Welcome to the Kansas NSF EPSCoR (KNE) news and announcements blog. Stay up-to-date with all the happenings, discoveries, events and funding opportunities associated with KNE. Enter your email in the "Follow by email" box below and to the right to stay notified of new posts. Feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Girls Scouts of the Kansas Heartland learn about fungi

     On Saturday, November 3, 2018, Theo Michaels and Jacob Hopkins presented a lesson module on fungi to the Girls Scouts of the Kansas Heartland during the 2018 Girl Scout STEM Expo at Camp Tongawood in Tonganoxie, KS.  Both Michaels and Hopkins are Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) PhD candidates at the University of Kansas (KU) working in the Sikes Microbial Laboratory with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB at KU, Assistant Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) plant systems research team member. Michaels is also a member of the MAPS research team.
     About two years ago, Andrew Mongue and Kaila Colyott, two KU EEB Graduate Student Organization (GSO) members, and some local girl scout troops collaborated to create this event. Hopkins added, “Due to their fantastic efforts and the success of the first event, the event was held again this year." Both Michaels and Hopkins were invited to participate by Anna Klompen, the current KU EEB GSO outreach committee chair, who was instrumental in planning this year's event.
Jacob Hopkins and Theo Michaels
teaching Girl Scouts about fungi
    The 2018 STEM Expo presenters were asked to develop “a module that educated scouts in particular STEM fields.” Hopkins explained, “The modules were designed to be an informative and interactive way to get scouts interested in science.” In addition, some of the modules were designed to meet badge requirements. Hopkins described the module he and Michaels taught as follows: “In our module, we taught the girls about the basics of fungi, what mushrooms are, mushroom anatomy, basic microscopy, how to recognize Kansas mushrooms, mushroom safety, and how to grow their own fungi. The fungi basics and safety sections were composed of light lecture. The mushroom anatomy was a hands-on activity where scouts identified parts of a provided mushroom (purchased at the grocery store). The Recognizing mushrooms portion relied on KU herbarium specimens to teach the scouts about edible mushrooms in Kansas and their poisonous look-a-likes. The Grow your own fungi activity allowed the girls to plate fungi from different sources (i.e. fingers, leaves, sticks, rocks, shoes) on a petri dish that they got to take home and record what grew.”
     When Hopkins and Michaels were asked why they wanted to participate in the Girl Scout STEM Expo, Hopkins said “We participated because scientific outreach opportunities are key for: a) educating the general public about what scientists do, b) showing off how wonderful the world around us is, and c) providing a strong platform for getting scouts interested in STEM fields at a young age. Also, developing and presenting outreach modules is a lot of fun.” Michaels went on to add that the activity provided “a good chance for the girl scouts to talk to real live scientists about science, what it takes to be a scientist, and how to foster their interests moving forward. It also gives them a chance to see how science is a lens by which to explore our world and ask questions that can both directly and indirectly pertain to our daily lives.”
     In addition to Hopkins’ and Michaels’ module, “there were several other STEM modules presented by KU EEB GSO students at the event.”  Multiple troops from across Kansas, made up of about 80 Girl Scouts, attended the 2018 STEM Expo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

