Robert T. Fahey, Ph.D. University of Connecticut

Robert T. Fahey, Ph.D.

George F. Cloutier Professor in Forestry


Robert Fahey is interested in understanding linkages between the composition, structure, and functioning of forest ecosystems.

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Dr. Fahey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of Connecticut. He is also George F. Cloutier Professor in Forestry and Director of the UConn Forest and the Associate Director of the UConn Eversource Energy Center. He received a B.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University, M.S. in Forest Science from Oregon State University, and Ph.D. in Forest Ecology and Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to UConn he spent four years as a research scientist at The Morton Arboretum outside Chicago, where he continues as a Research Fellow in the Center for Tree Science,. He is also a member of the research and teaching faculty at the University of Michigan Biological Station in northern Michigan.

When not doing research on or teaching about forests he can mainly be found running or hiking with his family on trails through those same forests.

Areas of Expertise

Natural Resources
Forest Ecology
Forest Ecosystems


University of Wisconsin-Madison


Forest Ecology and Management

Oregon State University


Forest Ecosystems

Cornell University


Natural Resources




Media Appearances

Why is New England's fall foliage so stunning? Take a hike through a forest to find out

Connecticut Public Radio  radio


One reason the foliage is so good is simply due to the number of species we have. “We have a very diverse hardwood forest in this part of New England,” said Bob Fahey, an associate professor and forest ecologist at UConn. “We have both species that are more southern species and also some of the more northern species.” “In comparison to say, the Mid-Atlantic or other places that have lots of deciduous species, we have maples, which are just the best,” he said.

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Drought contributes to brush fires along Route 7 in Danbury area: ‘It doesn’t take much’

NewsTimes  online


Historically, the region’s woodlands experienced a lot of fire — much of it from burning by indigenous people, according to Robert Fahey, an associate professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. “The ecosystem developed with fire, and that fire’s been excluded now for 400 years,” Fahey told Hearst Media Connecticut in May after the Middletown blaze.

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After days of burning, massive Middletown brush fires contained

Hearst Connecticut Media  online


Historically, the region’s woodlands experienced a lot of fire — much of it from burning by indigenous people, explained Robert Fahey, an associate professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. “The ecosystem developed with fire, and that fire’s been excluded now for 400 years,” he said. The dry ground conditions mean fires will burn along the ground, leaving trees largely untouched. For some forests, that’s beneficial, Fahey said. The problem in Connecticut, he said, is woodlands are often not contiguous.

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Adapting to an uncertain climate future, Connecticut auditions new forests

CT Mirror  online


Robert Fahey, an assistant professor in the natural resources and environment department at UConn, who is beginning a forest/climate change research project with DEEP, opts for “complexity” instead of “diversity.” “More complex age structure; more complex canopy structure. You get more carbon storage – by promoting complexity and diversity,” he said. “It’s often going to be the best way of hedging our bets.”

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Structural complexity in forests improves carbon capture

National Science Foundation  online


The study, by researchers at the University of Connecticut, Virginia Commonwealth University and Purdue University, demonstrates for the first time that a forest's structural complexity is a better predictor of carbon sequestration potential than tree species diversity. The research was funded by NSF's Division of Emerging Frontiers. "Now there is a recognition of the importance of how the leaf area is arrayed in three dimensions," says study author Robert Fahey, a forest ecologist at UConn. "The variability of the arrangement of the leaf area in the canopy can be important in terms of forest productivity as well as resilience to different types of disturbances and stressors."

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Beech bark disease does not reduce the long-term wood production of two forests contrasting in age, productivity, and structure

Forest Ecology and Management

2023 The distribution of pests and pathogens is increasing in many forested regions, producing uncertainty for ecological functions, including aboveground wood net primary production (NPP). In North American deciduous forests, beech bark disease (BBD) is restructuring and modifying the composition of forest stands, producing gradients of Fagus grandifolia mortality at finer patch scales. We investigated the multi-decadal effects of BBD on the aboveground wood NPP of a moderately productive middle-successional stand positioned on a glacial outwash plain and a relatively high productivity late-successional stand located on a moraine.

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Modeling the impact of local environmental variables on tree-related power outages along distribution powerlines

Electric Power Systems Research

2023 Accurate vegetation risk modeling requires detailed and timely information on the physical structure of roadside trees in conjunction with local environmental and management factors. This study aims to understand the contribution of multiple environmental and management variables on tree-related power outages during storm events at a fine scale. We developed and compared five candidate vegetation risk models (VRMs) comprising 19 predictor variables falling into four categories: (1) forest characteristics, (2) soil and terrain, (3) vegetation management, and (4) utility infrastructure using Random Forest (RF) algorithm.

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Short‐term effects of moderate severity disturbances on forest canopy structure

Journal of Ecology

2023 Moderate severity disturbances, those that do not result in stand replacement, play an essential role in ecosystem dynamics. Despite the prevalence of moderate severity disturbances and the significant impacts they impose on forest functioning, little is known about their effects on forest canopy structure and how these effects differ over time across a range of disturbance severities and disturbance types. Using longitudinal data from the National Ecological Observatory Network project, we assessed the effects of three moderate severity press disturbances (beech bark disease, hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer, which are characterized by continuous disturbance and sustained mortality) and three moderate severity pulse disturbances (spring cankerworm moth, spongy moth and ground fire, which are associated with discrete and relatively short mortalities) on temperate forest canopy structure in …

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A theoretical framework for the ecological role of three‐dimensional structural diversity

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

2023 The three‐dimensional (3D) physical aspects of ecosystems are intrinsically linked to ecological processes. Here, we describe structural diversity as the volumetric capacity, physical arrangement, and identity/traits of biotic components in an ecosystem. Despite being recognized in earlier ecological studies, structural diversity has been largely overlooked due to an absence of not only a theoretical foundation but also effective measurement tools. We present a framework for conceptualizing structural diversity and suggest how to facilitate its broader incorporation into ecological theory and practice. We also discuss how the interplay of genetic and environmental factors underpin structural diversity, allowing for a potentially unique synthetic approach to explain ecosystem function.

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Tree crown economics

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

2023 Trees respond to global change in myriad ways, many of which may be linked to adaptations relating to tree crown architecture. However, there is a paucity of theory capable of predicting the adaptive importance and dynamics of crown architecture, most likely because of the difficulties involved in measuring the three-dimensional arrangement and orientation of tree leaves within individual crowns. Here, we describe a theory of tree crown economics, and use measurements from new lidar (light detection and ranging) instruments, UAVs (unoccupied aerial vehicles), and time-lapse camera imagery to identify support for two predictions of the theory, that (1) a light competition versus water use economic trade-off drives covariance among three tree crown functional traits (mean leaf angle, crown density, and crown rugosity), and (2) crown traits can drive spatial and temporal variability in near-infrared spectral reflectance and related ecosystem functions.

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