Research

Broadly we study how biotic interactions impact biogeochemical cycles. Many of us focus on how plant traits and environmental conditions regulate decay agents to impact deadwood carbon cycling. We also study global macroevolution and functional ecology of plants, microbes and termites.

Here are some field-based projects that we are currently working on:

Australia. Queensland: We have a long-term experiment running along a rainfall gradient in Far North Queensland, from rainforest to savannah in which we are quantifying the biomass and carbon storage and turnover of wood. Projects include quantifying internal stem damage in living trees, relative roles of termites versus microbes in decaying deadwood with different wood traits, termite and gut microbiome turnover across species and space and carbon and methane flux rates from experimental deadwood and termite mounds. We will use these data in ecosystem models to predict how biotic wood decay agents affect carbon cycling under current and future climates. We are collaborating with artist Donna Davis to highlight the important roles of hidden players, such as termites and microbes for the carbon cycle. This work is supported by an NSF and NERC grant to Amy Zanne, Steve Allison and Paul Eggleton and in collaboration with the Cernusak, Cheesman, Powell and Cornwell labs in Australia. New South Wales: From a 5 year, decay plot plot at the Hawkesbury Campus, Western Sydney University with Jeff Powell and Will Cornwell, we are exploring drivers of wood decay across different species and stem sizes, including wood traits and microbial communities.

Brazil. Goiás: We are beginning projects in collaboration with Rafael Oliveira in Chapada dos Veadieros. In this work we will examine carbon dynamics in a seasonally flooded grassland, the impact of murundus (earth mounds, possibly termite derived) in shifting these carbon dynamics, and termite/Vellozia interactions in cerrado systems.

USA. DC, MD & VA: In collaboration with Roy Rich and Keryn Gedan, we are measuring fine scale carbon levels across Washington, DC during and after COVID19 lockdown, as well as impact of sea level rise, ghost forest formation and marsh migration on CO2 levels. With Sean McMahon and Jess Shue at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, we are measuring downed deadwood turnover, carbon fluxes and microbial communities with decay stage. FL: Watch this space! New projects soon.

Global. Across the globe, we are determining the relative role of saprotrophic microbes and insects in breaking down wood. This project partners with a large series of collaborators interested in examining these differences in natural and human-modified systems along different environmental gradients.

Our team also builds global scale databases to ask macroevolutionary and functional ecology questions. Here are some of our current database projects.

  1. FunFun: a dynamic functional trait database of the world’s fungi, check it out here
  2. Global Vessel Anatomy database - check it out here
  3. Global Wood Anatomy database - check it out here
  4. Data products from Three Keys to the radiation of angiosperms into freezing environments - including the global woodiness database, global leaf phenology database, global plant species freezing exposure database and phylogenetic and taxonomic resources - check it out here