HERS student studies the environmental impacts of bison and fire on the prairie

Willow Kipp
     Willow Kipp understands that becoming well informed about Native American and environmental policies is essential to be a successful advocate for her community, “instead of being reactive to the rapidly changing governments and climate change.” With this goal in mind, Willow wanted to conduct further research on environmental issues, so she decided to attend the 2018 Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Summer Program supported by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. 
     The HERS program, housed at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence KS, “provides the platform for various stages of support for programs of interest to American Indian/Alaska native communities, most recently focused on the effects of climate change on indigenous communities.” The program allows students to conduct independent research and then present their findings at a national convention. Willow selected a project that allowed her to study the important role bison and fire play in sustaining the biodiversity of the Blackfeet Reservation's prairie. She titled her project Bison, Fire, Nitsitapii: Utilizing Innii (Bison) and Controlled burns to Maintain Short-Mixed Grass Prairie Biodiversity within the Blackfeet Nation.
     She described her research as follows: "Blackfeet people have actively managed the short-mixed grass prairie through bison herd management and controlled burns for hundreds of years.... Bison are a keystone species on the Blackfeet Reservation’s short-mixed grass prairie which is located in the Rocky Mountain Plains Region." Bison and controlled burns restore the prairie's ecological growth succession cycle (EGSC) and enhance its biodiversity. The bison's grazing habits and the bison's fur, chips, urine and wallows promote growth and productivity of the prairie's indigenous plants. Thus,"highlighting bison as caretakers of the land." Exercising a similar function,"controlled burns regenerate the ecological growth succession cycle too and reduce the intensity and destructiveness of wild fires" by burning the vegetation that can fuel them. Bison also "graze on burned sites which is one way bison and fire" work together to maintain the biodiversity within the Blackfeet Reservation's short-mixed grass prairie. Willow concluded, "I found that when both bison and fire are being actively managed, the prairie is in its healthiest state and biodiversity is sustained.” This past summer, Willow presented her research during a poster session at the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (UCAR) 2018 Conference held in Boulder, CO.
Willow's poster describing her HERS research
 that she presented at UCAR
    When she described her HERS experience, Willow said the program provided her with a great opportunity to conduct "in depth research on a topic of interest to me and my community.” She added that it also allowed her to enhance her writing skills. She mentioned the best and most eye opening experience came when the 2018 HERS cohort visited the Konza Prairie Biological Station. During the visit, Willow had the opportunity to personally observe bison, conduct field research, and use the data collected for her final project.  In addition, she said the HERS program allowed her to “create a scholarly project documenting ancient tribal practices as a current and relevant necessity of today.”
    Willow is Shoshone-Bannock from Fort Hall, ID and Blackfeet from Browning MT.  She earned her bachelor's and associate's degree in Native American Studies (NAS) and Environmental Studies (ENST) from the University of Montana in Missoula MT. In addition to her studies, Willow chaired several campus wide events. She also was a member of the Sacred Roots Language Society, and she won the University of Montana's Student Diversity and Leadership Award. As for her future plans, Willow wants to attend law school and pursue a career in Tribal/criminal law working for the Blackfeet or Shoshone/Bannock tribes.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Benedictine College student studies the impacts of fire severity on fungi

Hannah Dea
     When Hannah Dea took a Mycology course at Benedictine College, taught by Dr. Janet Paper, she became “fascinated by the enormous role that fungi play in the life and health of plants.” She especially enjoyed learning about mycorrhizal fungi, the fungi that form a mutualist relationship with the root systems of plants as well as provide plants with nutrients. Because of this course, she wanted to continue researching ecological topics, so she found and decided to apply to the 2018 Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) at the University of Kansas (KU).
     Upon her acceptance into the EEB REU program, Hannah chose a fungi research project that paired her with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB at KU, Assistant Scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, and Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas plant systems research team member. She titled her project Fire severity effects on ectomycorrhizal colonization of Longleaf pine and Loblolly pine. Hannah explained her research project as follows:
Hannah analyzing ectos roots
“My project looked at how fire severity affects the relationship between microbial communities and soil nutrients and how this in turn affects a fire tolerant and a non-fire tolerant species of pine. I wanted to find out whether a more severe fire, which would kill off the microbial communities and release nutrients from the soil, would make the soil conditions more favorable to the fire tolerant Longleaf pine or to the non-fire tolerant Loblolly pine. My hypothesis was that, since fire tolerant species are more accustomed to fire affected soils, the fire tolerant species would be benefited by increasing fire severity while non-fire tolerant species would not. To test this, after both species were grown in high, medium, and low severity fire soil for 3 months, I took the percent colonization of ectomycorrhizae (a fungal mutualist on the plant roots essential for nutrient uptake) on both species of pine as well as the biomass of each plant. I found that while the biomass of the two species did not differ, the Longleaf pine had a much more efficient relationship with the ectomycorrhizae than the Loblolly pine. This showed that the fire tolerant species had a bit of an advantage over the non-fire tolerant species."
     When she was asked what the best part of her summer research experience was, she replied “My favorite part of the experience was living in a research community that allowed me to focus on sharpening my research skills. There were so many resources at KU that allowed me to do science without hindrance from lack of help or resources. I love plant and fungal ecology, and this allowed me to dive into it for a whole summer!” She added that the experience taught her how to conduct research, create good questions, make predictions, collect and analyze data and to communicate science “in a way that even non-scientists would understand.”
     Hannah is from Templeton, Iowa and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Latin at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. She is a student leader involved with Campus Ministries, and she assists with organizing and setting up masses on campus. Hannah has also been an officer in the Biology Club and is currently a Latin tutor for the college. Participating in this EEB REU reaffirmed her desire to pursue a career as a conservation biologist, an educator, and/or a naturalist. She plans to earn her masters degree in ecology after graduation. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kansas NSF EPSCoR Announces the MAPS REI Award Recipients

