TSS People

Rosie Fisher, Scientist II

Short Bio

I am a staff scientist in the Terrestrial Sciences Section working on development of the Community Land Model. My research is primarily motivated by the potential for the biosphere to generate large feedbacks to climate change, via changes in CO2 balance, evaporation and trace gas emissions. Within this, I am involved in the development and testing of new methods for simulating the future of global ecosystems and their responses to change. The development of 'predictive ecology' is in its infancy, and our understanding of ecosystem processes is far from ideal. Dynamic Global Vegetation Models, that attempt to predict the distribution and structure of ecosystems in the future, are thus a necessary but imperfect means by which we attempt to forecast the impacts of global environmental change on natural ecosystems.

Prior to coming to NCAR, I was a post-doc researcher with Nate McDowell at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and also at the University of Sheffield in the UK, where I worked on the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) with Prof. Ian Woodward. My graduate studies were at the University of Edinburgh with Mathew Williams, Patrick Meir and Yadvinder Malhi, where I was involved with a 1 hectare rainfall manipulation experiment in Eastern Brazil, investigating the impact of drought on the Amazon rainforest through plant hydrodynamic models and ecophysiological measurement techniques. Our experiment is ongoing (now the longest running of it's kind), and is yielding more interesting results each year. I also worked for six months as a post-doc and canopy access technician for Maurizio Mencuccinni and Jordi Martinez-Vilalta after my PhD graduation.

Research Interests

My interests span a wide spectrum of issues related to the development of simulation models of ecosystem function. Normally, this involves increasing the complexity of a model so that it provides a higher resolution simulation of the real world. Ideally, we hope to find instances where the self-organizing properties of ecosystems allow us to simplify our model structure. Harnessing the emergent behaviour of plants and ecosystems arguably provides the most promising avenue for the development of predictive models of the biosphere. My research currently focuses on the following specific areas:

  • The representation of ecological scale interactions (competition, recruitment, migration) in global scale predictive models
  • The ecophysiology of the Amazon Rainforest, particularly the impact of drought on canopy gas exchange and demographics
  • Mechanisms, simulation and parameterisation of plant mortality processes
  • Interactions between the Nitrogen and Carbon cycles and the role of N limitation in determining the ability of additional carbon dioxide to fertilise plant growth
  • Simulating the co-dependence between fire and vegetation structure
  • Optimality models of 'ideal' plant resource allocation for coupled carbon, nitrogen and water acquisition.
  • Parameteric and structural uncertainty in land surface models.


I am one of the primary developers of the Community Land Model (the CLM), and have been coordinating community efforts accross numerous institutions including NASA-JPL, LANL, Berkeley Lab, Virginia Tech, to intergrate numerous new representations of Nitrogen processes into the codebase of the upcoming CLM5, in addition to parameter space exploration, plant hydraulics representations, and modifications of the representation vegetation carbon economy.

During my first few years at NCAR, I was responsible for the development of the CLM(ED) model: integration of the Ecosystem Demography model (a size-and-age structured representation of ecosystem structure and competition) into the CLM code base. The CLM(ED) is one of several efforts worldwide to improve the linkages of plant ecology and Earth System Models (ESMs), to better represent the processes governing ecosystem structure, and the vulnerabilities and resiliece of the carbon, nutrient and water cycles with respect to climatic conditions.

The CLM(ED) model is the focus of model development within the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment in the Tropics (NGEE-T) a US Dept. of Energy funded initiative to improve tropical forest representations in ESMs. I am a member of the Executive Committee and the modeling co-lead for the NGEE-tropics project, and am coordinating research into the representation of fire-vegetation interactions with NCAR NGEE-T funded scientist Dr Jacquelyn Shuman. After further development by the NGEE-tropics community, CLM(ED) is now known as FATES (the Functionally Assembled Terrestrial Ecosystem Simulator) and can be used as a module in alternative 'host' land surface schemes, here: (FATES code)


  • Ph.D. : The Response of Amazon Rainforest to Drought: Edinburgh University. (2005)
  • M.Res.: Research in the Natural Environment, Edinburgh University. (2001)
  • B.A. : Biological Sciences, Oxford University. (2000)

Selected Publications

See cv (updated October 2017), for full list.

Fisher, R.A., Koven, C.D., Anderegg, W.R., Christoffersen, B.O., Dietze, M.C., Farrior, C., Holm, J.A., Hurtt, G., Knox, R.G., Lawrence, P.J. Lichststein, J.W., Longo, M., Matheny, A. M., Medvigy, D., Muller-Landau, H. C., Powell, T. L., Serbin, S. P., Sato, H., Shuman, J., Smith, B., Trugman, A. T., Viskari, T., Verbeeck, H., Weng, E., Xu, C., Xu, X., Zhang, T. and Moorcroft, P. 2017. Vegetation Demographics in Earth System Models: a review of progress and priorities. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.13910

Christoffersen, B. O., Gloor, M., Fauset, S., Fyllas, N. M., Galbraith, D. R., Baker, T. R., Rowland, L., Fisher, R. A., Binks, O. J., Sevanto, S. A., Xu, C., Jansen, S., Choat, B., Mencuccini, M., McDowell, N. G., and Meir, P.: Linking hydraulic traits to tropical forest function in a size-structured and trait-driven model (TFS v.1-Hydro), Geoscientific. Model Development, doi:10.5194/gmd-2016-128 2016.

