Well, it has been a fun-filled July and August!
I got to sally forth from the lab to accompany postdocs M* and L* on a trip to the Kellogg Biological Station's Long-Term Ecological Research site on cropping biodiversity. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was:
- To boldly install soil mesocosms attached to lysimeters (check out the photo below). An intact soil core in the mesocosm is re-buried in its original hole; in another month or so, M* will add wheat litter with isotopically-labelled carbon to the soil surface in the mesocosm, which will allow him to trace where the carbon goes--into microbes, attached to clay particles, in aggregates, in molecules of interesting/complex chemistry, etc. Any carbon lost by leaching out during rainfall events will be caught in the lysimeter.
- To boldly gather roots and shoots from biofuel crops including corn, switchgrass, big bluestem, and miscanthus, as well as a big cooler full of soil, for L*'s lab incubation experiment to look at decomposition dynamics of above- and below-ground residues.
I'm dwarfed by this stand of miscanthus, which is native to Europe and is even taller than this at full height!
The mesocosm (on the right) is attached by tubing to the lysimeter housing (center) in a plot currently under soybean rotation. A control mesocosm not attached to a lysimeter is on the left. Those are my arms!
It was great to get out into the field for the first time. It was hard work digging so many holes (and even harder to pound the mesocosms in... but M* bore the brunt of that!), but rewarding to be a part of.
Digging in the dirt!
Aside from that, I helped out for a couple of days with fellow PhD-student C*'s enzyme assay (which mostly involved making litter slurries and pipetting into hundreds of 96-well plates), and have mostly spent my time reading textbooks and papers. Recent and future search topics include: priming; P limitation in agriculture; Things Written By People In My Lab; soil fungal and bacterial niches; plant-soil interactions; scale-up; spatial statistics; and soil fauna and food webs.
In other news, New Hampshire has been treating me well! I took myself to the NH seashore on Sunday for the afternoon, lounging about in a true summery American fashion.
When I let them out of the coop in the morning, the chickens gleefully guzzled water and roamed throughout the yard
*For the sake of their anonymity on this public blog, I'll only use their first initials.