Nathan G. Swenson Professor; Gillen Director, Environmental Research Center (UNDERC)

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Trees
Nathan G. Swenson

Research Interests:

The goal of the research conducted in our research group is to leverage information regarding intra- and inter-specific variation in tree performance to understand and predict the past, present and future distribution of forest biodiversity. In pursuit of these research goals, our approach follows two guiding principles. First, we believe that the grand challenges facing scientists today require integrative approaches that draw from the concepts and techniques from many fields. We achieve this within the lab by attempting to tackle problems from genomes to forest canopies. Second, our research approach necessitates the collection and analysis of large datasets that document the distribution and dynamics of plant species on a global-scale. These data allow us to quantify the drivers of tree distributions and demography, which is an essential step for predicting the fate of individual species and forests in the future.



  • Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, IN 2021-Present
  • Gillen Director, University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC), University of Notre Dame, IN 2021-Present
  • Professor, Department of Biology, University of Maryland, MD 2018-2020
  • Associate Professor, Department of Biology, University of Maryland, MD 2015-2018
  • Associate Professor, Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, MI 2014-2015
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, MI 2009-2014
  • National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioinformatics, Center for Tropical Forest Science, Asia Program, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, MA 2008-2009
  • Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Minor in Global Change), University of Arizona, AZ 2008
  • M.Sc., Biology, New Mexico State University, NM 2004
  • B.A., Biology, St. Olaf College, MN 2001


Selected Recent Papers:

  • Worthy, S.J., D.C. Laughlin, J. Zambrano, M.N. Umana, C. Zhang, L. Lin, M. Cao, and N.G. Swenson. 2020. Alternative designs and tropical tree seedling growth performance landscapes. Ecology 101:e03007.
  • Swenson, N.G., C.M. Hulshof, M. Katabuchi and B.J. Enquist. In press. Long-term shifts in the functional composition and diversity of a tropical dry forest: a 30-year study. Ecological Monographs.
  • Chen, L., N.G. Swenson, N. Ji, X. Mi, H. Ren, L. Guo, and K. Ma. 2019. Differential soil fungus accumulation and density dependence of trees in a subtropical forest. Science 366:124-128.
  • Yang, J., M. Cao and N.G. Swenson. 2018. Why functional traits do not predict tree demographic rates. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 33:326-336.
  • Swenson, N.G., Y. Iida, R. Howe, A. Wolf, M.N. Umana, K. Petprakob, B.L. Turner and K. Ma. 2017. Tree co-occurrence and transcriptomic response to drought. Nature Communications 8:1996.
  • Zambrano, J., Y. Iida, R. Howe, L. Lin, M.N. Umana, A. Wolf, S.J. Worthy, and N.G. Swenson. 2017. Neighborhood defense gene similarity effects on tree performance: a community transcriptomic approach. Journal of Ecology 105:616-626.