Through field studies at a common tree garden at Kevo Subarctic Research Station near Utsjoki, Finland (managed by the University of Turku), we’re investigating the role of plant secondary compounds in controlling soil microbial processes such as litter decomposition and contaminant biodegradation. Multi-year studies are in progress to understand the soil microbial ecology and litter decomposition of plants with different levels of secondary compounds due to different evolutionary histories of herbivore pressure (e.g. birch from Iceland, Finland, Siberia, and Alaska). We hypothesize that high concentrations of secondary compounds inhibit litter decomposition and build soil C stocks, while also selecting for microbes that target aromatic compounds, which could enhance contaminant biodegradation potential. We’re using next-generation DNA sequencing and stable isotope probing methods to characterize differences in microbial communities, genes, and functions.
The Broader Impacts components of this project includes a major arts-humanities-science exhibit, In a Time of Change: Microbial Worlds. The exhibit features works created by artist-in-residence Stephanie Rae Dixon (Brooklyn, NY) who joined our research team in Finland, as well as 12 Alaska-based artists and writers working on a variety of other microbiological themes.
Financial support was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation DEB-1257424. Additional support was provided by Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P20GM103395, from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) under grant number 5P20RR016466, from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic no. LH 14004, and from the Czech Science Foundation under grant number 13-28283S.