Utah State University ecologist Bonnie Waring heads one of seven projects chosen nationally by competitive peer review for a U.S. Department of Energy Terrestrial Ecological Sciences grant.
Waring receives a two-year, $295,967 award to fund her project, “Leveraging synthetic root-soil systems to quantify relationships between plant traits and the formation of soil organic carbon.” The award is sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the department’s Office of Science.
“Earth’s carbon is stored in three main places: the bodies of plants and animals, the atmosphere and the soil,” says Waring, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “And there’s more carbon in soil than the first two combined.”
Soil microbial respiration – ‘breathing’ or carbon dioxide release – plays a key role in global carbon cycling, she says, “but it tends to be out of sight, out of mind.”
“With the grant funding, we’ll explore some fundamental questions about soil and its response to climate change,” Warning says, “We’ll ask ‘What controls the resident time of carbon in soil?’ ‘How much will stay there and how much will return to the atmosphere?’”
Because of multiple factors, study of carbon is real soil is difficult.
“We’ve developed a new technique to create synthetic soil, which enables us to study carbon cycling in the lab,” Waring says. “Our lab soils are developed from samples collected throughout the state of Utah.”
Using this technique, Waring and her team can investigate the roles of varied components of soil, including minerals, organic matter and microbes.
“With the synthetic soil, we can test some exciting hypotheses about how plants and microbes change the soil,” she says. “From our findings, we can develop models to predict how climate changes affecting the soil will influence the carbon cycle.”
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science
Department of Biology and Ecology Center