Tindall defended her master’s thesis!

Photo of woman in front of mountains

Excitingly, master’s of science graduate student Tindall Ouverson successfully defended her thesis! Tindall is a student at Montana State University, and took over a collaborative project that stretches back when I left my postdoc position (to head to another job) in the Menalled Lab in 2017. Earlier this year, her first scientific paper was published, Temporal soil bacterial community responses to cropping systems and crop identity in dryland agroecosystems of the Northern Great Plains. More recently, she won first prize in the graduate students poster competition at the 2021 Montana State University LRES research colloquium.

Now that she has defended, Tindall will focus on revising the research thesis chapter which was not already published into a manuscript to submit for review at a scientific journal. After that, she is planning on pursuing her career in agricultural sustainability research and outreach.

RESPONSE OF SOIL BACTERIAL COMMUNITIES TO CROPPING SYSTEMS, TEMPORAL CHANGES, AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS

by

Laura Tindall Ouverson

Master of Science

Land Resources and Environmental Sciences

MONTANA STATE UNIVERSITY

Bozeman, Montana

July 12 2021

ABSTRACT

Soil bacterial communities are essential components of the soil ecosystem that support crop production and indicate a soil’s health. However, agriculture in semiarid drylands and their associated soil bacterial communities face increasingly warmer and drier conditions due to climate change. Two complementary studies were conducted to assess the response of soil bacterial communities to cropping systems, temporal changes, and soil temperature and moisture conditions in semiarid, dryland agricultural systems of the Northern Great Plains. 

The first study focused on soil bacterial community response to crop phase (i.e., crop species) of a rotation in contrasting cropping systems (chemical inputs and no-till, USDA-certified organic tilled, and USDA-certified organic sheep grazed) over a growing season. Organic grazed management supported more diverse bacterial communities than chemical no-till, though diversity in all systems decreased over the growing season. Organic grazed bacterial communities were distinct from those in the organic tilled and chemical no-till systems. An interaction between cropping system and crop phase affected community dissimilarity, indicating that overarching management systems and environmental conditions are influential on soil bacterial communities.

The second study evaluated soil bacterial communities in a winter wheat-cover crop or fallow rotation. Observations were conducted in the summer fallow and two cover crop mixtures differing by species composition and phenologies, terminated by three different methods (chemical, grazing, or haying), and subjected to either induced warmer/drier or ambient soil conditions. Only the presence and composition of cover crops affected bacterial community dissimilarity. Bacterial communities responded to an interaction between the presence and composition of cover crops and environmental conditions, but not termination. Additionally, soil bacterial communities from mid-season cover crops were distinct from early season and fallow. No treatments affected bacterial communities in 2019, which could be attributed to historic rainfall. Cover crop mixtures including species tolerant to warmer and drier conditions can foster diverse soil bacterial communities compared to fallow soils.

Overall, these studies increased our understanding of how soil bacterial communities respond to soil health building practices in the Northern Great Plains. Cropping systems can foster unique soil bacterial communities, but these effects may be moderated by environmental and temporal conditions.

Nick Hershbine is awarded UMaine Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year award!

Nick Hershbine, undergraduate student majoring in Ecology and Environmental Sciences in the Ishaq Lab has been awarded a 2020-2021 University of Maine Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year!!!!

Nick Hershbine, collecting soil using a soil corer in a low bush blueberry field, with a pone forest in the background.

Nick began working with me in summer 2020, on a collaborative project looking at microbes in the soil around low bush blueberry plants. At the time, he was early in his undergraduate program and having no prior laboratory skills. In addition, because of the pandemic, we have minimized interactions between students, such that Nick has primarily been working independently with occasional meetings with me to discuss his progress. Despite all of that, he has exceeded my expectations for his capacity to handle this tricky project, and more than that, to have the independence to make it his own and contribute to protocol development. Nick has had a positive impact on the lab, within the confines of the limited interactions between students allowed at this time.  He is kind and friendly, and makes the lab a welcoming place to work. Congrats on the award!!

