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Morgan Varner

Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Florida; M.S. in Forestry from Auburn University; B.S. in Forest Resources from the University of Idaho

Interest Areas: Fire ecology, post-fire tree mortality, wildland fire behavior, operational impediments to prescribed fire, ecological consequences of fuels treatments, plant flammability, disturbance interactions, forest stand dynamics, applied forest ecology, ecological restoration, global change ecology.

Chair, Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils 

Teaching Responsibilities
  • FOR 3314 Applied Forest Ecology & Silvics
  • FOR 4414 Advanced Wildland Fire Ecology & Management
Selected Research Activities
  • Restoring fire to long-unburned ecosystems. Fire exclusion causes a wide variety of changes to fire-prone ecosystems. Our research group is investigating the effects of restoration fires on tree stress and mortality and evaluating the underlying drivers of observed changes to fire behavior, focusing on forest floor duff. Our work is focused in the southeastern and western US.
  • Flammability and ecosystem function. We are investigating the mechanisms of plant flammability and its application to fire management in North America. Our particular focus is on evaluating changes in community-level flammability in response to fire exclusion (so-called “mesophication”) and global change (non-native diseases and changing atmospheric carbon dioxide). Our work is focused in the southeastern US and California.
  • Mechanical mastication as a fuels treatment. In collaboration with scientists at the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, we are evaluating the drivers of fire behavior, fuel loading dynamics, treatment efficacy, and duration and magnitude of effects on areas treated with mechanical mastication throughout northern California. Research website link:
  • Long-term changes in fire-prone forests. In collaboration with scientists at the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, we are investigating long-term changes in forest structure and composition in fire-prone ecosystems in the southeastern US and California. Our work focuses on persistence of trees (via survival, resprouting, and seedling regeneration) across fire severity gradients in wildfires and prescribed fires.
  • Diseases, insects, and crown fire interactions. Our research is focused on understanding the links between diseases and insects and their effects on crown fires. Our research investigates these interactions with pine and spruce beetles, sudden oak death, laurel wilt disease, and chestnut blight across North America.
  • Prescribed fire. The use of fire in land management is hampered by operational, social, and large policy impediments. Our research group works closely with fire managers and prescribed fire councils to isolate these impediments and work to overcome them. This work is across the US, via the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils (
Selected Publications (*student author)
  • Varner, J.M. 2015. Encroachment and Persistence of Trees in Southeastern Grasslands. In: Southeastern Prairies (J.G. Hill and J. Barone, Eds.), University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. In press.
  • *Hammond, D.H., J.M. Varner, J.S. Kush, and Z. Fan. 2015. Contrasting sapling bark allocation of five southeastern USA hardwood tree species in a fire-prone ecosystem. Ecosphere In press.
  • Varner, J.M., J.M. Kane, J.K. Kreye, and E. Engber. 2015. The flammability of forest and woodland litter: A synthesis. Current Forestry Reports 1: 91-99.
  • Stambaugh, M.C., J.M. Varner, R.F. Noss, D.C. Dey, N. Christensen, R.F. Baldwin, R.P. Guyette, B. Hanberry, C. Harper, S. Lindblom, and T. Waldrop. 2015. Clarifying the role of fire in the Eastern Deciduous Forest: Reply to Matlack. Conservation Biology 29: 942-946.
  • Varner, J.M., J.M. Kane, E.M. Banwell*, and J.K. Kreye. 2015. Flammability of litter from southeastern trees: A preliminary assessment. Pages 183-187 in: Holley, GA, K.F. Connor, and J.D. Haywood (eds.) Proceedings of the 17th Southern Silvicultural Research Conference. eGTR-SRS-203. USDA Forest Service, Southern Res. Sta., Asheville, NC.
