Professor Richard Gill
Evaluation of how well the academic objectives of the proposal were met
The central aim of this proposal was to provide opportunities for students from diverse academic backgrounds to work collaboratively on a number of federally funded projects that include Colorado Plateau grasslands, the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin sagebrush steppe, and the Uintah Mountains. This proposal funded a portion of the salary for 9 students from life sciences, and engineering. The mentoring environment and plan focused on allowing students with diverse interests and training to work together on complex problems with frequent interaction with faculty and graduate students. We have a novel undergraduate lab that integrates training in science across the range of disciplines including hydrology, data management, ecology, and plant physiology.
Four papers were produced by undergraduates supported on this project.
- Conner, Lafe G., Richard A. Gill, Joshua T. Harvey. In Revision. Early snowmelt leads to warmer spring soil temperatures in mid-‐latitude aspen forest and subalpine meadow: implications for soil carbon cycling. Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
This paper is a good example of the value of near-‐peer mentoring. I worked closely with Josh at the beginning and end of the project, but a graduate student primarily mentored him during his field research. Josh was recently recruited into an ecosystem ecology graduate program. He takes with him a deep understanding of soil respiration, experience programming in R, scientific writing skills, and expertise in data visualization for presentations and manuscripts. Josh presented a portion of this work at the 2014 Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research.
- Gill, RA, CS Campbell, SM Karlinsey. 2015. Soil moisture controls Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) seedling carbon balance and survivorship at timberline in Utah, USA. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 10.1139/cjfr-‐2015-‐0239
Sarah was involved in the data collection of this project from its inception. She graduated with a double major in Biology and Bioinformatics and learned key skills including field sampling, data collection and analysis, and literature reviews. She transitioned to bioinformatics research her final year, and so was less involved with writing, but made a significant contribution to the manuscript. She presented a portion of this research at the 2013 Ecological Society of America meetings in Portland, OR.
- Thomas, Anne, Richard A. Gill. In Press/2015. Patterns of Urban Forest Composition in Utah’s Growing Mountain Communities. Proceedings of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
This manuscript is the result of a side project that Anne developed. She was involved from initial idea to manuscript acceptance. She was supported with MEG funding in 2013, and as part of that project was near-‐peer-‐mentored by my graduate student Michael Bunnell. While working with him on his project she identified a key question that wasn’t being addressed in Michael’s work. With Michael’s insights and weekly mentoring, she developed a sampling plan, collected and analyzed data, and wrote the manuscript that was accepted after peer review into this conference’s proceedings. The manuscript is being revised and submitted to a research journal this fall.
- Conner, LG, M.C. Bunnell, RA Gill. 2014 Forest diversity and patterns of spruce survival following a spruce beetle epidemic. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 44:1383-‐1393. 10.1139/cjfr-‐2014-‐ 0206
Michael Bunnell began this project as an undergraduate and worked closely with Lafe Conner, a PhD candidate to complete this work.
In addition, a MS student was partially supported on this project and contributed the following:
- Rory C. O’Connor*, Samuel B. StClair, Richard A. Gill. 2014. SHIFTS IN PLANT COMMUNITY REESTABLISHMENT POST‐FIRE DUE TO SMALL MAMMALS. Society for Range Management Meeting, Orlando, FL. Poster Presentation.
- RC O’Connor. 2014. Small Mammals Matter? Linking Plant Invasion, Biotic Resistance, and Climate Change in Post‐Fire Plant Communities. M.S. Thesis.
Evaluation of the mentoring environment
The mentoring environment and plan focused on allowing students with diverse interests and training to work together on complex problems with frequent interaction with faculty and graduate students. This model of cooperative, community-‐centered learning is consistent with learning theory. The National Research Council’s report on student learning emphasized that developing into an expert requires, among other things, (1) using initial understanding to frame new concepts and (2) the ability to transfer knowledge from one realm into another. Our “community of learners” approach to this project used both of these approaches. We employed the diverse initial understanding in interests possessed by students of different majors to engage in the concepts unique to the specific aims of this project. In addition, because there is a strong interdependence among the students, they were required to transfer their knowledge to meet each other’s needs and will benefit from the perspectives of other students.
Students supported have made presentations at national scientific meetings and are prepared and published manuscripts based on data that they collected. We had weekly group meetings to discuss data and read current literature. One modification that we made to the initial plan was to link our weekly meetings with those conducted by Sam St. Clair, further modeling interdisciplinary work. In addition, I have weekly meetings with the undergraduates who are actively analyzing data and preparing manuscripts.
List of students who participated and what academic deliverables they have produced or it is anticipated they will produce
Description of the results/findings of the project
Seasonal snow cover influences soil respiration (Rs), microbial biomass, and ecosystem C retention. Many seasonally snow-‐covered environments have experienced reduced spring snowpack and advance in the timing of spring snowmelt and this trend is expected to continue into the future. Short-‐term responses to early snowmelt, including bursts in CO2 flux following freeze-‐thaw cycles, have been observed, but the effect of these short-‐term responses on net C storage remains unclear. We present and test three possible alternative early-‐snowmelt scenarios: warm spring enhanced mineralization, cold spring enhanced mineralization, and cold spring reduced mineralization. We added dust to the snow surface during spring ablation and advanced the timing of snowmelt by an average of 14 days over 3 consecutive years in subalpine meadows and aspen forests in central Utah, USA. We expected early-‐snowmelt plots to experience deeper freezing and more freeze-‐thaw cycles than control plots (cold-‐spring scenarios), but we found early-‐snowmelt soils were significantly warmer following snowmelt (warm-‐spring scenario) than neighboring snow-‐ covered soils. We tested for cumulative effects of early snowmelt on ecosystem C stocks including DOC, microbial biomass, and SOC after 3 years. We also observed soil respiration (Rs) during the snow-‐free period to test for legacy effects of early snowmelt. We found that soil temperature and SOC, in combination, were the best predictors of Rs across all sites, and we did not find evidence of an early snowmelt legacy effect in Rs. We found that microbial biomass, DOC, and SOC remained similar between treatments in the weeks following snowmelt and after 3 years of the study. We conclude that in mid-‐latitude subalpine ecosystems, early snowmelt is likely to increase Rs compared to snow-‐covered conditions due primarily to longer snow-‐free, warm soil conditions but may have limited impact on soil C stocks because plant growth initiation may also respond to warmer spring temperatures.