2020 – Fellowship Research Opportunities

The complete list of 2020 Fellowship Research Opportunities will be available soon. Check out the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Fellow Project Highlights to get an idea of the types of projects that will be available.

As part of the the Application Package, applicants must note the top two (2) research opportunities they would like to pursue.

Thomas Borch
Impact of Forest Fires on Biogeochemical Cycling of Soil Organic Matter and Nutrients in the Rocky Mountains

Dr. Thomas Borch is a Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University (CSU) and holds joint positions in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU. He is internationally recognized as an authority on soil and water processes that affect the fate and transport of emerging contaminants, pesticides, fertilizer, metals, and natural organic matter. He currently studies the potential environmental impacts of energy production (including hydraulic fracturing and uranium mining), contaminant uptake in food crops, novel management strategies for citrus greening disease, forest fire impacts on soil biogeochemistry, and the molecular mechanisms responsible for carbon sequestration in soils. He has published more than 75 peer-reviewed articles and received several prestigious awards such as the SSSA Marion L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Science Award and the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

2020 Project: The focus of this study is characterizing dissolved organic matter (DOM) in soil and water samples collected from burned watersheds in order to determine the impact of large sub-alpine forest fires on soil health and headwater quality. The study site chosen is located in Northern Colorado, an area impacted by the 2018 Ryan Fire with a footprint of 28,585 acres of burned forest. This event began in mid-September and continued for approximately one month. The area had previously been infested with bark beetles, contributing to a forest composition of 40-50% dead standing trees. Potentially increasing fire severity and intensity due to a higher fuel load. Importantly, a series of beaver ponds lies within an area of high severity burn, causing an abrupt change from an oxic to a reducing environment. Such a change in redox conditions can have large effects on fate and bioavailability of nutrients and toxic metals. The student needed for this project will help sampling soil and water from our high altitude sites in the Rockies (can be physically demanding), prepare samples for analysis, and analyze samples for nutrients, organic carbon and metals. The student may also help out on the microbial aspect of this project.


Chris Dorich
Improved Methodology and Estimation of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions in Agriculture

Chris Dorich is a research associate in the CSU Natural Resource Ecology Lab where he studies agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, and soil quality. His work is designed around agricultural efficiency, resilience, and the interactions of agriculture and climate change

2020 Project: Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas that is primarily released from agriculture. As intensification of crop production is needed to meet a growing population, N2O emissions are likely to increase. As N2O emissions are notoriously variable, improvements in estimates and methodology are needed in order to determine mitigation practices. This project will assist in current work on a Global N2O Database examining emissions data for improvements in gap-filling and estimation of N2O emissions data. While Chris Dorich will lead the mentorship for the student, the placement will be in association with Dr. Rich Conant’s lab group and research agenda.

Special Note: An additional opportunity with Chris Dorich and Rich Conant may be available to conduct research on decarbonization. Chris and Rich have been developing an app to help teach decarbonization to students in one of Rich’s classes. The app is a guided platform to let students analyze carbon emissions in-depth and design scenarios to reduce emissions at the country level (and to really see what these reduction scenarios mean for changes in energy, transportation and the economy).

Dr. Paul Evangelista
Evaluating the Influence of Forest Management on Fire

Dr. Paul Evangelista is a Research Ecologist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. His research has extended across a broad array of interests, including invasive species, forestry, rare and endangered wildlife, ecosystem services, fire ecology, and climate change. His interests are frequently examined in the context of space and time through techniques that combine field data, traditional and expert knowledge, geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and spatial statistics. Such analytical approaches have been used for early detection of invasive species, discovery of new wildlife populations, mapping land-cover and critical habitats, and predicting species’ distribution in response to changing climates. Dr. Evangelista’s research spans a wide breadth of ecosystems, including semi-arid canyon lands of the American Southwest, coniferous forests of the Rocky Mountains, Afro-alpine communities of Ethiopia’s highlands, and more recently, marine systems of the Atlantic Ocean.

