Laura Ladwig to receive NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant!

Three cheers for Laura! Her DDIG, "DISSERTATION RESEARCH: Semiarid Soil Microbial Response to Global
Change" will be recommended for funding by the Population and Community Ecology Program at NSF. The non-technical abstract for her award says:

Grasslands cover much of the world and many people depend on them for livelihoods and survival. Yet properly functioning grasslands depend on key interactions with microbes – the bacteria and fungi that occur in grassland soils. This research examines how microbes contribute to grassland responses to predicted global change. We will address a fundamental ecological challenge: measuring the response of microbial species in a native desert grassland to global change.

Desert soils harbor high microbial diversity, but collecting, identifying and interpreting this diversity remains a challenge. Genomic tools are the main method for determine which soil microbes occur and what they are doing in those soils. This research will greatly increase our knowledge of soil microbial communities in dryland ecosystems. Most importantly, by obtaining a more comprehensive knowledge of microbial response to climate and land-use alterations, we can predict how soil microbes will respond to predicted global environmental changes.

Grasslands provide many ecosystem services that benefit humans, yet they are changing rapidly in response to climate change and human land use. Teaching people about the influence of both plant and microbial components of grasslands is timely and critical to help others place value on these ecosystems. To communicate our research to the public we are collaborating with the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico as they develop a new visitors center to educate the public about National Wildlife Refuges, aridland ecology, and the role of research in understanding and managing ecosystems. We will be developing both educational materials and exhibits for the Refuge’s new Visitor’s Center. This effort also includes SNWR more public tours and a public seminar series, and we will be actively involved in these outreach activities. In addition, we will participate in the Junior Scientist Outreach Program (JSOP) a new outreach activity coordinated by the UNM Department of Biology. The JSOP initiative is aimed at making science fun, interesting, and accessible to 4th and 5th grade underrepresented children from the South Valley neighborhoods of Albuquerque. Each year, JSOP engages high school students in hands-on activities coordinated by research scientists. We will host annual JSOP summer field camps at the Sevilleta LTER to introduce the students to ecology and the biology of microbes in desert soils.