Scientists & Staff

Ron Zalesny in poplar stand in Po River Valley, Italy.

Ronald S. Zalesny Jr.

Supervisory Research Plant Geneticist
5985 Highway K
Rhinelander, WI, 54501-9128
Phone: 715-362-1132

Contact Ronald S. Zalesny Jr.

Current Research

I study genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating biomass production of short rotation woody crops (e.g., poplars and willows) grown for phytotechnologies, bioenergy, and fiber.

The provision of ecosystem services associated with these end uses is tightly linked with increasing human population levels at regional, national, and global scales, resulting in the need for such services along the urban to rural continuum that balance community well-being with ecological health and stability. To address this need, I am advancing short rotation woody crop production systems for pollution remediation and renewable energy.


I am developing phytoremediation and other phytotechnologies for ecosystem recovery, remediation, and restoration along the urban to rural continuum

* Phyto-Recurrent Selection: A Method for Selecting Genotypes for Phytotechnologies

* Phytoremediation of Inorganic Contaminants

* Phytoremediation of Organic Contaminants

* Mitigating Nonpoint Source Pollution in the Great Lakes Basin

* Urban Phytotechnologies for Faster Greening and Stormwater Mitigation

* The DeValix Technique: Ecological Restoration Mats Designed for Phytotechnologies

* Salt Tolerance and Salinity Thresholds of Woody Energy Crops

* Biochar: A Sustainable Soil Amendment

* Reclaiming and Restoring Lands Degraded from Mining

* Freshkills: Landfill to Park Conversion

I am refining silvicultural methods to provide ecosystem services such as optimal biomass productivity of hybrid poplar and willow across variable site and climate conditions

* Carbon Implications of Poplar Energy Crops Throughout the Energy Supply Chain

* Water Use Efficiency of Poplar and Willow Grown for Biomass and Phytotechnologies

* Predicting and Mapping Biomass of Poplar Energy Crops

* Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts from Short Rotation Woody Crops

* Optimizing Species Selection and Economic Performance of Woody Crops in the Southeastern, USA

* Economics of Poplar Production in Minnesota, USA

* Siting Poplar Biomass Systems to Increase Productivity and Ecosystem Services

* Technical Innovations to Enhance Energy Crop Production

* Adventitious Rooting and Early Establishment of Poplar Energy Crops

* Breeding and Selecting Poplar for Biofuels, Bioenergy, and Bioproducts

* Comprehensive Database of North American Poplar Research Published from 1989 to 2011


In addition to short rotation woody crops, I also study the impacts of changing climates on patterns of tree adaptation in northern coniferous forest ecosystems.

There is a need for long-term conifer management strategies that optimize ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and feedstock production potential of plantations and natural forests. The success of such systems depends upon understanding the linkages among energy, climate, and tree genetics, which are vital for promoting biologically and economically sustainable reforestation, afforestation, and gene conservation.


I am evaluating the resiliency and adaptation potential of northern forest conifers to changing climates, specifically as they relate to growth and yield

* Effects of Climate Change on the Productivity and Ecological Genetics of White Pine

Why This Research is Important

Understanding the underlying genetic and physiological mechanisms regulating growth and development of short rotation woody crops supports effective deployment of favorable genotypes that helps: 1) reduce impacts from invasive species, 2) provide energy sources that do not contribute to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and global climate change, and 3) improve ecosystems along the urban to rural continuum through recovery, remediation, and restoration. Overall, the knowledge gained from my research helps growers and researchers increase the success of sustainable woody crop production systems, while providing essential ecosystem services such as clean water and healthy soils.