     The Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 Microbiomes of Plant, Aquatic and Soil Systems across Kansas(MAPS) has awarded four Research and Education Innovation (REI) Awards for 2019-2020. REI Awards are specifically for small projects that will either allow for networking and planning or allow for the immediate pursuit of larger projects that are developing new transformational concepts. Faculty from the University of Kansas (KU), Kansas State University (KSU), Wichita State University (WSU), Fort Hayes State University (FHSU) and Washburn University (Washburn) are all encouraged to submit proposals. This funding is awarded to both research and education projects, given their close relationship, and selections are made in the same spirit as and share goals with NSF EAGER (Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research) awards for high risk/high gain research ideas. This year, the MAPS REI selection committee chose four REI proposals to fund. Project summaries and the broader impacts of the investigations provided by the investigators of the awarded projects are included below.
Dr. Ted Harris and Dr. Jerry DeNoyelles

Are persistent organic pollutants altering microbial methane emissions?

Dr. Ted Harris, Assistant Research Professor, Kansas Biological Survey, KU and
Dr. Jerry DeNoyelles, Deputy Director and Senior Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, KU

Project Summary:
     Freshwater systems are significant sources of methane and carbon dioxide, which exacerbate the effects of climate change. The established paradigm that microbial methanogenesis occurs exclusively in anoxic hypolimnetic waters has been challenged by studies showing that oxic methanogensis also represents a substantial source of methane (i.e., causing oversaturation in oxygenated surface waters – termed the “methane paradox”). Recent research has shown that microbes and cyanobacteria are able to cleave phosphonate compounds and create methane as a by-product to overcome phosphorus (P)-limitation. However, other direct or indirect methanogensis pathways – especially those in nitrogen (N) limited systems- are yet to be elucidated. Global estimates of freshwater methane emissions vary widely because differences in nutrient stoichiometry, phytoplankton community composition, and persistent organic pollutants
(POPs) - all of which likely mediate oxic methanogenesis- are not accounted for. The goal of this proposal is to experimentally test how (i) nutrient stoichiometry and (ii) glyphosate, a persistent organic pollutant containing phosphonate, mediate the microbial and phytoplankton community, which in turn likely alter methanogenesis and methane emissions from freshwaters systems. Resolving the methane paradox requires elucidating mechanisms and understanding relations between relevant parameters controlling oxic methanogenesis. This proposal tests recently discovered (methanogenesis by phosphonate cleavage in P-limited systems) and hypothetical interactions between nutrient stoichiometry, POPs, phytoplankton community composition/ cyanobacterial blooms, and global greenhouse gas emissions. Glyphosate is widely used and contains phosphonate, and could be indirectly altering global freshwater methane emissions. Thus, experimental results will likely yield a significant step forward in understanding the mechanisms and controlling factors of oxic methanogenesis in (i) N- and P-limited systems and (ii) when anthropogenically-created phosphonates are present in aquatic systems.

Boarder Impacts:
     The proposal is aligned with the philosophy and goals of the Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class at Baldwin City High School (20 miles south of the University of Kansas). Thus, we propose to conduct the experiment with the 2019-2020 AP Biology class; students will conduct the experiment with the help of the PIs and international collaborators while learning experimental design and analyses that directly connect with (i) their curriculum and (ii) relevant state-wide (e.g., eutrophication, harmful algal blooms) and global (e.g., climate change) issues. Because the experimental design and sampling methods are simple and structured in basic science, this proposal will serve as vehicle for exploratory research on oxic methane production and an outreach template to engage high school students via authentic experimental mesocosm research. Future funding requests will seek to expand mesocosm experiments to high schools across Kansas, and likely experimentally test other factors that may alter greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater systems.

Dr. James Bever, Dr. Folashade Agusto, KU and
Dr. Thomas Platt, KSU
Synergism between plant symbionts on productivity: Development of a mechanistic and predictive model of microbiome benefits to their plant hosts

Dr. James Bever, Foundation Professor in Ecology adn Evlolutionary Biology, KU;
Dr. Folashade Benette Agusto,  Assistant Professor Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, KU;
Dr. Thomas Platt, Assistant Professor of Biology, KSU.

