• Interests

    Restoration ecology | Ecophysiology | Tropical and temperate forests | Ecosystem Ecology | Biogeochemistry | Ex situ conservation | UAS technology

    I am a restoration ecologist who focuses on developing tools to conserve and restore degraded forests. My work has spanned ecosystems from the temperate forests of the Northeastern United States to the tropical wet and dry forests of Costa Rica, Hawaii, and Mexico. I am committed to collaborating directly with restoration practitioners, which enables me not only to advance basic ecological and restoration theory, but also to apply effective approaches within the scope of large-scale reforestation projects.


    I am currently a restoration ecologist in the Crowther Lab at ETH Zürich, where I develop collaborative projects focused on understanding global restoration outcomes. I also serve as the Chief Scientific Advisor for the Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation.


    See more on my CV or Google scholar profile. Click here for a video of me discussing some of my work on ThinkTech Hawaii.

  • Research Areas

  • Taking the pulse of the global restoration movement


    As a restoration ecologist in the Crowther Lab at ETH Zürich I co-lead the Global Experiments Network (GEN) with Rebecca Cole. Our work is focused on synthesizing the results of global restoration outcomes and developing a network of sites across Central and South America to quantify the rates of ecosystem recovery under different restoration interventions. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you are interested in being involved!  

    Developing tools to restore tropical dry forests

    Costa Rica

    In collaboration with Estación Experimental Forestal Horizontes, I have developed projects using native trees to restore degraded tropical dry forests. Results thus far have enabled us to determine which tree species are suitable for restoration plantings on degraded Vertisol soils, and that ecophysiological and root traits are the best predictors of seedling performance. With these results in hand we used a functional trait-driven approach to design species mixes for 6-hectares of restoration planting which we are using to test successional and restoration theory. Haga clic aquí para una descripción en español.

    Determining the impacts of abiotic conditions on restoration outcomes

    Costa Rica

    I am currently undertaking projects focused on uncovering how abiotic conditions at reintroduction and restoration sites contribute to outcomes of tropical forest restorations. The goal of these projects is not only to improve restoration practice, but also to further the understanding of how environmental filtering impacts plant establishment and persistence in degraded environments.

    Using UAVs for ecosystem and wildlife monitoring

    Costa Rica and Minnesota

    As part of an interdisciplinary team I have helped to develop best-practice guidelines for observing wildlife with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Additionally, I am currently using UAVs to collect aerial imagery of secondary forests in Costa Rica to track forest regeneration and dynamics.

  • Recent Publications

  • For a complete list of my publications see my Google scholar profile or CV.

    Leland K. Werden, Colin Averill, Thomas W. Crowther, Erick Calderón-Morales, Laura Toro, Pedro Alvarado J., Milena Gutiérrez L., Danielle E. Mallory, Jennifer S. Powers. 2023. Philosophical Transactions B 378.

    Leland K. Werden, Karen D. Holl, José Miguel Chaves-Fallas, Federico Oviedo-Brenes, Juan Abel Rosales, Rakan A. Zahawi. 2021. Journal of Applied Ecology 58: 1693-1704.

    Leland K. Werden, Karen D. Holl, Juan Abel Rosales, Janelle M. Sylvester, Rakan A. Zahawi. 2020. Ecological Applications 30: e02139.

    Leland K. Werden, Erick Calderón‐Morales, Pedro Alvarado J., Milena Gutiérrez L., Derek A. Nedveck, Jennifer S. Powers. 2020. Ecological Applications 30: e02116..

    Leland K. Werden, Nellie C. Sugii, Lauren Weisenberger, Matthew J. Keir, Gregory Koob, Rakan A. Zahawi. 2020. Biological Conservation 243.

    Leland K. Werden, Pedro Alvarado J., Sebastian Zarges, Erick Calderón M., Erik M. Schilling, Milena Gutiérrez L., Jennifer S. Powers. 2018. Journal of Applied Ecology 55 (2): 1019-1028.

    Mark A. Ditmer, John B. Vincent, Leland K. Werden, Jessie C. Tanner, Timothy G. Laske, Paul A. Iaizzo, David L. Garshelis, John R. Fieberg. 2015. Current Biology 25: 1-6.

  •  Media Coverage

  • "Study finds bears react, then habituate, to drones"


    Mongabay -- January 29, 2019.

    "Finding a recipe for forest restoration"


    University of Minnesota Press release -- September 22nd, 2017

    "Re-peeling the effects of degradation: low-tech application of orange crop waste shows potential to restore tropical forests"


    Mongabay -- August 25, 2017

    "Drones could be stressing out wildlife, scientists suggest"


    Washington Post -- August 13, 2015.

    "American Voices: Drones Could Be Causing Stress To Wildlife"


    The Onion -- August 17, 2015.

  • Outreach

  • I develop and implement outreach activities that engage with a wide range of audiences. In collaboration with Estación Experimental Forestal Horizontes I led interactive field trips to restoration sites in English and Spanish for university faculty, college and high school students, and restoration and forestry professionals.


    To share my passion for forest restoration and ecophysiology with the general public, I co-designed and co-led sessions for Market Science, a volunteer organization that creates and teaches hands-on science curricula in Minnesota with the goal of making science exciting and accessible.


    I have also edited the blog for the NSF-funded PARTNERS (People and Reforestation in the Tropics, a Network for Education, Research, and Synthesis) Research Coordination Network. Check it out!