Saturday, February 27, 2016

SEGA: Progress and updates from a warm winter

With the warm February temperatures we have been experiencing in Northern Arizona, it is starting to feel more and more like May. May? Wow, the thought of Late Spring is alluring: SEGA will be up and running with Blue grama in the field for a second growing season and we will have planted Ponderosa pine for the tree's first growing season out of the glasshouse.

It seems like an appropriate time then, to give a brief update on SEGA. In case your new to our site and some of the work we do, SEGA stands for Southwestern Experimental Garden Array. The Array consists of two parallel elevation gradients: one on basalt derived soils and one on lime and sandstone derived soils. The elevation gradient allows us to manipulate Temperature and Precipitation.  The contrasting soil types allow us to test fascinating questions in regards to plant migration, soil microbes, and local adaptation to edaphic factors. How important is soil type to plants  migrating to new locations? Are soil microbes generalists or specialists to soil conditions and types? Can soil microbes facilitate plant adaptation to new climatic and soil environments?
The weather and irrigation infrastructure at SEGA sure makes for a great platform for cool experimental designs!

Additional work on SEGA is hoping to better understand population genetics and epigenetics of Southwestern White Pine and the genetic mechanisms that promote resistance to drought and White Pine Blister Rust, an introduced fungal pathogen. The hope is that by better understanding some of these traits, land managers would be able to preserve the range of white pine in the face of pathogen encroachment and densification combined with increased drought frequency and severity. This project is led by Dr. Kristen Waring and her current graduate student Jessica DaBell if you want more information. 
I decided to help sow seeds with the White Pine research crew- another 40 down... 10,000+ to go! 

But for now, back to microbes. So far we find consistent evidence that there is high specificity in plants and soil microbes; not any old microbe will do, plants need the microbes from their site origin. This finding supports Nancy Johnson's "no place like home" hypothesis. As we continue our studies, our Ponderosa Pine seedlings are beginning to break bud with the warm weather and lengthening of days. Stay tuned for updates as we launch field season and continue to monitor our plants in the Field! 
Bud burst on a Ponderosa Pine Seedling has
resulted in some stunning fresh growth. This tree is
growing in soil from its home site, but with
a soil organism community from an unique site.  

Root for the home team! That leader is taking off!
This pine is grown with its home team soil organisms
and in its original soil. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Picturing biocrusts during the wintertime

The conditions in Moab, UT have been pretty ideal for crusts this winter.  6+ inches of snow stuck around for a while, then slowly melted, leaving north facing slopes with wet soil surfaces while the sun is shining. These conditions have resulted in some of the most robust looking crusts I have ever see.  Robust crusts like these, and the 2015 Biogeochemistry paper by Anthony Darrouzet-Nardi et al. which observed substantial net photosynthesis rates underneath snow, seem to suggest there is exciting work to be done about seasonality of biocrust growth and the importance of winter snow cover to these systems. Enjoy the pretty pictures of crusts!
Note the sporophytes emerging! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New Blog Feature: Web Apps

To explore new dimensions of science communication and data visualization, the Bowker Lab group is now developing informative web apps for a few of our research efforts. These are now located under the 'Web Apps' tab at the top of the page. Currently, we are featuring biocrust survey data from our MPG partnership:

Each of our survey points, to date, is represented on the map, and you can click on the points to reveal the species composition, with links to photos of each species. You can also explore the effects of environmental gradients, visualized as differing colors, on measures of biodiversity, depicted as dot size.

We hope that these data exploration tools will get more folks excited about biocrusts, and, in this case, assist land managers in conservation efforts!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Some recent papers from the lab (late 2015, early 2016)

Antoninka, A.J., Bowker, M.A., Reed, S.C., Doherty, K.D. 2015. Production of greenhouse-grown biocrust mosses and associated cyanobacteria to rehabilitate dryland soil function. Restoration Ecology doi:10.1111/rec/12311.

Results of one of our first experiments in the bryotron, the work that has convinced us there's a bright future in culturing biocrusts for rehabilitation. This photo has become the face of our lab.

Antoninka, A.J., Ritchie, M.E., Johnson, N.C. 2015. The hidden Serengeti - Mycorrhizal fungi respond to environmental gradients. Pedobiologia 58:165-176.

Rainfall and soil gradients differentially affect various members of the arbuscular mycorrhizal community. 

Delgado-Baquerizo, M., Maestre, F.T., Gallardo, A., Bowker M.A., et al. (over 50 authors) 2016. Human impacts and aridity differentially alter soil N availability in drylands worldwide. Global Ecology and Biogeography 25:36-45.

Another product from the global drylands database featuring, I think, the first SEM Manu constructed and a clever way that he summarized human impacts spatially. The guy is on fire.