  • Iowa State University (McNabb Excellence Fellow), Ph.D. Forest Biology (Quantitative Genetics & Tree Improvement), 2003
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, B.S. Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (Forest Resources & Biometrics), 1999

Professional Experience

  • Adjunct Professor, Visiting Scientist, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering 2020 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Missouri, College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources 2020 - Current
  • Supervisory Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI 2017 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, USDA Collaborator, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management 2009 - Current
  • Team Leader, Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI 2008 - 2017
  • Acting Project Leader, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-7, Rhinelander, WI 2014 - 2014
  • Research Plant Geneticist, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI 2003 - 2008
  • McNabb Fellow (Graduate Research Assistant), Iowa State University, Ames, IA 1999 - 2003
  • Forester, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI 1999 - 2003
  • Teaching Assistant, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 2001 - 2001
  • Forestry Technician, U.S. Forest Service, NRS-13, Rhinelander, WI 1995 - 1999
  • Undergraduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 1998 - 1998

Professional Organizations

  • IUFRO Working Group 2.08.04 (Physiology and Genetics of Poplars and Willows)

Awards & Recognition

  • Institute of Lowland Forestry & Environment, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, 2018 Collaboration and Partnership
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2016 Phytoremediation
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2015 Leadership
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2007 Fiber Production and Bioenergy
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 2006 Environmental Remediation
  • U.S. Forest Service Certificate of Merit Award, 1998 Safety

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Research Datasets

  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Coyle, David R. 2016. Final spatial and tabular poplar biomass estimates for Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA based on the approach for siting poplar energy production systems to increase productivity and associated ecosystem services. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.
  • Headlee, William L.; Lietz, Sue M.; Baumann, Tina M.; Zalesny, Ronald S. Jr.; Donner, Deahn M.; Hall, Richard B. 2016. Final spatial and tabular data from a process-based model (3-PG) used to predict and map hybrid poplar biomass productivity in Minnesota and Wisconsin, USA. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.

National Research Highlights

Three-week-old hybrid poplars planted to reduce runoff and filter subsurface water flow from a landfill in southeastern Wisconsin.

Scientists use plants to restore ecosystem health in the Great Lakes Basin

Year: 2017

A project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is greatly expanding the knowledge base of watershed-level benefits of phytoremediation: the direct use of living green plants for site remediation. The project includes projecting and measuring the volume of untreated urban runoff captured or treated at these sites.

Seventeen-year-old hybrid poplars used for phytoremediation at an industrial brownfield in North Carolina. Ron Zalesny, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Ecosystem Services and Environmental Technologies of Woody Crop Production Systems

Year: 2016

Long-term research led by Forest Service scientists show that short rotation woody crops such as poplar and willow can be grown to enhance ecosystem services when grown specifically for biomass production as well as environmental technologies such as phytoremediation and urban afforestation. These outcomes are described as part of a comprehensive special issue in the scientific journal BioEnergy Research that details recent and ongoing activities of the Forest Service and Agricultural Research Service at U.S. Department of Agriculture Biomass Research Centers to develop technologies for providing biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts.

Industrial poplar farm. Wisconsin Ron Zalesny, USDA Forest Service

Production Costs of Poplar Energy Crops in the Great Lake States

Year: 2014

Short-rotation woody crops have historically been used as feedstocks for energy and fiber, yet their relevance for environmental remediation technologies is becoming equally prominent. Regardless of their end use, knowing the costs associated with producing these crops is essential for maximizing the suite of ecosystem services the trees provide. Northern Research Station scientists developed the first-ever set of enterprise budgets detailing costs of these crops in the Lake States.

Northwoods Environmental Scholars group. Forest Service

Scholars Program Welcomes Youth into the World of Nature

Year: 2012

Alleviating nature deficit disorder in the youth of Wisconsin's Northwoods

Industrial poplar farm. Forest Service

Biomass Potential of Poplar Energy Crops in Minnesota and Wisconsin Assessed

Year: 2012

Scientists develop methods to map sites for poplar tree energy crops to enhance productivity and ecosystem services

Eight-year-old poplars ready to be harvested. R. Zalesny, Forest Service

Environmental and Economic Benefits of Short-Rotation Poplar Energy Crops

Year: 2011

Woody production systems and conversion technologies help maintain healthy forests and ecosystems, create high-paying manufacturing jobs, and meet local/regional energy demands. Poplars are dedicated energy crops that also conserve soil and water, recycle nutrients, and sequester carbon.

Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2020