Please mark your calendar for the EEOB/EEB Seminar.
Ashley Keiser, Iowa State University
Microbes matter: Exploring the litter decomposition pyramid
210 Bessey Hall, with a reception preceding in 240 Bessey Hall.
Abstract: My research explores a key ecological process, litter decomposition, through the lens of the belowground, decomposer community. Foliar litter decomposition is mediated by the soil microbial community, but research consistently shows climate and litter quality are the primary drivers in cross-site studies. My research builds from the dominant paradigm that soil microbial communities are functionally equivalent due to their high genetic diversity, and thus, potential for redundancy across space. I demonstrate that soil microbial communities are in fact functionally dissimilar, and that they hold these functional legacies over time. A growing body of research suggests that differences in microbial communities are attributable to local adaptation, but as my research demonstrates, they could also vary due to differences in ability (e.g. functional breadth). As such, I propose a new statistical approach to unify theory and quantify functional differences among soil microbial communities. I then apply this quantitative approach to cross-site, field studies, which continue to support the idea that climate and litter quality drive decomposition dynamics. My data instead infer that climate correlates with soil microbial community function, and thus questions the relative importance of each in decomposition dynamics. This collective body of research suggests that due to functional legacies held by microbial communities and their interaction with climate, we must use caution when trying to make future predictions regarding patterns in decomposition, and hence the cycling of carbon and nutrients, using patterns generated across space.