- Area of Study Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution
I received my first taste of the scientific process as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College. As a biology major, I took great courses with dynamic professors who provided a solid foundation in classical ecology and evolutionary theory, but it was independent research experiences that inspired me to go on in science. My research focused on the influence of invasive species on meadow plant community composition although as my research questions evolved, I became increasingly interested in the role of plant-microbial interactions in community ecology and ecosystem function. Adrien Finzi’s lab at Boston University therefore provided a great opportunity to delve further into ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry as I began my graduate career.
My dissertation research focuses on the role of plant-microbial interactions in soil organic matter decomposition and soil carbon storage in peatland systems. Although peatlands are a major global carbon sink, the environmental and ecological mechanisms that foster carbon accumulation and the potential influence of climate change on this globally important ecosystem service remain unclear. I am therefore using a natural water table gradient in a Maine peatland to explore the role of water table associated changes in plant community composition and root biomass on microbial community structure, enzyme production, and rates of soil organic matter decomposition. I am also monitoring the isotopic composition of methane and carbon dioxide fluxes at the Department of Energy’s SPRUCE (Spruce and Peatland Resposnes to Climate and Environmental Change) Experiment near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The SPRUCE experiment will study the integrated impacts of experimental warming and elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations on greenhouse gas production in peatlands. The surface isotopic gas flux measurements allow us to separate the influence of warming and eCO2 on plant and microbial greenhouse gas production pathways. The project is part of a large multi-investigator project spearheaded by the Department of Energy and the USDA Forest Service. It therefore provides a great opportunity to work with scientists from all over the country.
BU has been an ideal fit for my graduate work. The Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution group within the Biology Department has diverse faculty with a wide range of expertise that provide unique perspectives on research questions and methodology. BU’s unique Biogeoscience Program also brings together research groups and graduate students focused at the interface of earth sciences, hydrology, ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, and much more. Weekly journal discussions, seminars, and collaborative projects engender a high degree of interdisciplinary interaction that has greatly broadened my scientific worldview.