Isoscapes (link, link) are maps of spatio-temporal variation in isotope ratios ( link) and are typically gridded products of spatially explicit modeling. Isotopes modeled can be stable (e.g., 18O) or radioactive (e.g., 14C) and include radiogenic isotopes such as 87Sr. Our group is interested primarily in the stable isotope ratios of the "light" elements : carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N), hydrogen (δ2H), and oxygen (δ18O) and their utility in understanding a range of questions and systems. As was evident at the Isoscapes 2008 conference (see also our article in Eos , and a book published by Springer), a growing range of fields are finding utility in isoscapes modeling and
Isoscapes capacity building
Gabriel Bowen and colleagues at Purdue, we are developing web-based cyberinfrastructure for isoscapes IsoMAP project web page containing more in-depth description of the project may be found here. This project is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation Division of Biological Infrastructure (0743543-DBI).
Forensic sourcing and intelligence
Work with Jim Ehleringer, Thure Cerling, Helen Kreuzer-Martin and others has demonstrated the utility of plant isoscapes in determining geographic origins of a variety of plant products (see publication page) and ongoing work seeks to improve the resolution and accuracy of these plant isoscapes for forensic, commercial, and basic research applications.
Woody plant encroachment
A new collaborative project has begun that seeks to improve our understanding of the biogeochemical changes that accompany woody plant encroachment. The project builds on significant previous efforts to understand the drivers and consequences of this global phenomenon at La Copita Ranch, a well-studied research site near Alice, Texas. The research group includes Jason West, Tom Boutton (Texas A&M), Fiona Soper (PhD student, Cornell), Jed Sparks (Cornell), and Roland Bol (Rothamsted). Woody plant encroachment alters numerous aspects of ecosystem structure and function, including the nitrogen cycle. The effort here is targeted at better understanding the temporal and spatial dynamics of two key drivers of nitrogen cycle change: nitrogen inputs through symbiotic N fixation and outputs as gaseous nitrogen losses.
Global environmental change
There is a continuing interest in the effects of global environmental change on terrestrial ecosystem function in the lab. This includes atmospheric and climatic changes and the effects of anthropogenic modification of the land surface. Postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota on a large global change experiment at Cedar Creek known as BioCON (from its three primary experimental manipulations: Biodiversity, atmospheric CO2, and N deposition) targeted key aspects of the responses of grassland soil nitrogen cycling. More information on this experiment can be found on the BioCON website. Ongoing efforts focus on the use of 15N as a tracer of alterations of N cycling in response to these important global changes. Future work will target the interactions between biodiversity, plant function and landscape-scale processes, including hydrologic fluxes, and nitrogen and carbon cycling.
The effects of woody plant removal on the vertical movement of water through the critical zone and how these changes affect aquifer recharge is the focus of a project funded by the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District. The field sites for this work are located primarily on the Chaparrosa Ranch over the recharge zone of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer in southwestern Texas in areas that initially had significant densities of woody vegetation. Mechanical/chemical treatments here include roller chopping, cutting/stump herbicide, and no treatment combined with the effect of fire. All mechanical/chemical treatments were completed in the winter of 2010/2011 and the controlled burns will occur when fuel loads permit. The team's efforts will yield insights to how vegetation and other aspects of ecosystem structure respond to these anthropogenic manipulations, as well as how changes in vegetation water use and soil characteristics drive changes in soil moisture and potential aquifer recharge. This effort is a collaboration with Bill Rogers (Texas A&M University) and Bob Lyons (Texas AgriLife Extension, Uvalde) and is the focus of graduate studies by April Mattox and Carissa Wonkka.
Riparian zone ecohydrology
The lab is engaged in a collaborative effort with Georgianne Moore to study the ecological and hydrologic relationships between Arundo donax and the Rio Grande (Río Bravo). Arundo is a noxious weed that has come to dominate much of the riparian zones of the Rio Grande and many other rivers in the west and southwest (link, link, link, link). It has been identified as a profligate water user and is targeted by significant research and eradication programs for removal. Kui Li has recently completed her M.S. degree working on this project. Li Fan is currently working on her M.S. thesis targeting key aspects of the ecohydrology of this system, specifically Arundo water sources and the role Arundo might play in affecting hyporheic exchange. This project is funded as part of Task 6 of the Rio Grande Basin Initiative.
A collaboration with Rusty Feagin and TAMU PhD student Ricardo Colon-Rivera seeks to understand hydrologic connectivity in coastal environments. Two projects are evaluating the use of the stable isotopes of water and other tools to assess changing fresh/saline water interactions. The projects are located on the coasts of Texas (near Matagorda) and Puerto Rico.
We are initiating projects designed to better understand the relationships between major and minor aquifers in south Texas, including the Edwards (BFZ), Edwards-Trinity, Carrizo-Wilcox and other minor aquifers. Preliminary datasets on aquifer water (δ2H) and (δ18O) are being developed from synoptic surveys of irrigation and domestic wells with a variety of depths and access to regional aquifers. Information gained from these surveys will be used to develop targeted research that will encompass relationships with surface water as well.
In a collaboration with Jason Vogel and many other collaborators across the network, we have initiated work in the PINEMAP Project. PINEMAP is one of three Coordinated Agriculture Projects (CAP) recently awarded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The purpose of these CAPs is to encourage agriculture and forestry producers to increase carbon sequestration and adapt practices to reduce the impact of climate variation. PINEMAP, a 5-year, $20 million project, focuses on planted pine forests in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal states from Virginia to Texas, plus Arkansas and Oklahoma, that are managed by industrial and non-industrial private landowners.
Cropping systems for enhanced efficiency and sustainability
The lab is also engaged in a collaborative effort to understand the effectiveness of agricultural cropping systems in improving sustainability, decreasing water and nitrogen inputs, and reducing agricultural carbon footprints. Systems being evaluated include especially the reduction of tillage (e.g., strip till) and use of legumes. The project is a multi-disciplinary effort led by Cristine Morgan on the main Texas A&M campus, David Forbes, Daniel Leskovar, Monte Roquette, G. Ray Smith at the Uvalde and Overton AgriLife Research Centers, and other collaborators including Gaylon Morgan (TAMU), Vanessa Corriher (Overton), and Diane Rowland at the University of Florida. The project is funded by the Texas Cropping Systems Initiative.