Project Summary
     Microbial symbionts can dramatically alter their host’s phenotype and manipulation of these components of the microbiome may facilitate management goals such as maximization of productivity. Realization of the promise of microbiomes requires better understanding of the dynamics of complex microbial communities. Plants, in particular, interact with multiple symbionts, which govern acquisition of essential resources. Symbionts that deliver complimentary resources, such as mycorrhizal fungi delivering phosphorus and rhizobia fixing nitrogen, may act synergistically in their benefit to their host’s growth. While empirical evidence of synergistic benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobia exists, these benefits are often not realized. We propose to develop and test a mechanistic model of plant-symbiont interactions that is capable of predicting the environmental and plant life history circumstances in which synergistic benefits of complimentary symbionts will occur. We do this through extension of models initially developed as part of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (hereafter, MAPS) graduate course and through isolation of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and rhizobia from the core terrestrial sites of the MAPS sampling campaign. Together, this work will create conceptual and microbial resources that complement the MAPS objectives of determining microbiomem influences on terrestrial productivity and developing theory that synthesizes experimental and field observations. This work would also enable the development of more comprehensive proposals that could compete for federal grants from the NSF and USDA.

Broader Impacts
     The proposed project will provide training in mathematical ecology for one graduate student. This student, Rebekah Wagner, will be primarily advised by co-PI Fola Agusto, and with funding of this project, Rebekah will receive additional mentorship by all project co-PIs through the multi-disciplinary and collaborative nature of the proposed research. In addition, the rhizobia and AMF collections produced by this work will be available to 2019 Ecosystems of Kansas Summer Institute (EKSI), a component of the EPSCoR MAPS Outreach programs that focuses on researchers working with high school teachers to develop inquiry-based curricula for use in the teachers’ classrooms. We have strong reason to believe that these resources will be popular with Kansas’ teachers because PI Bever participated in EKSI in summer of 2018 and has arranged experiments with six teachers to use his AMF cultures for inoculation experiments with their students. Co-PI Tom Platt will be participating in the EKSI during summer 2019.

Dr. Benjamin Sikes and Dr. James Bever

Life on the edge: using landscape edges to evaluate the spread and function of microbiomes

Dr. Benjamin SikesAssistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Assistant Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey, KU
Dr. James Bever, Foundation Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Senior Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey, KU

Project Summary
     Current land use practices degrade the terrestrial ecosystem services upon which food production and human well-being rely. Plant productivity, carbon sequestration, and soil nutrient retention can all be mediated by microbiomes, an awareness that has motivated the core MAPS (Microbiome of Aquatic, Plants and Soil) program. The MAPS project explores how land use and water availability structure microbiome composition and functions across terrestrial/aquatic interfaces, yet it does not directly test the utility of native microbiomes for restoring and promoting healthy ecosystems. Using microbiomes to achieve these goals in anthropogenically disturbed landscapes requires knowledge on the potential of native microbiomes to persist and spread in these landscapes. This research explores how microbiomes of undisturbed grasslands are able to establish and spread into adjacent human altered systems, and the functional consequence of these interactions. We propose to investigate the dynamics of microbiome structure and function along different edge types between intact prairies and distinct land use types. Our planned experiments examine 1) if different microbiome components (bacteria, fungi, & mycorrhizal fungi) exhibit different distance decay patterns moving away from edges, 2) if microbiota dynamics at the edge relate to soil properties and/or plant communities differences between adjacent systems, and 3) if microbiome changes are realized in two key ecosystem functions: carbon sequestration and phytometer (test plant) productivity. Unraveling the spread of microbes at ecosystem edges and their functional consequences is critical to understand whether land use creates discrete terrestrial microbiomes and functions, or if edges are dynamic, with functions that are distinct from the adjacent systems. Land use history has strong, but differential effects on microbiome components and their functions. Edges of parcels where different land uses meet offer adjacent novel environments into which specific microbes might spread and utilize. The dynamics of microbes at that edge may then alter critical ecosystem functions that can enhance adjacent systems. This research will determine if microbial spread across edges is governed by the growth and dispersal strategies of individual microbial groups, the edaphic and biological environment of the adjacent system, or both. As importantly, we assess whether the ecosystem functions that microbes mediate shift at edges, and whether functional shifts scale with the similarity of microbes, soil properties, or plants of the adjacent systems. The proposed approach integrates field experiments, next generation sequencing, and controlled greenhouse experiments, all of which are necessary to determine which microbes spread across edges, what governs their movement, and the importance of microbiome edge dynamics for key ecosystem functions. Because microbiome dynamics and function at edges are scaled across a range of soil properties and increasing land use disturbance, the resulting framework can be adapted to other land use histories. This research expands edge effect concepts belowground to better understand the barriers to belowground microbial spread and the resulting consequences for ecosystem function. 

