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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MAPS graduate student researcher receives a Self Graduating Seniors Fellowship at the University of Kansas

Paige Hansen
      Paige Hansen, a master’s student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at the University of Kansas (KU) and a graduate student researcher for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), has been selected to be a 2018-2019 Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellow. The Madison and Lila Self Graduating Senior Fellowship is a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding undergraduates who are entering a graduate degree program at KU immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree and who exhibit "the potential to make significant contributions to society that are beyond the bounds of normal expectations.” Selected Fellows also have demonstrated “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship” and possess “the ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” As part of the award, Paige will receive $10,000 of support for one academic year and will participate in monthly professional development programs covering topics such as “leadership, effective mentoring relationships, conducting and communicating research, grant preparation, public speaking, policy advocacy, networking, and preparation for today’s labor markets and evolving industries."
     Paige is from Brookings, SD and graduated from KU in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor's degree (BS) in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and a minor in English literature. Her research focus is soil microbial ecology. Paige was first introduced to this field of study in high school when she worked for a family friend who was a research scientist at the USDA North Central Agricultural Research Laboratories. She commented, “I didn’t like it at the time.” However, when she participated in a KU study abroad opportunity as an undergraduate researching “plant-fungal genetics in Bangkok…,” she said, “I ended up really loving the research, especially its potential to help the environment and people.” She added, “This experience also made me realize that there are fun, cool people who are excited about research, and that spending long days in the lab can be fun. I came back to KU wanting to continue to do research 1) that matters to people and the environment and 2) with people who are super excited about their research.” While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Paige developed a novel technique for "quantifying microbial abundance and quantifying fungal response to disturbances such as controlled burns.” She also became interested in "how climate change and land use conversion alters soil fungal and bacterial community composition, both at the soil's surface and deep underground... and how these compositional shifts can impact plant communities and biogeochemical cycling."
     This fall, Paige is working in the Sikes Lab with Dr. Benjamin Sikes, Assistant Professor of EEB, Assistant Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS), and part of the MAPS plant systems research team. Her MAPS research focuses on “how the structure (abundance and composition) and function of bacterial and fungal communities at different soil depths in native prairies, restored prairies, and agricultural fields change in response to alterations in historical precipitation regime.” She explained, “I'm trying to figure out how bacteria and fungi might respond to precipitation changes associated with climate change, and contribute to the ongoing debate on whether microbial community structure or function matters more to healthy ecosystem functioning.”
    As an undergraduate, Paige received the following research recognitions: Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) Fellowship, KU Undergraduate Research Award, KU Undergraduate Biology Research Award, the KU Honors Opportunity Award, the Freeman Foundation Scholarship for East Asia Internships, and the Plains Area Director’s Research Scholarship. She also was involved in the KU Global Scholars Program, the KU University Honors Program, and the KU Undergraduate Biology BioScholars Program. In addition, Paige has presented her undergraduate research at the 6th Annual K-INBRE Symposium, the Argonne Soil Metagenomics Meeting, and the Central Region IDeA Conference.  And, Paige has co-authored a paper for publication titled Recurrent fires do not affect the abundance of soil fungi in a frequently burned pine savanna with T. A. Semenova-Nelsen, W. J. Platt, and B. A. Sikes. As for her future plans, Paige said, “I would love to be a professor at a research institution, or do anything that involves soil and microbes and that lets me travel!”

The Self fellows are nominated by their academic departments and are selected based on their “individual achievement in leadership and scholarship, potential to make significant contributions to society, and ability to envision and attain goals that require exceptional energy and tenacity.” This award is the third fellowship endowed by the Selfs at the University of Kansas, joining the Self Graduate Fellowship program for doctoral students and the Self Engineering Leadership Fellowship program for undergraduate students. Eleven students were selected as the 2018-2019 Self Graduating Senior Fellows.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

MAPS science team meets to discuss year one accomplishments and plans for year two

Year 1 Science Meeting Group at Konza Prairie Biological Station
     On November 16, 2018, faculty and students working on the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) gathered at the Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, KS to discuss accomplishments and challenges that occurred during year one as well as review and modify research plans for year two. The morning began with a welcome from Walter Dodds, a co-principal investigator (co-PI) for the MAPS project and member of aquatic systems research team. Then, the junior faculty team leaders for the aquatic, plant and soil systems research groups each gave a ten minute research update that was followed by a five minute discussion addressing challenges and the proposed research plans for year two. Discussions on project modeling and data management issues followed the team presentations. Over the lunch hour, MAPS students participated in a poster session. Twelve undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University presented their research on the following MAPS topics:
  • Methane Oxidation in Native Prairie Soil 
  • Do novel inputs to the Kansas River affect the water or sediment microbiome and water chemistry? 
  • The Effects of Climate and Land Use on Methanotropic Communities
  • Plant-soil Microbiome Feedback Impacts on Native and Non-native Grasses Throughout Kansas
  • Soil health across a precipitation gradient with different land uses
  • Impact of Drying and Rewetting Cycles on Microbial Communities in Tallgrass Prairie
  • Effects of Land Management on the Microbial Community, Soil Structure, and Nutrient Dynamics of Cultivated Grain Sorghum
  • Recurrent fires do not affect the abundance of soil fungi in a frequently-burned pine savanna
  • A Mechanistic Model of Plant-Symbiont Interactions
  • How roots and microbes transform decaying organic matter into bioavailable phosphorus: pH as a master variable
  • Time Series Transcriptomic Responses to Drought in Maize Seedings
  • Impact of Land Use on Groundwater Chemistry and Microbial Communities in Great Bend Prairie Aquifers
     Breakout sessions were held in the afternoon to discuss research methods and sites locations specific to each research team, followed by a whole group discussion synthesizing year one's findings. Publications and data sharing policies made up the final session for the day. Research team members who were unable to physically attend the meeting, were able to participate in the sessions through video conferencing.

Funding for the Science Meeting was 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 research, workforce development, and educational objectives are designed to enhance research capacity and STEM education in Kansas, expand the STEM workforce and prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Girl 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.