Research Overview

In my lab we study microbial community ecology, with an emphasis on interactions between plants, microorganisms, and the soil ecosystem. These interactions can have dramatic consequences for plant health, fitness, and community dynamics, and they can determine how changes in plant community structure can lead to further soil-mediated changes in succession and ecosystem processes. We work in a variety of natural, restored, and managed ecosystems, and our research synthesizes aspects of community ecology, phylogeny, evolution, invasion biology, agroecology, and ecosystem function. We use a combination of field work and experimentation, molecular biology tools, functional assays, and multivariate statistical methods and modeling.

Typical questions that we ask include:

How do  changes in plant community composition (such as plant invasion and shrub encroachment) affect the structure and function of soil microbial communities? Do these changes have broader consequences for ecosystem function in invaded communities? Do particular microbial interactions facilitate invasions, and can we apply our knowledge of microbial interactions to help manage or eradicate plant invasions?

How can microbial interactions be used to improve agricultural production and sustainability? What impacts do cover crops and tillage practices have on soil microbial community composition and function, and can these practices be fine-tuned to lead to better economic and environmental impacts of agriculture?

What microorganisms participate in “plant-soil feedback?” How does “negative plant soil feedback” emerge, and what are the ecological and evolutionary forces that drive plant-soil feedback? How are these interactions structured in space and time and by the environment?

How do root-mediated and litter-mediated mechanisms of plant-microbe interaction differ for the ecology of plant and microbial communities? How do soil microorganisms interact with seeds, litter, phytochemicals, allelochemicals, and antimicrobial compounds, and how does chemical ecology shape the interactions between plants, microbes, and the soil ecosystem?