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Research examining how morphology of volcanic parent material and topography influence soil hydraulic properties and control primary succession in dryland environments.

Dryland environments present challenging condition for ecosystem development, requiring specialized microbial and plant traits suited to the episodic nature of water inputs. The intrinsic nature of the abiotic substrate is also likely to play a critical role in water availability. In such environments, the hydraulic properties of the substrate will likely dictate the species distribution and abundance, as well as the successional timeframe and ecosystem resilience to drought.

The objective of this study was to quantify differences in soil hydraulic properties across varying volcanic parent material morphologies and ages within a semi-arid environment. We put these ecohydrologic properties into the context of a previous study by Eggler (1941), whose focus was on primary succession and vegetation distribution across different volcanic parent material morphologies at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho.

Wheatgrass profile

My research also examines seasonal shifts in precipitation and its influence on soil pedogenesis. Changing hydroclimate and land cover can greatly accelerate pedogenesis in eolian derived soils, shifting timescales of soil development from centuries or millennia, to only several decades. This is the first study we are aware of that actually demonstrates the effects of seasonal precipitation patterns on soil pedogenesis.

Avon River Catchment CZO

Soils are key drivers of the abundance and diversity of organisms in the biosphere. Recent work of mine with a large international group of collaborators examines how deep subsoil properties and depth to bedrock translate to surface distribution and diversity of primary producers and microorganisms. This project, located at the Avon River Catchment Critical Zone Observatory (CZO), includes extremely old soils that are severely weathered and nutrient poor, and provide a unique contrast to all my previous research sites in western North America.