What drives roots’ decomposition and carbon storage in grassland soils?

You most likely know that roots are important for grasses to grow, but the roots help do other things, too. They build soil carbon and support other life forms in soil. But did you know that various management tactics can force grass roots to break down, decompose, and add to the stored carbon pool in … Continue reading What drives roots’ decomposition and carbon storage in grassland soils?

What is soil made of?

Soils can look like they are a homogeneous material. But in reality, soil contains solid particles of different sizes and different types. Some of the particles are minerals, and others are organic matter. There are spaces between the particles called pores. These pores may be filled with air or water. Soil is a mixture of … Continue reading What is soil made of?

What has been discovered about the Mars surface? How does that relate to human missions?

Scientists have been studying the Martian surface with spacecraft since 1965 when the Mariner 4 spacecraft collected the first images. Since then, there have been additional flyby missions, as well as orbiting and landed missions. You might recall the movie, The Martian, and the attempt by the character Mark Watney to grow crops to survive … Continue reading What has been discovered about the Mars surface? How does that relate to human missions?

There is a fungus among us!

For over four hundred million years, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi have been forming symbiotic relationships with plants around the globe. Found on almost every continent and in approximately 80% of vascular plants, these important fungi play a pivotal role in plant nutrient uptake in diverse ecosystems. These important fungi begin their life in the soil – … Continue reading There is a fungus among us!

Microbial respiration with iron

Most living creatures extract the energy in food through a process called respiration. During respiration, organisms take in oxygen and organic carbon (food) and breathe out water and carbon dioxide. Humans (and most creatures) require oxygen for respiration and therefore survival. But many microorganisms in soils do not need oxygen to survive! Unlike humans, soil … Continue reading Microbial respiration with iron

How do nematodes help plants and soils?

It might be hard to believe, but you may never have seen the most abundant animal on Earth: soil nematodes! They represent eighty percent of animal life by number and live in nearly every habitat. They are hard-working and important organisms. Soil-dwelling nematodes, which I research, are tiny – usually between 1/500th to 1/20th of … Continue reading How do nematodes help plants and soils?

What do ants and soils do for each other?

Have you ever wondered how important ants are for agriculture and soils? They do not get much credit for their contribution towards our planet Earth. Moreover, many people dislike them. Don’t we? We certainly don’t appreciate them in our homes – or on our picnic tables! Imagine a situation where you are in a corn … Continue reading What do ants and soils do for each other?

How do different root structures affect soil?

Plant roots modify soil in different ways – depending on the root’s architecture. Most of us think of the soil as the natural habitat for plants, and therefore soils must provide a nurturing and supportive environment for them, right? Well…most of us could not be more wrong about that. The soil is not a very … Continue reading How do different root structures affect soil?

Are the west Texas rangelands barren?

Driving through west Texas, you would think that the windmills are all there is to see. Flat, desert-like landscape is not what you expect the highest producing region of beef cattle and cotton in the United States to look like. Through the years, producers in this region have found a way to create life despite … Continue reading Are the west Texas rangelands barren?

Can the parts of plants we can see help predict the parts of them we can’t?

There’s a lot we can tell about plants by looking at them. We can see their leaves, stems and overall structure. If it’s a flowering plant, we can see them, too. But we can’t see what the roots look like under the ground, like root depth or structure. Our research team decided to study if … Continue reading Can the parts of plants we can see help predict the parts of them we can’t?