  • Kreye, J.K., J.M. Varner, and C.J. Dugaw. 2014. Spatial and temporal variability of forest floor duff characteristics in long-unburned Pinus palustris forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 44: 1477-1486.
  • *Cocking, M.I., J.M. Varner, and E.E. Knapp. 2014. Long-term effects of fire severity on oak-conifer dynamics in the southern Cascades. Ecological Applications 24: 94-107.
  • Hiers, J.K., J.W. Walters, R.J. Mitchell, J.M. Varner, L.M. Conner, L. Blanc, and J. Stowe. 2014. Ecological value of retaining pyrophytic oaks in longleaf pine ecosystems. Journal of Wildlife Management 78: 383-393.
  • Kreye, J.K., N.W. Brewer, P. Morgan, J.M. Varner, A.M.S. Smith, C.M. Hoffman, and R.D. Ottmar. 2014. Fire behavior in masticated fuels: A review. Forest Ecology & Management 314: 193-207. 
  • *Mola, J.M., J.M. Varner, E.S. Jules, and T. Spector. 2014. Altered community flammability in Florida’s Apalachicola ravines and implications for the persistence of the endangered conifer Torreya taxifolia. PLOS One 9: e103933.
  • *Crotteau, J., M. Ritchie, and J.M. Varner. 2014. A mixed-effects heterogeneous negative binomial model for post-fire conifer regeneration in northeastern California, USA. Forest Science 60: 275-287.
  • *Banwell, E.M. and J.M. Varner. 2014. Structure and composition of forest floor fuels in long-unburned Jeffrey pine-white fir forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin, USA. International Journal of Wildland Fire 23: 363-372.
  • Metz, M.R., J.M. Varner, K.M. Frangioso, R.K. Meentemeyer, and D.M. Rizzo. 2013. Unexpected redwood mortality from synergies between wildfire and an emerging infectious disease. Ecology 94: 2152-2159.
  • Ryan, K.C., E.E. Knapp, and J.M. Varner. 2013. Prescribed fire in North American forests and woodlands: history, current practice, and challenges. Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment 11: e15-e24; cover photograph.
  • Kreye, J.K., J.M. Varner, J.K. Hiers, and J. Mola*. 2013. Toward a mechanism for eastern North American forest mesophication: the role of litter drying. Ecological Applications 23: 1976-1986.
  • *Banwell, E.M., J.M. Varner, E.E. Knapp, and R.W. Van Kirk. 2013. Spatial, seasonal, and diel forest floor moisture dynamics in Jeffrey pine-white fir forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 305: 11-20.
  • *Crotteau, J., J.M. Varner, and M. Ritchie. 2013. Post-fire regeneration across a fire severity gradient in the southern Cascades. Forest Ecology and Management 287: 103-112. 
  • Kreye, J.K., J.M. Varner, C.J. Dugaw, J. Cao*, J. Szecsei*, and E.A. Engber. 2013. Pine cones facilitate ignition of forest floor duff. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 43: 512-516.
  • *Kuljian, H. and J.M. Varner. 2013. Foliar consumption across a sudden oak death chronosequence in laboratory fires. Fire Ecology 9: 33-44; cover photo.
  • *Perryman, H., C. Dugaw, J.M. Varner, and D. Johnson. 2013. A cellular automata model to link surface fires to firebrand lift-off and dispersal. International Journal of Wildland Fire 22: 428-439. 
  • Engber, E.A., J.M. Varner, C. Dugaw, L. Quinn-Davidson, and J.K. Hiers. 2013. Utility of an instantaneous moisture meter for duff moisture prediction in long-unburned longleaf pine forests. Southern Journal of Applied Forestry 37: 13-17. 
  • Jolly, W.M., R. Parsons, J.M. Varner, B.W. Butler, K.C. Ryan, and C.L. Gucker. 2012. Do mountain pine beetle outbreaks change the probability of active crown fire in lodgepole pine forests? Comment. Ecology 93(4): 941-946.
  • *Cocking, M.I., J.M. Varner, and R.L. Sherriff. 2012. California black oak responses to fire severity and native conifer encroachment in the Klamath Mountains. Forest Ecology and Management 270: 25-34.
  • *Engber, E.A. and J.M. Varner. 2012. Patterns of flammability of the California oaks: the role of leaf traits. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 42: 1965-1975.
  • *Engber, E.A. and J.M. Varner. 2012. Reversing conifer encroachment with prescribed fire: shifting mortality models toward restoration targets. Restoration Ecology 20: 665–668.
  • *Quinn-Davidson, L. and J.M. Varner. 2012. Impediments to prescribed fire across agency, landscape, and manager: An example from northern California. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21: 210-218.
