Soil Biology Laboratory   

Christopher Blackwood

Department of Biological Sciences, Kent State University

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root specimen image





Untamed microorganisms grow in soil by the billions per handful.  They interact closely with plants and carry out an array of biogeochemical processes, with consequences for water quality, atmospheric change, and plant conservation.  And yet, the diversity and assembly of these microbial communities remains a mystery.  Most problems in community ecology can be reduced to two fundamental questions that apply to all organisms and environments:

To answer these questions, we test ecological theories that integrate local and regional processes, and deal explicitly with interactions between the organism niche and the environment.  We perform both manipulative experiments and detailed spatial analyses of communities and soil properties in the field, combining a variety of approaches (i.e., ecology, microbiology, molecular biology, soil science, multivariate spatial statistics, plant biology, evolutionary biology).




Microbial communities represent unique opportunities and challenges in testing ecological theory.  Microbes can be difficult to identify and characterize, but genomic information about microorganisms is rapidly accumulating, raising the prospect of enriching ecology with modern molecular and bioinformatic methods.  These methods have already revealed unanticipated diversity and unexplored, but widespread, microbial lineages present in soils.  Our challenge now is to determine how these organisms become distributed in the environment, and what their role is in creating stable ecosystems.

Tree roots present similar challenges, with trait variation among species often cryptic and hidden belowground.  However, roots play a key role in soil carbon sequestration and maintenance of biodiversity.  Combining molecular methods with other approaches now raises the prospect of revealing how, in natural, diverse forests, root traits vary and affect soil biogeochemical cycles.



Examples of ecosystem processes we study include:


Lab News Archive




Rhodotus palmatus mushrooms found during research trip in Michigan, 8/2011.


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