Nathan Kiel Spotlight

1) Explain your research so that your grandparent or a 5-year-old would understand it.

I study how forests are changing with a warming climate and widespread wildfire. For my PhD, I have focused mostly on forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the Rocky Mountains. I am especially interested in understory plant communities, the flowering herbs, shrubs, and grasses common under the forest canopy. Extensive forest loss is expected with continued climate change and more frequent wildfires. I am working to understand what this forest loss could mean for the rest of Greater Yellowstone’s plant communities and determine what the future of these burned landscapes could look like.

2) What inspired you to pursue that research?

I grew up spending a lot of time hiking and camping. I quickly fell in love with the outdoors and was especially drawn to forests and mountains. Once I learned about our current ecological crises of climate change and global biodiversity loss, I wanted to find ways to protect the natural spaces I love. While studying conservation biology as an undergraduate student, I saw science and ecological research as a wonderful way to spend time in the forests I grew up exploring and contribute to our understanding of how they are changing. Yellowstone in particular has played a key role in the development of both the American environmental movement and the field of ecology, so to get to study the region’s forests was an opportunity I could not pass up.




3) What are your hobbies or interests outside of school?

I love to read, write poetry, and visit professional and semi-professional baseball stadiums. But my most recent interest (obsession?) is visiting as many of Wisconsin’s State Natural Areas as I can. These are parcels of land designated by the state’s Department of Natural Resources because of their unique ecology, geology, or scenic beauty. A couple of my favorites include Parfrey’s Glen, Ridgeway Pine Relict, and Spring Green Preserve. While I’ve visited nearly 300, the DNR protects almost 700, so there are still many more to visit!



4) What are your favorite places/things to do in Madison?

During the summer, I love biking the Lake Loop around Lake Monona, grabbing a brat at the Memorial Union Terrace, or taking a walk in the UW-Madison Arboretum. When it gets cold out, I like to relax and read at Lakeside Coffee House or spruce up my apartment with a houseplant from the Madison Greenhouse Store.

5) What are some pleasant surprises you’ve encountered while being a graduate student here?

I have been really impressed with all the professional development opportunities available to graduate students at UW-Madison and in iBio. I am really interested in teaching and undergraduate mentorship, and iBio’s flexible coursework requirements allowed me to take advantage of opportunities with the Delta Program, WISCIENCE Scientific Teaching Fellows Program, and BioHouse Residential Learning Community. Not only has this helped me professionally, but I’ve also been able to build a strong campus community and become friends with many people I otherwise would not have met.

6) What is your dream job?

It’s hard for me to pick just one dream job, because I feel like I’d be happy doing anything where I am helping to understand the natural world and working to create a better human relationship with it. This could be as a professor at a small university or as a research scientist with a governmental or non-governmental organization. We will see where life takes me!