  • *Kreye, J.K., J.M. Varner, and E.E. Knapp. 2012. Moisture desorption in mechanically masticated fuels: effects of particle fracturing and fuelbed compaction. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21: 894-904.
  • *Milich, K.L., J.D. Stuart, J.M. Varner, and K.L. Merriam. 2012. Seed viability and fire-related temperature regimes in interior California native cypresses. Fire Ecology 8: 107-124.
  • *Plummer, J.F., C.R. Keyes, and J.M. Varner. 2012. Early-stage thinning for the restoration of young redwood/ Douglas-fir forests in northern coastal California, USA. ISRN Ecology doi:10.5402/2012/725827
  • *Engber, E.A., J.M. Varner, L.A. Arguello, and N.G. Sugihara. 2011. The effects of conifer encroachment and overstory structure on fuels and fire in an oak woodland landscape. Fire Ecology 7(2): 32-50; cover photo.
  • Knapp, E.E., J.M. Varner, M.D Busse, C.N. Skinner, and C.A. Shestak. 2011. Behaviour and effects of prescribed fire in masticated fuel beds. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20: 932-945.
  • *Kreye, J.K., J.M. Varner, and E.E. Knapp. 2011. Laboratory fire behaviour in mechanically masticated fuelbeds. International Journal of Wildland Fire 20: 308-317.
  • Valachovic, Y.S., C.A. Lee, H. Scanlon, J.M. Varner, R. Glebocki, B.D. Graham, and D.M. Rizzo. 2011. Sudden oak death-caused changes to surface fuel loading and potential fire behavior in Douglas-fir-tanoak forests. Forest Ecology and Management 261: 1973-1986.
  • *Kane, J.M., J.M. Varner, E.E. Knapp, and R.F. Powers. 2010. Vegetation response to mechanical mastication in the northern Sierra. Applied Vegetation Science 13: 207-220.
  • *Kuljian, H. and J.M. Varner. 2010. The effects of sudden oak death on crown fire potential in California's tanoak forests. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 2103-2110.
  • O’Brien, J.J., J.K. Hiers, R.J. Mitchell, J.M. Varner, and K. Mordecai. 2010. Acute physiological stress and mortality following fire in a long-unburned longleaf pine ecosystem. Fire Ecology 6(2): 1-12.
  • *Kane, J.M., J.M. Varner, and E.E. Knapp. 2009. Novel fuelbed characteristics associated with mechanical mastication treatments in northern California and south-western Oregon, USA. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18: 686-697.
  • Kobziar, L.N., M.E. Rocca, C. Dicus, C. Hoffman, N. Sugihara, A. Thode, J.M. Varner, and P. Morgan. 2009. Challenges to educating the next generation of wildland fire professionals in the US. Journal of Forestry 107: 339-345.
  • Varner, J.M. and C.R. Keyes. 2009. Fuels treatments and fire models: Errors and corrections. Fire Management Today 69(3): 47-50. 
  • Varner, J.M., F.E. Putz, J.J. O’Brien, R.J. Mitchell, J.K. Hiers, and D.R. Gordon. 2009. Post-fire tree stress and growth following smoldering duff fires. Forest Ecology and Management 258: 2467-2474.
  • *Kane, J.M., J.M. Varner, and J.K. Hiers. 2008. The burning characteristics in southeastern oaks: discriminating fire facilitators from fire impeders. Forest Ecology and Management 256: 2039–2045. 
  • Pederson, N., J.M. Varner, and B.J. Palik. 2008. Canopy disturbance and tree recruitment over two centuries in a managed longleaf pine landscape. Forest Ecology and Management 254: 85-95.
  • *Kreye, J.K. and J.M. Varner. 2007. Moisture dynamics in masticated fuelbeds: A preliminary analysis. Pp 173-186 in: The Fire Environment- Innovations, Management, and Policy: Conference Proceedings. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Res. Sta. Proc. RMRS-P-46. Fort Collins, CO.
  • Varner, J.M., J.K. Hiers, R.D. Ottmar, D.R. Gordon, F.E. Putz, and D.D. Wade. 2007. Tree mortality resulting from re-introducing fire to long-unburned longleaf pine ecosystems: the importance of duff moisture. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 37: 1349–1358.
Professional Activities
  • Associate Editor, Forest Science
  • Associate Editor, Fire Ecology
  • Association for Fire Ecology, Education Committee
  • Society of American Foresters
  • International Association of Wildland Fire
  • Adjunct Faculty, Mississippi State University and Humboldt State University
    Dr. Morgan Varner

  • 540-231-4855
  • 228C Cheatham Hall
    310 West Campus Drive
    Blacksburg, VA 24061

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