For my research I am currently studying the effects of deforestation from the development logging roads. In particular, I have chosen to study the direct effects of different habitats (forest, logging road, and edge) on the microbial environment. Specifically I will be studying the bacterial and fungal lignin degraders which take complex carbon from plant roots and convert them into nitrogen. This has required a large amount of data analysis in excel and PrimerPermanova.
In excel I have analyzed the abundances and diversity of each of the fungal and bacterial groups across habitats and also the composition of the nutrients in the soil. I then performed a permanova test on the data to find any significant differences between the habitats. I have identified that there is a relationship between the success of the lignin degraders and the quality of the soil. Where there was less abundance and diversity in the bacterial and fungal populations as there was an increase in the percent composition of sand. Meaning as there was more sand there was less lignin degraders in the soil. This also means that there is a decrease in the available nitrogen within the soil which prevents the increase of biomass by the plants.
Now that there is a clear relationship between the soil composition and the lignin degraders, the next step will be to identify which specific genera of lignin degraders are the most influential between habitats.
Restoration efforts in Costa Rica have been conducted for the last 15 years. Much of the research has been focused on the components of above-ground vegetation and little on the effects of the soil’s microbial life and nitrogen cycle. The Genus Inga is known to be a major source of nitrogen fixation within the soil of Costa Rica. Nitrogen fixating is an important component to the carbon-nitrogen cycle. The carbon-nitrogen cycle is the model describing the use and recycling of the carbon and nitrogen by plants and invertebrates (bacteria/fungi) within the soil. Specifically, Inga are nitrogen fixating trees that convert ammonium into nitrate which is the most useable form of inorganic nitrate used to increase the recovering forests biomass. The goal of the research in Costa Rica will be to assess the success of restoration efforts by the Monteverde Institute in regards to the ammonium, nitrate, carbon biomass, organic carbon efficiency, and bacterial/fungal genera within the soils of plots planted 3-15 years ago. By the end of the research we hope to determine if the restoration efforts conducted by the Monteverde Institute are successful and to create a model for future restoration efforts.
In order to conduct this research a team of students led by Dr. Eaton traveled to the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica to begin field research. Several different experiments were planted by the Monteverde Institute prior to our arrival, each involving their own set of treatments and variables. We initially established several plots for each treatment type and then took soil samples, involving 5 soil cores for each sample, from each of the established plots. We then extracted DNA from each of the samples to determine the genera of bacteria and fungi. The remaining soil from the samples was then sent to a lab for nutrient composition analysis. With the data collected from the field, we will now compare the genera composition with the soil composition and determine any correlations.
By the end of the research, I hope to gain experience in field research and laboratory work as I pursue a career in environmental sciences. I will also then continue to work with Dr. Eaton and my peers in hopes of writing a publication based on the research conducted in Costa Rica.