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Peter Palmiotto, PhD

Antioch University New England

My goal as a professor is to find the context that stimulates students to develop a passion for the natural world.

As a forest ecologist I ask what if as a means to unravel the dynamic nature of forested ecosystems. My research in ever-wet tropical ecosystems and mountain ecosystems of the northeast attempts to answer the ‘what if’ questions.

What if a hurricane of the intensity of the 1938 hurricane hits the forests of New England again? What if the Hemlock wooly adelgid recently discovered in 2007 in Rockland VT infests the hemlock dominated Pisgah State Park? What if our changing climate causes all the red spruce on Mt. Monadnock die?

It is through my research in forest ecology that I incorporate practical field skills and applied research into the classroom. This applied nature is critical to successful learning and the development of professional skills in my graduate students.

Concepts are more easily understood and interesting to students when taught in a realistic context. I draw on my 30 years of experience in temperate and tropical forest ecology to develop that context for my students. Classroom lessons complemented by field experience (i.e., field trips) and visible practical applications (i.e., outdoor lab exercises) of the subjects taught enable students to put their education into practice.

Educational History

  • Doctorate of Forestry, Yale University
  • MFS, Forest Ecology, Yale University
  • BS, Resource Management, SUNY
  • Certified Professional Forester
  • A.A.S. Forestry, Paul Smith’s College

Teaching Statement

I am fascinated how forests develop and change over time and how individual species are affected by and cause that change. I enjoy sharing my fascination about forests and ecology with my students because it is extremely rewarding to see students get excited and amazed about the natural environment. In addition, enthusiasm is contagious and students learn better when they are enthusiastic about a subject. I also believe that students who enter a natural resource profession should have a basic understanding of ecology because of the multitude of environmental challenges we currently face (e.g., deforestation and global warming).

I believe strongly in the utility of a field approach when teaching. Incorporating practical skills and applied research into classroom lectures is critical to successful learning because concepts are more easily understood and interesting to students when taught in a realistic context. Classroom lessons complemented by field experience (i.e., field trips) and visible practical applications (i.e., outdoor lab exercises) enable students to practice what they learn.

I have a strong desire to conduct research that can be used as a tool for teaching. Specifically, my interests lie in the field of plant ecology and ecosystem ecology focusing on the role of disturbance in the development and maintenance of forest communities. My research is ideal for student projects because it consists of numerous aspects that can match student’s interest and time frame. One of the best ways for students to learn is by conducting hands-on research that the student has responsibility for and control over. For example, in collaboration my graduate student Amber Boland we studied the impact of the December 2008 ice storm on the structure of the spruce-fir and hardwood forests of Mount Monadnock. In this research she learned methods of experimental design, field data collection, data analysis and will be writing a scientific paper.

Whether in the classroom or in indoor labs I believe it is important to find a realistic context to teach. I use a variety of teaching tools to create that context. My research experiences from around the world and in the U.S. provide me with numerous personal lessons that I incorporate into my teaching. For example, I use my tropical and temperate slide collection, my own research findings and physical samples to stress ecological principles in classroom lectures. To interest students in a topic and stimulate discussion in my seminar classes I require that students write discussion papers and debate the topics. The one-page discussion paper makes students think critically while improving their writing skills.

Thinking critically and integrating knowledge is what a graduate education should provide students. A graduate education should take students beyond simply acquiring knowledge, it should be an experience during which students develop independent thinking, one that drives them to ask probing questions and seek answers that adds knowledge and understanding to our complex world.

In addition, I also strongly believe that students need to develop outstanding technical and professional skills as the foundation for their higher learning. Knowing how to use a compass and map, knowing how to create a professional quality graphic, knowing how to communicate professionally whether through writing, speech or personal behavior and presentation are a few of the examples of skills that are important for success of an environmental professional. As students learn the content that a graduate education provides, they also need to be provided the technical and professional skills needed for success.

I enjoy working with students and work to emulate a professor I had at Yale University. This professor had the ability to motivate students, encourage their creativity and push them to do their best. He could turn any situation into an informative and rewarding lesson. Teaching is a process of discovery and learning. There is always more to learn and better ways to convey to others what we have learned. My goal as a teacher is to continually seek ways to better convey my growing knowledge to students and to find the context that stimulates students’ passion for the natural world.

New England Mountain Ecology

Mt Moosilauke ; 4810′
The spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests on Mt. Moosilauke and at the Hubbard Brook Forest Experimental Station in New Hampshire have been ideal sites to study forest species populations dynamics. The established datasets at these sites provide the critical baseline data upon which ecosystem level questions and questions that ask ‘what if’ can be built. The ongoing population level studies examine the development of the current forests and aim to predict their future composition (Peart and Palmiotto, 1990; Peart, 1991; Peart, 1992, Landis and Peart 2005.). Permanent research plots I helped establish in 1986-87 and remeasured in 1998 and 2010 in collaboration with Professor David Peart at Dartmouth College provides an insite into Mt Moosilauke’s forested ecosystem. Analysis and publications that will come out in the next few years will add substantially to our understanding of the dynamics of the growth and development of the spruce-fir forest and provide solid data to model community dynamics.