Tindall’s first paper was accepted!

I’m pleased to announce that master’s student Tindall Ouverson’s first manuscript was accepted for publication!

Photo of woman in front of mountains

Tindall is a Master’s of Science in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University. Her graduate advisers are Drs. Fabian Menalled and Tim Seipel. Her research focuses on the response of soil microbial communities to cropping systems and climate change in semiarid agriculture. 

I have been mentoring Tindall as a graduate committee member since she began in fall 2019, teaching her laboratory and analytical skills in microbial ecology, DNA sequencing, and bioinformatic analysis. We first met when she came to visit when I was working in Oregon, and since then have connected remotely. She has a flair for bioinformatics analysis, and a passion for sustainable agricultural development. She plans to defend her thesis in 2021, and then to further her career in sustainable agriculture in Montana.


Tindall Ouverson, Jed Eberly, Tim Seipel, Fabian D. Menalled, Suzanne L. Ishaq. 2021. Temporal soil bacterial community responses to cropping systems and crop identity in dryland agroecosystems of the Northern Great Plains.  Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.  Article. Invited submission to Plant Growth-Promoting Microorganisms for Sustainable Agricultural Production  special collection.

Abstract

Industrialized agriculture results in simplified landscapes where many of the regulatory ecosystem functions driven by soil biological and physicochemical characteristics have been hampered or replaced with intensive, synthetic inputs. To restore long-term agricultural sustainability and soil health, soil should function as both a resource and a complex ecosystem. In this study, we examined how cropping systems impact soil bacterial community diversity and composition, important indicators of soil ecosystem health. Soils from a representative cropping system in the semi-arid Northern Great Plains were collected in June and August of 2017 from the final phase of a five-year crop rotation managed either with chemical inputs and no-tillage, as a USDA-certified organic tillage system, or as a USDA-certified organic sheep grazing system with reduced tillage intensity. DNA was extracted and sequenced for bacteria community analysis via 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Bacterial richness and diversity decreased in all farming systems from June to August and was lowest in the chemical no-tillage system, while evenness increased over the sampling period. Crop species identity did not affect bacterial richness, diversity, or evenness. Conventional no-till, organic tilled, and organic grazed management systems resulted in dissimilar microbial communities. Overall, cropping systems and seasonal changes had a greater effect on microbial community structure and diversity than crop identity. Future research should assess how the rhizobiome responds to the specific phases of a crop rotation, as differences in bulk soil microbial communities by crop identity were not detectable.

Paper published on soil microbes, climate change, and agriculture!

I’m pleased to announce that an article was published today on soil microbes, climate change, and agriculture! As local climates continue to shift, the dynamics of above- and below-ground associated bio-diversity will also shift, which will impact food production and the need for more sustainable practices. 

This publication is part of a series, from data collected from a long-term farming experiment in Bozeman, MT, led by researchers at Montana State University with whom I have published several times, including:

In this study, cropping system (such as organic or conventional), soil temperature, soil moisture, the diversity and biomass of weed communities, and treatment with Wheat streak mosaic virus were compared as related to the bacterial community in the soil associated with wheat plant roots.

This paper is open-access, which means anyone can read the full paper.


Dryland cropping systems, weed communities, and disease status modulate the effect of climate conditions on wheat soil bacterial communities.

Ishaq, S.L., Seipel, T., Yeoman, C.J., Menalled, F.D. 2020. mSphere DOI: 10.1128/mSphere.00340-20. Article.