2020 Project: Climate change is expected to increase the occurrence and severity of forest disturbances such as fire and bark beetle outbreaks. Questions remain about how forest managers should be preparing forests for the challenges ahead. In this fellowship, students will evaluate how forest management in the Colorado Rocky Mountains influenced subsequent burn severity and/or tree mortality from bark beetle outbreaks. Students will join our lab team to collect forest inventory field data and will have the opportunity to work with geographic information systems (GIS) and/or remote sensing. Findings from this work will inform forest management moving forward.

Dr. Nathan Mueller
Plant Traits and Global Agriculture

Dr. Nathan Mueller is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University. His research analyzes the interactions between climate, water resources, and agricultural management to promote global food security and more sustainable agricultural landscapes.

2020 Project: Agriculture has transformed the earth’s surface, altering vegetation characteristics important to the regulation of energy and the cycling of water and carbon. This project will use global spatial crop datasets and distributions of natural vegetation to calculate shifts in global plant traits associated with agricultural expansion.

Dr. Bill Parton
Great Plains Summer GrassCast

Dr. Bill Parton’s primary research activities center around the study of greenhouse gas emissions, predictive modeling to help stakeholders (i.e. ranchers and farmers) make informed decisions on how the climate will affect them in the coming year, and how land use change effects the carbon cycle. He is the primary author of the ecosystem models: Century, DayCent, ForCent, and is currently working on the development of PhotoCent. Additionally, he is working on the Grass-Cast Project which is a predictive above-ground grassland plant production (ANPP) model that uses current weather data, the DayCent model and precipitation forecasts to help ranchers predict what the grass production will be for the grazing season. Dr. Parton has published over 150 papers and book chapters. He is fellow for the Ecological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union and was honored as a Resident Distinguished Ecologist at Colorado State University.  He has had numerous projects funded by NSF, USDA, DOE, EPA and NIH.

2020 Project: Within CSU’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL), we have been developing a new grassland plant production data set. This effort is part of the GrassCast modeling effort funded by USDA. We developed a model for predicting rangeland plant production for all of the ranchers in the Great Plains and Southwest US . The GrassCast forecasts start in spring and are updated every two weeks until the end of the summer. We need help developing the grassland plant production web site and data system. The USDA NIFA REEU Fellow would work with us on developing the grassland data sets, getting the data into the data storage system and analyzing results from the extensive observed grassland plant production data. The student could help us determine the impact of different climatic variables on grassland plant production in the Great Plains and Southwest US. The student would need to know how to use spreadsheets to analyze the correlation of plant production  to environmental variables and help develop the new grassland plant production web site.

Katie Rocci
Stability of Soil Carbon in Response to Human-Induced Nutrient Fertilization

Katie Rocci is a PhD student with Dr. M. Francesca Cotrufo, a world-renowned soil biogeochemist. The Cotrufo lab studies soil carbon dynamics in our changing world. By increasing carbon storage in soils, we reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, thus reducing the effects of climate change. Katie’s research focuses on how carbon in the soils is affected by human-induced changes in the environment, such as increased pollution of nitrogen from agriculture and industry or elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

2020 Project: The student fellow will be integrated into a global project on nutrient addition effects on soil carbon (C) storage. Human-induced inputs of nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) may destabilize soil C and release it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. To investigate the stability of this C, we are obtaining soils from a global nutrient addition experiment and will be separating them into more and less stable fractions of C. Then we will measure the C, N, and P contents of these fractions and use statistical tools to determine what controls soil C stability globally. The student fellow would be able to create a question about how a variety of factors could affect soil C stability as there are data available for all sites on climate, soil types, and plant growth and composition. Additionally, the fellow would gain lab skills such as wet sieving, sample preparation, and measurement of C, N, and P using elemental analyzers, as well as statistical skills, such as how to interpret statistical output from R. The student will be directly mentored by PhD student Katie Rocci with oversight from Dr. M Francesca Cotrufo. The student will be integrated into the Cotrufo lab group weekly meetings, encouraged to attend lab group social events, and will be able to explore other parts of research, like field work, through other lab group members.