Broader Impacts
     Conserved, intact ecosystems are increasingly surrounded and tied to working landscapes, with managers of adjacent lands who have distinct backgrounds and goals interacting in these spaces. Indeed, the fences that often separate properties can represent barriers both for organisms and stakeholder interests. The Welda Prairie, for example, sits adjacent to private landowners who use their grasslands for ranching and farming. In order to promote resilient microbiomes in these multi-use systems, effective research strategies must be inclusive and involve this diversity of stakeholders. This research will use on-site workshops and community meetings to enhance connectivity between community members across these land use edges, including the Kansas Biological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, and local farmers and ranchers. To enhance the objectives of this research, two new on-site workshops will be developed, focused on microbiomes and soil services, that build on past successful land management workshops held at Welda Prairie. In both, half of the workshop will be led by ranchers and farmers to help researches better understand what data they need from us and what factors drive their land use goals and decisions. This research will also create research opportunities to underrepresented students, including students from Haskell Indian Nations University and the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (which fosters opportunities for underrepresented students in conservation science). In this way, this research will to not only push against the edges of microbiome research, but also integrate diverse land use perspectives for a holistic approach capable of meeting the demands of a changing world.
Dr. Wei Wei

Development of Microbial Fuel Cell-Based Treatment Systems

Dr. Wei Wei, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, WSU

Project Summary
     Municipal solid wastes (MSW) are rich in biochemical energy. However, much of this energy is sequestered in conventional landfills, which lack the moisture needed for efficient biological decomposition of MSW. Bioreactor landfills with microbiome as essential component enhance the conversion of MSW to methane, which can be converted to electricity. However, methane is potent greenhouse gas (GHG) and cannot be fully captured in landfills. Thus, in this proposed research, a twostage, microbiome bioreactor and microbial fuel cell (MFC)-based system will be designed and developed. Moreover, graphene sheets show great potential as electrode materials for MFCs. Many methods, such as mechanical exfoliation and chemical vapor deposition, are employed to prepare graphene sheets with a substrate. However, it is still difficult to prepare the separated graphene sheets without a substrate. In this project, the reaction between alkali metal hydrides and CO to graphene will be explored. This would constitute a new approach for the synthesis of separated graphene sheets. Although electricity production has been demonstrated in MFCs to treat a variety of wastes, a two-stage system which integrates a bioreactor with MFC has not yet been developed and investigated for MSW treatment. The reaction between alkali mental hydrides and CO has not yet been tested. The proposed research will explore this reaction for the first time. Knowledge regarding how the system configurations affect the MSW treatment performance, how the reaction conditions affect the structures and properties of graphene, and how the graphene sheets affect the MFC performance, which will be obtained from this project, can provide an opportunity to find a new approach for developing new process for MSW treatment and new materials preparation.

Broader Impacts
     The two-stage microbiome bioreactor-MFC-based treatment systems, which will be developed in this research, can directly benefit the research related to microbiome and solid waste management industry. Importantly, this new process will increase electricity production and lower GHG emissions compared to bioreactor landfill treatment technology alone. Thus, the proposed research will expand the role that landfills play in the protection of environmental resources while improving the sustainability of MSW management practices. The substrate-free 3D graphene sheets, which will be designed and synthesized in this research, will lead to the improvement of MFCs’ performance and reduce the cost, which will impact the commercial feasibility of MFC not only in MSW treatment industry but alsoin the other applications. Finally, this research will have a strong impact on the education of students. A special program—“Summer Institute in Solid Waste Management” will be created. This program will promote the knowledge and skills of solid waste management and materials science and engineering into the traditional high school science classroom via training high school teachers. This would be an effective strategy to increase female students in science and engineering schools of colleges. Furthermore, one graduate and one undergraduate student will work as important part of the diverse team, and they will gain hands-on experience designing, building, and running complex experiments. This project can increase opportunities for high school students as summer interns in solid waste management studies in the future.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the MAPS REI Awards is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: "Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas." The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Kansas State University MAPS researchers receive award from Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy

