Helen Bothwell

Occupation:  Landscape & Community Geneticist,                                                                Biogeographer, Forest Ecologist, Climate Modeler, PhD candidate

Affiliation:  Northern Arizona University – Department of Biological Sciences

Helen’s Research:  I currently work with cottonwood, foundation species that exert a large impact on their surrounding communities and ecosystems.  As climate change rapidly alters community composition and the distribution of species, it is critical that we develop means for efficiently conserving whole communities and ecosystems.  Studying the underlying genetics of a small number of foundation species allows us to do just that.  I am interested in understanding why cottonwoods grow where they do and in predicting where they are expected to thrive or decline in the future by investigating the relative influences of historic, bioclimatic, and landscape features, and particularly how these have contributed to patterns of genetic diversity and population differentiation across the landscape.


B.S. University of Wisconsin – Madison, Conservation Biology, Art


Graduate Certificate in Applied Statistics, Northern Arizona University

PhD In progress at Northern Arizona University, Biology

Favorite Plant Species:  I love them all!  I’ll have to narrow it down to favorites by places I have lived and important people in my life: white pines, wise and majestic sentinels of the northern boreal forests and my father’s favorite tree; heavenly blue morning glories for my mother, the avid gardener; incense cedars, graceful silhouettes of the misty northwest; and of course all Salicaceae (cottonwood, aspen), golden harbingers of fall and the focus of my dissertation research.

On the Benefits of being a Biogeographer:  A major benefit of my fascination with the study of broad-scale biogeographic patterns is all the associated camping, hiking, and wild land exploration.  Since starting graduate school, I have lived roughly half of every summer in my tent.  I’ve sampled cottonwood along back roads and byways from Arizona to Montana, including abandoned cattle trails to majestic National Parks and everywhere in between.  It has given me a good sense of peace to experience first-hand the wealth of wide-open, undeveloped spaces that still abound throughout the western U.S. 

Places I’ve Lived:  on a homestead miles from Nowhere (WI), St. Cloud (MN), Madison (WI), Portland (OR), Flagstaff (AZ)

In my Field Backpack:  field notebook, GPS, gazetteers, coin envelopes, dri-rite, plastic bags, measuring tape, pencil, pen, sharpie, camera, sunscreen, water and food

My First Tree Planting:  Some of my earliest memories include helping my dad plant the more than a million trees that he raised on our property, converting our homestead into a thriving forest over the years.  Our “tree farm” was never harvested, simply planted for the love of it.  I treasure those childhood years roaming the woods, the creativity it fostered, and the deep appreciation it gave me for the interconnectedness of all living things.

My Most Recent Tree Planting:  Through a collaborative effort between the Cottonwood Ecology Group of Northern Arizona University and the Bureau of Reclamation, I helped plant ~17,000 trees at the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve.  This common garden provenance study serves the dual purposes of scientific research and forest habitat restoration along the lower Colorado River floodplain.  

Places I’ve Done Research:

  1. Grand Teton National Park, WY
  2. Bandelier National Monument, NM
  3. Great Basin National Park, NV
  4. In the back of beyond from Arizona to Montana
  5. Lindroth Entomology & Chemical Ecology Laboratory, UW-Madison, WI
  6. Berry Botanic Garden, Conservation Department, Portland, OR
  7. Center for Environmental Genetics & Genomics, Northern Arizona University, AZ

Helen’s Contact Info:

▪   Email Helen at Helen.Bothwell@nau.edu

▪   Follow Helen on Twitter at: @Helen_Bothwell  

▪   Helen was the Editor of Research Notes for Land Managers, a free publication aimed at bridging the gap between academic research and the land managers, conservation and restoration workers, and environmental educators who can best put these findings into action.  Research Notes presents the latest scientific findings and management implications of the Cottonwood Ecology Group in a short, readily accessible format:  http://www.poplar.nau.edu/researchnotes.php

**Helen is a 2012 GK-12 Fellow (NSF).  Her research has also been funded by a George Melendez Wright Climate Change Fellowship (NPS), an IGERT Fellowship (NSF), and through an NSF FIBR DEB-0425908 Grant.

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