, and C.R. Nelson. 2017. Ecological indicators for assessing ecological success of forest restoration: a world review. Restoration Ecology 25(6): 850-857.


Nelson, C.R., K. Bowers, J. Lyndall, S. Munro, and S.T. Stanley. 2017. Professional certification in ecological restoration: improving the practice and the professionRestoration Ecology 25(1): 4-7.

Keville, M., C.R. Nelson, and F.R Hauer. 2017Trends in academic productivity in the field of ecology. Ecosphere 8(1): e01620.

Urgenson, L.S., C.M. Ryan, C.B. Halpern, J.D. Bakker, R.T. Belote, J.F. Franklin, R.D. Haugo, C.R. Nelson, and A.E.M. Waltz2017Visions of restoration in fire-adapted forest landscapes: Lessons from the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration ProgramEnvironmental Management 59:354-355.

Wagner, V., P.M. Antunes, M. Irvine, and C.R. Nelson. 2017. Narrowing the knowledge gap: Herbicide usage for invasive non-native plant management in wildland areas of North America. Journal of Applied Ecology 54:198-204.

Gibson A.L., and C.R. Nelson. 2017. Comparing provisional seed transfer zones for a commonly seeded grass, Pseudoroegneria spicataNatural Areas Journal 37:188-199.

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 AmericaRestoration Ecology 25(2): 184-190.

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 104(5): 1421-1431.

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 landscapesSciences Advances 2(6): e1600026.

Gibson, A.L., E. Espeland, V. Wagner, and C.R. Nelson. 2016. Can local adaptation research in plants inform selection of native plant materials? An analysis of experimental methodologies. Evolutionary Applications 9(10): 1219-1228.

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. Dec. 2014. Managing the whole landscape: historical, hybrid and novel ecosystemsFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12(10): 557-564.

Wagner, V., and C.R. Nelson. 2014. Herbicides can negatively affect seed performance in native plantsRestoration Ecology 22(3): 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 17:29-42.

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, USABiological 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(6): 683-794.

Abrahamson, I., C.R. Nelson, and D. Affleck. 2011. Assessing the performance of sampling designs for measuring abundance of understory plantsEcological Applications 21: 452-464.

Grant, A.S., C.R. Nelson, 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.

Schoennagel, T., and C.R. Nelson. 2011. Restoration relevance of recent National Fire Plan treatments in forests of the Western USFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(5): 271-277.

Sutherland, S. and C.R. Nelson. 2010. Nonnative plant response to silvicultural treatments: a model based on disturbance, propagule pressure, and competitive abilitiesWestern 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.

Schoennagel, T., C.R. Nelson, D.M. Theobald, G.C. Carnwath, and T. B. Chapman. 2009. Reply to Fitzsimmons: Transparency needed in defining fire-mitigation effort near wildland-urban interfaceProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: E88-E88.

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 scienceConservation Biology 23(4): 879-886.

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 plantsEcological Applications 18: 762-770.

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 CanadaRestoration Ecology 16(2): 225-230.

Nelson, C.R., C.B. Halpern, and J.A. Antos. 2007. Variation in responses of late-seral herbs to disturbance and environmental stressEcology 88(11): 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 BiologyConservation Biology 21(5): 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 cardFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4(9): 473-480.

Nelson, C.R. and C.B. Halpern. 2005. Edge-related responses of understory plants to aggregated retention harvest in the Pacific NorthwestEcological 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 StatesCanadian 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.

Schlaepfer, M.A., J.E. Aukema, J. Grant, B. Halpern, J. Hoekstra, P. Kareiva, J. Lawler, J.C. Manolis, C.R. Nelson, J. D. Olden, B. Silliman, S. Stephens, J. Wiens, and P. Zaradic. 2005. Re-wilding:  A bold plan that needs native megafauna