Mount Monadnock 3165′
My research on Monadnock with the MERE project was inspired simply by asking what if all the red spruce on the mountain died due to climate change. With MS candidate David Mallard we established permanent research plots to following the changes in the forest communities into the future. David will use the data collected in the summer of 2007 to describe the distribution and health of forest communities in relation to elevation, aspect and soils above 2000 feet. The information collected will be used specifically to develop educational programs that engage the general public, especially the 100,000 visitors that hike the mountain annually. These programs will bring the ecology of the mountain and the effects of climate change on its ecosystems to the public through talks, scientific and popular articles and educational displays at the park headquarters and along trails and possibly other educational avenues as time, resources and interest permit. This effort is part of a large project called the Monadnock Ecological Research and Education Project (MERE)which aims to inform the public about the effect of climate change on local plant communities. This project has the endorsement and cooperation of The Society for the Protection of NH Forests, the State of NH, Monadnock State Park, and the Monadnock Advisory Commission. Insurance coverage, permits, and appropriate permissions have been secured through Antioch University New England.

Tropical Ecology
My research focuses on the biological attributes of individual tree species that influence ecosystem level processes and biological diversity in forest ecosystems. My graduate studies in tropical ecosystem ecology addressed ecosystem level questions in a tropical evergreen mixed dipterocarp forest in the Lambir Hills of northwestern Malaysia and Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia. My dissertation research, conducted in Malaysia, found evidence that nutrients may play an important role in creating tree species diversity. In the past, researchers have identified light and moisture as important limiting resources in forest ecosystems and used these variables to explain patterns of species diversity. I found evidence that nutrient cycles varied within a single forest type and that these cycles were correlated with the base nutrient status of the underlying soils. My research demonstrated that a species restricted to a more nutrient poor soil was more nitrogen use-efficient and phosphorus use-efficient than a closely related sympatric species restricted to a more nutrient rich soil (Palmiotto, in prep). This research is significant because it shows that tree species have the ability to differentiate among habitats due to variation in nutrient status. These results imply that, in addition to light and moisture upon which a great deal of research effort has been concentrated, nutrient-use efficiency is another mechanism that significantly influences growth.

Wood, Z.T., Peart, D.R., Palmiotto, P.A., Kong, L. and Peart, N.V. 2015. Asymptotic allometry and transition to the canopy in Abies balsamea. Journal of Ecology. 103: 1658-1666.

Fischer, S, Williams, E., Brower, L., Palmiotto, P.A. 2015. Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Reproduction by Mowing Fields of Common Milkweed, American Midland Naturalist. 173(2):229-240.

Estes JG, Othman N, Ismail S, Ancrenaz M, Goossens B, Ambu, L, Estes, A; Palmiotto, P.A. (2012). Quantity and Configuration of Available Elephant Habitat and Related Conservation Concerns in the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain of Sabah, Malaysia. PLoS ONE 7(10): e44601. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044601.

Wolfe, Y., Palmiotto, P.A., and Magee, D. (2009). The Ram’s Head Lady’s slipper (Cypripedium Arietinum): A primer for wetland preservation in the Carney Fen Wetland complex, Carney, MI. The Michigan Botantist. vol: 48.

Tan, S., Yamakura, Tani, Masako, Palmiotto, P.A. ,Mamit, J.D. Pin, C.S., Davies, S., Ashton, P. Baillie, I.C. (2009). Review of Soils on the 52 ha Longterm Ecological Research plot in Mixed Dipterocarp Forest at Lambir, Sarawak, Malaysia Borneo. Tropics. 18 (2): 61-86.

Outreach/Community Service

DirectorMonadnock Ecology Research and Education (MERE) Project
MERE Project has provided numerous graduate students, local college and high school students the opportunity to learn from and about Mt Monadnock. The MERE project ultimately seeks to promote informed use and foster appreciation of Mount Monadnock through ecological research, monitoring, and educational outreach.

Ad-hoc Airport Obstruction Clearing Project Committee
City of Keene, NH. 2013 – 2014

Natural Resources Advisory Committee
SW Regional Planning Commission. Keene, NH. 2012 – 2015

Walpole Conservation Commission ; alternate
Town of Walpole, NH. 2012 – present
Through my work with the conservation commission I have provided practicum opportunities for numerous students on conservation topics. For example, Town wide Wetlands inventory, town wide Natural Resource Inventory, Conservation Planning, GIS mapping, Values of Natural Resource, Town Forest Recreation plans.

Pisgah Technical Team
Development of Forest Management Plan Pisgah State Park. State of NH. 2007 ; 2010.

Science Advisory Committee
Monadnock Conservancy, Keene, NH. 2005 ; 2006.

Peter Palmiotta headshot

Core Faculty,

Environmental Studies & Sustainability


Environmental Studies & Sustainability


Courses Taught

  • Community Ecology of the New England Landscape
  • New England Flora
  • Natural Resource Inventory Methods
  • Research Seminar
  • Wildlife and Forest Management
  • Field Studies Trips
  • Ecology and Management of the Adirondack Mts.
  • Ecology of the Pacific Northwest
  • White Mountain Ecology: An Ecosystem Approach

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