Soil Science, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
Graduate Advisor: Dr. Linda van Diepen
In Fall 2020, the Mullen Fire burned over 175,000 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest in South-Eastern Wyoming. The USDA Forest Service has implemented a long-term plan to monitor vegetation in areas that are in a high risk category for the invasion of cheatgrass, as well as monitor the efficacy of the herbicide Rejuvra (indaziflam). Cheatgrass can have a multitude of negative affects on an ecosystem, including, increased fire susceptibility, and a decrease in the abundance of biodiversity of native grasses and small mammals. In cooperation with the USDA Forest Service, we aim to define short-term and long-term effects from the Mullen Fire on soil microbial and vegetation community recovery in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystems adjacent to the forests, with the novel aspects of how this is linked to the presence of cheatgrass, and how Rejuvra affects below- and aboveground biodiversity and carbon and nutrient cycles. Soil samples will be analyzed for basic chemical properties such as total carbon and nitrogen, available nutrients, and pH. Microbial diversity and biomass will be measured by DNA sequencing and phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA), and microbial function will be determined by extracellular enzyme analysis. In addition to collaboration with the USDA Forest service, we will be collaborating with the public through community science. By involving the public in the co-production of data, and regular updates on study findings, we hope to educate participants on ecological concepts, scientific methods, and study outcomes relevant to the Mullen Fire research project. We will also assess the gained knowledge and understanding of the involved public throughout the study with the goal of increasing the efficacy of scientific communication and the dissemination of research findings through a hands-on, community involved approach.
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A Wyoming landscape showing the effects of the Mullen Wildfire.