Long-term crop rotational diversity impacts on soil food web structure and function

Mentor: Christine Sprunger (Assistant Professor), School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University

Project Description. Beneficial nematodes serve as critical bioindicators of ecosystem health because they are directly linked to important ecosystem functions including soil carbon cycling, soil physical maintenance, and biological control. Furthermore, nematodes respond rapidly to environmental disturbance and thus reflect the condition of an ecosystem. Nematodes also represent multiple trophic levels and the presence of certain nematode species can indicate whether a system is dominated by fungi or bacteria. Thus, nematode community composition can provide useful information about soil food web dynamics and nutrient cycling in a variety of systems. A significant gap in the scientific literature is understanding how nematode community dynamics shift overtime within agroecosystems and how this in term impacts ecosystem health. The objective of this REU project is to determine how long-term crop rotational diversity and no-till management influence nematode community composition and soil health. To address this objective, a chronosequence will be conducted at several long-term trials in the Midwest, including the Ohio State University’s Triplett-Van Doren trials which is in its 58th year, Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research (KBS LTER) program in SW Michigan, which is in its 32nd year, and MSU’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, which is in its 10th year. The student will be able to comparatively analyze nematode community composition and soil health indicators across space and time and determine if ecosystems become more structured with longer rotations.

This project provides a range of opportunities depending on the student’s interests. The student will gain skills in soil sampling, nematode identification, soil health laboratory analyses, and statistical analyses. Furthermore, the student will work alongside a variety of scientists including two graduate students, two technicians and a professor in the rhizospehre dynamics lab at OSU in addition to KBS LTER staff and scientists

Fellowship Description. The ideal candidate will have a general enthusiasm for agroecology field crop research and soil ecology. Interest in conveying research findings to a general audience is important. We will provide numerous opportunities for learning in the lab and field. A collaborative and team-oriented lab group of grad students and technicians that will provide research support and feedback when necessary and expose the student to a diverse range of projects.

The student will be responsible for 1) meeting all requirements of their mentor, 2) writing a blog post about their research for the KBS LTER website, 3) attending a professional development seminar at KBS on creating research posters, and 4) presenting a professional research poster at the KBS summer research symposium on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 at KBS.

Apply by sending your CV or resume and a 1-page statement of interest describing your interest in and qualifications for this opportunity to Dr. Christine Sprunger at Apply by March 20, 2020 for full consideration.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Kellogg Biological Station Long- term Ecological Research (KBS LTER) program. Priority will be given to non-MSU and OSU students who may not have many research opportunities at their college or university and under-represented minority students. Please note, students must be a U.S. citizen to apply.