Blog 4: The End of an Era: Saying See You Later to my Dirt

This research project has honestly not gone at all the way I anticipated – there have been so many obstacles that have prevented me from completing the work I set out to accomplish (from red tape issues to a global pandemic, which I definitely did not see coming). However, I am still immensely grateful for the opportunity that I was given to even begin this research and the incredible things that I learned during my time working on this project.

The smell of leaves after rain is something that I will now forever associate with Costa Rica and the beautiful nature there, and every time I think of the rainforest I remember how important it is to do everything that we can to protect it. This project is extremely close to my heart, as I truly believe environmental restoration, especially of tropical ecosystems, should be a top priority in our lives.

Even though I lived in Costa Rica before coming to college, this summer was the first time I had the opportunity to visit the cloud forest of Monteverde. It was really striking to see the climate difference even between the cloud forest, the area near my home, and the rainforest area I had worked in last summer. The short distance between these vastly different areas helped me to better understand how biodiverse the tropics truly are and how they contain so many different genera of animals, plants, and microbes in such a small geographical area.

I had an amazing time working with the Monteverde Institute and learned a lot of things that I did not foresee when I started the project, like information about native plants and their properties as well as an in-depth history of environmentalism in Monteverde and Costa Rica. I was also fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time with the leader of the Monteverde Institute (MVI), who inspired me with her life story and passion for her research that she conducts in the cloud forest.

Furthermore, I was able to work with my faculty mentor, MVI employees, and my peers to collect these soil samples and extract our DNA onsite at the MVI laboratory. Collecting the samples was a lot of work, as we crawled through the forest with our gear, often in the rain to collect over 100 unique soil samples, and purifying and extracting the DNA from these samples took weeks to complete, but the people I had working alongside me made the experience truly enjoyable.

Even though the data analysis portion of our project remains unfinished, I am excited to work on it as soon as possible. I hope that the data leads to further development of microbial ecology research as a tool to work towards environmental restorative land management practices.

Blog 3: Dirt Shenanigans

Tragically, we pick up where we left off – I was unable to use the facilities at Rutgers,  so we had to send our samples to Rutgers so that they could perform the next-generation sequencing themselves. Hopefully, the results will be sent back to us soon so that we can begin the current analysis.

Something that I have learned in this process is the importance of patience and adaptability, which I feel are two very important skills to learn in science, as results often do not support hypotheses or expectations.

I am excited to get to continue this project following the sequencing results.

BLOG 2: WOW! You won’t believe what we found in THIS dirt!

I have been working on analyzing the data we have obtained from prior years using statistical software such as SPSS and Primer/PERMANOVA+. I have learned how to conduct multivariate analyses, and have been reading about soil health and composition in tropical forests.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to analyze this year’s data yet. We are in the process of working through getting permission to use the facilities at Rutgers for Next-Gen sequencing, and also on fitting it into our budget. This will allow us to determine the composition of the microbial community from the samples we obtained. Once this is set up, I will be able to process and analyze this year’s data and compare it to previous years.

Blog 1: Effects of restoration strategies along a chronosequence on the soil lignin degraders and associated carbon metrics in a Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

My goal is to conduct a preliminary examination of the effects of several forest restoration strategies on the soil microbial community and associated carbon cycle metrics within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica. I hope to be able to determine if there are differences in the fungal and bacterial lignin degrading communities in the forest soils of the 3-15 year restored sites, and primary and secondary forests in the Reserve; if these differences can be correlated with changes in soil organic carbon and soil biomass carbon within the different sites; and be able to assess whether these restoration strategies are beneficial to the soil ecosystems and are decreasing the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere.

I collected soils from these different sites, which are currently being analyzed for the mean values of the total organic carbon, biomass carbon, and the efficiency of the use of organic carbon as the Microbial Quotient. I extracted total soil community DNA that will be sequenced into individual microbial genera using Next Generation DNA Sequencing. The abundance of each genus from each habitat will be determined and analyzed for critical differences between sites. I will then use the univariate statistics software SPSS, and the multivariate statistical software Primer/PERMANOVA+ to test the hypotheses that the differences in these metrics are reflections of the impacts of the restoration gradients. The overall goal is that by the end of my work, I will be able to show how the carbon measurements and the Microbial Quotients and the microbial genera of lignin degraders changed with the different restoration strategies; determine if these changes reflect benefits from the restoration activities, and at what age post restoration are the benefits observed.