• Interests

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

    Forests have been extensively degraded worldwide and intergovernmental initiatives have set ambitious targets to reforest millions of hectares over the next decade. To ensure these efforts succeed further effort must be made to integrate ecological theory with restoration practice. I focus on bridging this gap by using restoration experiments to advance ecological theory and improve restoration outcomes.


    To develop climate-resilient conservation and sustainable management tools, my work integrates plant functional ecology, ecophysiology, and biogeochemistry with large field experiments and statistical modeling. I conduct my research in direct collaboration with restoration practitioners. This has led to the development of restoration best practices and helped to integrate ecological theory into restoration practice.


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

  • Research Areas

  • 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 functional 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 and Hawai’i

    I am currently undertaking projects focused on uncovering how abiotic conditions at reintroduction and restoration sites contribute to outcomes of Costa Rican restorations and endangered Hawaiian plant reintroductions. 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., Jennifer S. Powers. 2022. Philosophical Transactions B. Accepted.

    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.

  • Outreach

  • I develop and implement outreach activities that engage with a wide range of audiences. In collaboration with Estación Experimental Forestal Horizontes I lead 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!