ESS Scientists Discover Climate Change Alters Survival Strategies of Soil Bacteria
Climate forecasters predict that the timing and magnitude of rainfall events will intensify and become more varied in future decades, resulting in longer droughts but bigger downpours. This weather whiplash can wreak havoc on ecosystems and disrupt sensitive organisms such as microscopic soil bacteria that play in ecosystem health, soil fertility and in nutrient cycling. As many as 10,000 species of bacteria can live in a hand full of soil, and each has a different and important role to play within the community. But, little is known about their ability to tolerate or respond to changes in precipitation patterns – until now.
“These soil microbial communities impact ecosystem health, plant communities, carbon emissions, agriculture and much more,” said Sarah Evans, a CSU doctoral graduate and the paper’s lead author. “So, it is important to know how these microorganisms are going to respond to changes in precipitation patterns.”
Evans and CSU Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Professor Matthew Wallenstein examined whether bacterial communities can adapt to long-term changes in their climate, and the survival strategies that allow certain species to thrive under these new conditions. The team collected soil samples from the Rainfall Manipulation Plot Study in the US tallgrass prairie, where intensified precipitation patterns have been simulated for over a decade, as well as samples of soils receiving natural rainfall. The research team conducted a series drying and rewetting pulses on the different soils, and analyzed bacterial communities using a DNA approach.
USDA grant to convert beetle-killed trees into biofuel
“Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted over 42 million acres of U.S. forests since 1996, and a changing climate threatens to expand the threat from bark beetle on our forest lands,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we take steps to fight the bark beetle, this innovative research will help take the biomass that results from bark beetle infestation and create clean, renewable energy that holds potential for job creation and promises a cleaner future for America. This is yet another reminder of the critical investments provided by the Farm Bill for agricultural research, and I urge Congress to achieve passage of a new, long term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.”
There are many benefits to using beetle-killed wood for renewable fuel production. It requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns and likely has a highly favorable carbon balance. However, there are some challenges that have been a barrier to widespread use. It is typically located far from urban industrial centers, often in relatively inaccessible areas with challenging topography, which increases harvest and transportation costs. In addition to technical barriers, environmental impacts, social issues and local policy constraints to using beetle-kill wood and other forest residues remain largely unexplored.
"We thank the USDA for seeing the value in this CSU-led project that will turn beetle-kill wood into renewable fuels," said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Through the development of innovative technology and other solutions, this initiative will help improve forest health, create jobs and reduce the risk of intense, catastrophic wildfires. Under this grant, Colorado-based members of the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies - Colorado State University, the Colorado Forest Service at CSU and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - along with industry partner Cool Planet, will now demonstrate a solution to this problem.”
CSU researchers, together with other scientists from universities, government and private industry in the region, created the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) to address these challenges.
“Utilization of the beetle-kill wood and other waste biomass from forest thinning and fire hazard reduction has great potential for biofuel production,” said Keith Paustian, professor at CSU and BANR project director. “However, we need to carefully assess both the economics and environmental impacts to maximize the benefits to local communities and the country as a whole.”
Much of the project revolves around feedstock availability inventory and modeling, sustainable feedstock removal practices, transport and processing, and use of the biochar co-product resulting from the pyrolysis of biomass to produce “drop-in” transportation fuels. The project will undertake comprehensive economic, environmental, and social/policy assessment, and integrate research results into a web-based user-friendly decision support system.
CSU Scientist and Alumna Jill Baron Named Ecological Society of America President
Colorado State University Scientist Jill Baron has been elected President of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world's largest and leading organization of professional ecologists.
Baron is an ecosystem ecologist with United States Geological Survey (USGS), a senior research ecologist with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability – both in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, and a member of CSU’s Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. As ESA president, Baron will chair the governing board which is responsible for mapping ESA’s vision and goals.
"Ecologists have a tremendous knowledge of the environmental damage that is occurring on Earth, and we have the opportunity and responsibility to share that knowledge and seek practical tools to change the course we are on," said Baron. "It is an honor and a privilege to lead such a vibrant organization that is working to promote better, sustainable stewardship of our natural resources."