Abstract

Little knowledge exists on how soil bacteria in agricultural settings are impacted by management practices and environmental conditions under current and predicted climate scenarios.  We assessed the impact of soil moisture, soil temperature, weed communities, and disease status on soil bacterial communities between three cropping systems: conventional no-till (CNT) utilizing synthetic pesticides and herbicides, 2) USDA-certified tilled organic (OT), and 3) USDA-certified organic with sheep grazing (OG).  Sampling date within the growing season, and associated soil temperature and moisture, exerted the greatest effect on bacterial communities, followed by cropping system, Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) infection status, and weed community. Soil temperature was negatively correlated with bacterial richness and evenness, while soil moisture was positively correlated with bacterial richness and evennessSoil temperature and soil moisture independently altered soil bacterial community similarity between treatments.  Inoculation of wheat with WSMV altered the associated soil bacteria, and there were interactions between disease status and cropping system, sampling date, and climate conditions, indicating the effect of multiple stressors on bacterial communities in soil.  .  In May and July, cropping system altered the effect of climate change on the bacterial community composition in hotter, and hotter and drier conditions as compared to ambient conditions, in samples not treated with WSMV.  Overall, this study indicates that predicted climate modifications as well as biological stressors play a fundamental role in the impact of cropping systems on soil bacterial communities.

A picture pointing downwards at two hands wearing gardening gloves and holding handfuls of soil in each hand. Roots and leaves protrude from the soil and the grass on the ground is blurred in the background.

Compost, food security, and social justice

What do compost, food security, and social justice have in common? They are all part of creating sustainable, more localized food systems that benefit the community. Want to know more? Check out the piece I co-wrote for The Conversation, along with two other soil microbe researchers.

City compost programs turn garbage into ‘black gold’ that boosts food security and social justice.” Kristen DeAngelis, Gwynne Mhuireach, Sue Ishaq, The Conversation. June 11, 2020

Dr. Kristen DeAngelis is an Associate Professor who studies microbes in soils, climate change, and human impacts, and Dr. Gwynne Mhuireach, a post-doctoral researcher who studies microbes in soils in the built environment and human health.

Image of plastic wrapped over soil to inhibit weed growth.

NE IPM funded collaborative proposal!

I’m pleased to announce that a small grant proposal I am part of was just funded by the Northeastern Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Center! The proposal, “A Working Group on Tarping and Soil Solarization”, brings together researchers and food production professionals from across New England to identify the current use of tarping and soil solarization to prevent weed growth without the use of chemcials, as well as identify barriers to adoption of this practice, and develop research proposals to fill any knowledge gaps related to the use of these methods and their effect on crop production, weed suppression, soil microbiota, and the local ecosystem.

Led by Dr. Sonja Birthisel (UM), the working group team is comprised of Dr. Alicyn Smart (UM), myself, Master Nathalie Lounsbury (UNH), and Eva Kinnebrew (UVM). We will be joined by over a dozen other researchers across New England who perform agricultural research, along with dozens of ‘stakeholders’: producers and other food production professionals who have an interest in the group findings and would make use of any knowledge we generate.

Featured Image Credit: Soil Solarization, Wikimedia

Wild blueberries on a bush.

My first funded proposal at UMaine!

Now that I’m an assistant professor, a significant amount of my time is spent writing grant proposals to fund projects I’d like to do in the future.

Many large federal or foundational grants take up to a year from submission to funds distribution, and the success rate, especially for newly-established researches, can be quite low. It’s prudent to start writing well in advance of the due date, and to start small, with “pilot projects”.

To that end, I’m pleased to announce that Dr. Lily Calderwood and I just received word that the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine is funding a pilot project of ours; “Exploration of Soil Microbiota in Wild Blueberry Soils“. We’ll be recruiting 1 – 2 UMaine students for summer/fall 2020 to participate in the research for their Capstone senior research projects.

Dr. Calderwood is an Extension Wild Blueberry Specialist, and Assistant Professor of Horticulture in the School of Food and Agriculture at UMaine. She and I developed this project when meeting for the first time, over coffee. We realized we’d both been at the University of Vermont doing our PhD’s concurrently, and in neighboring buildings! We got to chatting about my work in wheat soil microbial communities, and her work on blueberry production, and the untapped research potential between the two.

This pilot will generate some preliminary data to help us get a first look at the soil microbiota associated with blueberries, and in response to management practices and environmental conditions. From this seed funding, Lily and I hope to cultivate fruitful research projects for years to come!

Featured Image: Wild Maine Blueberries, Wikimedia