My research focuses on exploring the relationship and feedbacks between ecosystem structure and ecosystem function. In particular, I am interested in the mechanisms that determine the rate of decomposition in soil, with a focus on the role of the soil microbial community.

A key goal of my current research is to understand how global change will affect the cycling of nitrogen and carbon in drylands. Global change scenarios include both altered precipitation and increasing nitrogen availability. As water and nitrogen availability change in already water-limited drylands, it is likely these changes may interact to significantly alter both plant productivity and microbial decomposition.

The western U.S. is largely classified as a ‘dryland’, due to its general lack of water availability. Over the next 100 years, it is predicted to have an increase in annual precipitation, a change in the seasonality of precipitation regimes, and an increase in nitrogen availability – due to deposition. Given these predicted changes, the western U.S. is an excellent location to study the effects of water and nitrogen availability on the carbon cycle.

Currently, I am conducting experimental manipulations of both soil water and soil nitrogen availability across three sites and plant communities in Wyoming and Colorado. I then examine the effects of these manipulations on plant and microbial community composition, soil carbon and nitrogen, net primary productivity, and ecosystem respiration – a measure of root and microbial activity in soil.

Site locations in Wyoming and Colorado. Shading inidicates different dryland classifications: hyperarid = RED, arid = ORANGE, semi-arid = GREEN, sub-humid = YELLOW. Aridity index data from Huang et al. (2016).

Site locations in Wyoming and Colorado. Shading inidicates different dryland classifications: hyperarid = RED, arid = ORANGE, semi-arid = GREEN, sub-humid = YELLOW. Aridity index data from Huang et al. (2016).

Chris applying water and nitrogen fertilizer to his experimental treatments at the Central Plains Experiemental Range in northern Colorado for his dissertation research on "Ecosystem Structure and Function in Drylands."

Chris applying water and nitrogen fertilizer to his experimental treatments at the Central Plains Experiemental Range in northern Colorado for his dissertation research on "Ecosystem Structure and Function in Drylands."

Previously, I have also conducted research as part of three other projects: (1) evaluating the effects of nitrogen fertilization in big sagebrush communities of western Wyoming (manuscript currently in review); (2) investigating the population dynamics in the spruce-fir forest of the White Mountains in northern New England; and (3) examining methods of restoring vegetation in the alpine and sub-alpine zones Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire, as part of my MS thesis at Antioch University New England. 

Future projects will include using large, publicly available datasets and predicative modeling to look at the effects of global change to winter soil temperatures and the downstream effects of those changes.