R. A. Fisher, S. Muszala, M. Verteinstein, P. Lawrence, C. Xu, N. G. McDowell, R. G. Knox, C. Koven, J. Holm, B. M. Rogers, D. Lawrence, and G. Bonan (2015) Taking off the training wheels: the properties of a dynamic vegetation model without climate envelopes. Geoscientific Model Development., 8, 3593-3619, doi:10.5194/gmd- 8-3593-2015

Dahlin, K. M., R. A. Fisher , and P. J. Lawrence. Environmental drivers of drought deciduous phenology in the Community Land Model. (2015). Biogeosciences, 12, 58035839, doi:10.5194/bgd-12-5803-2015

McDowell, N.G., A.P. Williams, C. Xu, W.T. Pockman, L.T. Dickman, S. Sevanto, R. Pangle, J. Limousin, J. Plaut, D. Scott Mackay, J. Ogee, J.C. Domec, C.D. Allen, R.A. Fisher, X. Jiang, J. Muss, D.D. Breshears, S. A. Rauscher, C. Koven. (2015) Convergent predictions of massive conifer mortality due to chronic temperature rise. , Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate2873

Chris Huntingford, Przemyslaw Zelazowski, David Galbraith, Lina M. Mercado, Stephen Sitch, Rosie Fisher, Mark Lomas, Anthony P. Walker et al. (2013). Simulated resilience of tropical rainforests to CO2-induced climate change Nature Geosciences doi:10.1038/ngeo1741

Gordon Bonan, Keith Oleson, Rosie Fisher, Gitta Lasslop & Markus Reichstein (2012). Reconciling leaf physiological traits and canopy flux data: Use of the TRY and FLUXNET databases in the Community Land Model version 4 Journal of Geophysical Research, Biogeosciences 117, G02026, 19 PP., 2012

Chonggang Xu, Rosie Fisher, Cathy Wilson, Stan Wullschleger, Michael Cai, Nate McDowell. Toward a mechanistic modeling of nitrogen limitation on vegetation dynamics PlosOne

Fisher R.A. Modelling Plant Ecology. Contribution to `Environmental Modellng: Finding Simplicity in Complexity.' eds. Wainwright J. & Mulligan M. Wiley-Blackwell. 2013 ISBN: 978-0-470-74911-1

Fisher R.A, McDowell N., Purves D.W., Moorcroft P.R., Sitch S., Meir P., Cox P., Huntingford C. & Woodward F.I. (2010) Ecological scale limitations in second generation dynamic vegetation models. New Phytologist. 187(3) 666-681

J.B. Fisher, S. Sitch, Y. Malhi, R.A. Fisher, C. Huntingford & S.-Y. Tan. (2010) The carbon cost of plant nitrogen acquisition: A mechanistic, globally-applicable model of plant nitrogen uptake, retranslocation and fixation. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. doi:10.1029/20009GBC003530.

Malhi Y., Aragao L., Fisher R.A., Galbraith D., Huntingford C., McSweeney C., New M., Sitch S., Zelazowski P. (2009) A tipping point in the Amazon? Exploring the likelihood and mechanism of a climate-change induced dieback of the Amazon rainforest. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Special issue on `Tipping points in the Earth System'). doi: 10.1073/pnas.0804619106.

Fisher R.A., Williams M., Ruivo M.L., Sombroek W.G & Lola da Costa, A. (2008) Evaluating climatic and edaphic controls of drought stress at two Amazonian rain forest sites. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 148 (6-7), 850-861

Fisher R.A., Williams M., Lola da Costa A., Malhi Y., da Costa R.F., Almeida S. & Meir P. (2007) The response of an Eastern Amazonian rain forest to drought stress: Results and modeling analyses from a through-fall exclusion experiment. Global Change Biology 13, 2361-2378

Fisher R.A., Williams M. Lobo do Vale R., Lola da Costa, A. & Meir P. (2006) Evidence from Amazonian forests is consistent with isohydric control of leaf water potential. Plant, Cell and Environment. 29 151-165.

Other Publications

David Lawrence and Rosie Fisher. Bridging the gap between iLEAPs and GEWEX communities: The CLM perspective (2013) . iLeaps Newsletter 'Terrestrial Feedbacks and Earth System Models'.

Jeffrey Chambers, Rosie Fisher Jefferson Hall, Richard Norby, Steve Wofsy (2012). Research Priorities for Tropical Ecosystems Under Climate Change. DoE workshop report.

CGD People

Rosie Fisher, Scientist II