Dr. Jesse Nippert and Dr. Lydia Zeglin
   The Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy has awarded nearly $1 million dollars to two Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) researchers from Kansas State University (KSU). Dr. Jesse Nippert, associate professor of biology at KSU and part of the MAPS plant systems focus team, and Dr. Lydia Zeglin, assistant professor of biology at KSU and part of the MAPS acquatic systems focus team, plan to combine observational, experimental and modeling approaches in an effort to enhance the predictability of ecosystem consequences related to shrub encroachment and drought in the Great Plains region. The title of their project is DE-SC001109037: Using root and soil traits to forecast woody encroachment dynamics in mesic grassland. They will also be working with collaborators Kate McCulloh, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Kevin Wilcox, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming. The team will conduct experiments and collect their data at the Konza Biological Field Station. They will use root and soil traits, taken at various soil depths, which contain microbes, water and a large amount of carbon to forecast the plant encroachment dynamics associated with grasslands that receive moderate amounts of precipitation. The data collected and the results from this project “will define the depth-resolved feedbacks of drought and dominant vegetation on below ground root architecture, soil microbial carbon cycling, and ecosystem carbon balance.”

For additional information regarding the proposal go to: DE-SC001109037
Click here for the KSU press release

Thursday, October 11, 2018

ANNOUNCING MAPS First Award Funding Opportunity

     Kansas NSF EPSCoR is announcing a funding opportunity for First Awards in the areas related to the current Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus of microbiomes as broadly construed to be in aquatic, plant and/or soil systems. The First Award program helps early career faculty become competitive for funding from the research directorates at the National Science Foundation. 

The full request for proposals with submission instructions can be downloaded as a PDF at: http://www.nsfepscor.ku.edu/funding.html

Submission Deadlines:

     Letters of Intent due by 5:00 pm on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.

     Full proposals due by 5:00 pm on Thursday, December 20, 2018 

Please note new proposal submission details included in the RFP.

Eligible to apply is any individual tenure track faculty member who:

  • is currently untenured at the assistant professor rank at Kansas State University, University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Pittsburg State University or Washburn University; 
  • is within the first three years of his/her faculty appointment;
  • has not received a previous First Award or similar funding from another EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like (Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, COBRE) program in Kansas; and
  • is not currently be nor previously been a lead Principal Investigator of a research grant funded by a federal agency.

In addition, one of the following conditions must apply:

  • The Principal Investigator has a pending proposal or is planning to submit a proposal to the NSF (or other federal funding agency) for the proposed research submitted to this program.  If in the planning stages, the proposed research must be submitted to a federal funding agency by July 31, 2020. 
  • The Principal Investigator has had the proposed research declined by the NSF (or other federal funding agency) and has a plan to re-submit the proposed research by July 31, 2020. 

Only projects with research in areas that are related to the current Kansas NSF EPSCoR focus of microbiomes as broadly construed to be in aquatic, plant and/or soil systems are eligible for First Awards.

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the MAPS first awards is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


     The Division of Biology at Kansas State University is recruiting diverse, highly-qualified graduate students to assist with understanding the linkages among microbiomes of aquatic, plant and soil (MAPS) ecosystems across the state ofKansas. 
The goal of MAPS is to understand:
  1. How microbiome structure and function among these systems change across the precipitation gradient of Kansas and land use, and 
  2. How those changes in microbiomes affect broader community and ecosystem properties. In all, the integrated and collaborative NSF-funded project is driven by >15 investigators, all of whom work collaboratively and train students in an interdisciplinary framework.
     If you are interested in developing skills in collaborative, team-based science focused on deploying cutting-edge tools in environmental microbiology and informatics, please contact the listed individuals who might serve as your graduate advisor. Students must discuss their interests with a potential advisor (by email or by scheduling a phone conversation by email) prior to submitting an application. 
Applications due by 
15 December for Fall or Summer 2019 start.



Plant Pathology
Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for these MAPS graduate positions is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The award's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems