Microorganisms influence the composition of the atmosphere, the cycling of elements within and through ecosystems, the functioning of agricultural ecosystems on which humans depend, and human health. Microorganisms are also the most metabolically flexible, and the most taxonomically and evolutionarily diverse organisms on Earth. Yet deciphering how that diversity imprints on the processes they influence at larger scales has proven challenging, because of the overwhelming complexity of microbial communities, and because of the difficulty of quantifying how microbial taxa assimilate and transform elements in the environment. In this talk, I will discuss new approaches that blend traditions from microbial ecology and ecosystem science to explore how the diversity and physiology of microorganisms could shape ecosystem biogeochemistry and how it responds to global environmental change. The talk will focus on soil carbon and element cycling, but will also touch on microbial ecology in agriculture and in human health. Historically, the diversity, complexity, and intractability of microbial ecosystems has relegated their study to either a reductionist descriptive tradition in microbial ecology or to a simplistically quantitative one in ecosystem science. Yet, new ideas and tools are poised to push microbial ecology forward to a point where it can more meaningfully integrate with ecological fields at larger scales, from ecosystems to the globe.
About the Speaker: Bruce Hungate
Dr. Bruce Hungate directs the Ecosystem Science & Society Center at Northern Arizona University, where he is Regents’ Professor of Biological Sciences and the Frances B. McAllister Endowed Chair in Community, Culture, and Environment. He has bachelor’s degrees in Music, English, and Biology from Stanford University and a PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of California at Berkeley. Hungate’s research focuses on the ecology of global change from the cell to the planet. He has particular interests in the imprint of the diversity of life on the cycling of elements, how ecosystems respond to and shape environmental change, and microbial ecology of the biosphere, from soils to hot springs to humans. He uses a variety of research tools, including quantitative experimental ecology, molecular biology, meta-analysis, and stable isotopes. Through his science and outreach, Hungate hopes to raise awareness of the role of earth system science for global environmental change.
Host: Nick Bouskill