I study ecosystem ecology, and am interested in atmosphere-soil interactions that are controlled by plants and the microbes they associate with. I am especially interested in climate effects on plants and microbes that alter aspects of carbon and nitrogen cycling.
My research answers questions via measurements in the field and lab, and with process-based modeling simulations. Since moving to NM Tech, I've been extremely fortunate to take advantage of the range of ecosystems, both natural and managed, that are within close proximity to Socorro.
Abundant sunshine and abundant land make the SW USA attractive to grow fuel crops that don't interfere with food production. However, we know that land use change brings associated changes in the C and N cycle. We also know that agriculture in the SW is a challenge due to high temperatures and limited water resources, problems that are expected to intensify with climate change. But can soil C stocks be increased with low intensity agriculture that is resilient to climate change? Can an arid adapted crop like sorghum be leveraged for such a purpose?
I am working with researchers at Sandia National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University to understand within plant C dynamics that lead to increased root architecture and potentially increased soil C. There are many open questions related to what makes C persist in soils, the role of microbes in degrading or stabilizing soil C, and the influence of management practices like irrigation and N fertilization on roots and C inputs. We are trying to answer these questions with field measurements and modeling approaches.
Some trees (notably oaks) have a reproductive strategy known as masting where they invest huge amounts of carbon and nutrients to produce seeds, but not every year. Some evidence suggests that trees loose some ability to fix new carbon following reproduction. However, prior to masting trees might need to "stock up" on nutrients, and increase carbon flow to roots.
The Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge provides a natural climate change experiment in the form of a precipitation gradient. Making use of that natural variation in rainfall, we want to understand how pinyon pine, juniper and oak masting fits as part of the overall ecosystem carbon cycle.
Graduate student Angelica Cave will be attempting to answer those questions by exploring belowground. She is interested how soil microbes and plant root-fungal interactions facilitate water and nutrient uptake. Our long-term goal is to relate these microbial-plant interactions with both tree reproduction and soil carbon dynamics.