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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Awardee:UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM
Doing Business As Name:University of Wisconsin-Madison
PD/PI:
  • Thea Whitman
  • (607) 280-5599
  • twhitman@wisc.edu
Award Date:06/09/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 993,133
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 225,425
  • FY 2021=$225,425
Start Date:07/01/2021
End Date:06/30/2026
Transaction Type:Grant
Agency:NSF
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.074
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:CAREER: Developing a Fire Ecology Framework for Soil Bacteria
Federal Award ID Number:2045864
DUNS ID:161202122
Parent DUNS ID:041188822
Program:Ecosystem Science
Program Officer:
  • Matthew Kane
  • (703) 292-7186
  • mkane@nsf.gov

Awardee Location

Street:21 North Park Street
City:MADISON
State:WI
ZIP:53715-1218
County:Madison
Country:US
Awardee Cong. District:02

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Wisconsin-Madison
Street:21 North Park Street
City:MADISON
State:WI
ZIP:53715-1218
County:Madison
Country:US
Cong. District:02

Abstract at Time of Award

Wildfires cause major ecological as well as economic disturbances. They are increasing in frequency and severity in many regions of the world and burn hundreds of millions of hectares of land every year. The burned landscape results in large losses of carbon and nitrogen from ecosystems. Microorganisms in the soil play a critical role in the recovery of wildfire-affected ecosystems through their roles in cycling nutrients and their interactions with plants. The ecological impacts of wildfires on plant life are somewhat understood. This is not the case for soil microbes. The goal of this NSF CAREER project is to develop a fire ecology framework for bacteria, to improve understanding of why certain bacteria are “pyrophilous” – i.e., why they thrive following exposure to fire. The approach will draw on field research on northern forest wildfires and controlled prairie burns, laboratory experiments, and genetic sequencing. At its core, improving our understanding of bacterial response to fires will help underpin our understanding of how fires and changing fire regimes will affect the climate, an issue of great societal importance. This project will realize a myriad of broader impacts through its education goals, which are tightly integrated with each research goal. Undergraduates will be trained in the lab throughout the grant, working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Undergraduate Research Scholars program, which will help support full participation of women and members of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. A podcast about fire ecology, developed in collaboration with undergraduates in the Life Sciences Communication program, and a new public outreach booth, “What happens belowground during a fire?”, will both help increase public scientific literacy and engagement with science and fire ecology. The proposed research will build on the PI’s prior results to strengthen and integrate a trait-based understanding of bacterial responses to fire. The overarching hypothesis is that fire survival will be most relevant shortly after wildfires (~1 year), fast growth will be relevant over longer timescales (~5 years), and pyrogenic organic matter degradation will be relevant over longer periods of time (~10 years). The first theme will address the patterns and traits of pyrophilous soil bacteria. In seeking to determine which bacteria and genetic characteristics are associated with burned soils, the research team will add a ten-year timepoint to a current one- and five-year timepoints in a 40-site wildfire field experiment, building toward what will ultimately become a long-term field study of boreal forest wildfires. In addition, the research team will apply an untargeted metagenomics-based approach at multiple time points to characterizing post-fire functional potential. Part of the proposed approach to strengthening a fire ecology framework for bacteria lies in experimentally investigating bacterial fire response through its separate components, such as heat tolerance. The second theme focuses on the interactive effects of temperature and drought on bacterial survival and post-fire carbon (C) mineralization. The approach will use laboratory experiments with bacterial isolates, intact soil cores, and gas flux tracing to determine the temperature ranges that pyrophilous bacteria can survive and whether prior drought stress affects bacterial survival of high temperatures and influences post-fire C mineralization rates. The third theme will aim to develop an integrative understanding of fire ecology for soil bacteria. Here, the research team will draw on current and emerging datasets and cross-domain collaborations to determine the relative importance of different traits in determining post-fire success of pyrophilous bacteria over time and across burn severities. Studies will compare how the traits that make bacteria successful fire-responders correspond to (or contrast with) equivalent strategies in other organisms. Overall, the project will advance our understanding of fundamental questions about the effects of fire on bacteria – critical players in post-fire ecosystem recovery. Undergraduate training will be coupled with mentorship training for a PhD student and a research technician, helping them become better future educators, themselves. To help support a globally competitive STEM workforce, the PI will develop new metagenomics tutorials for soil microbiology courses, which will provide cutting-edge bioinformatics skills to students. These tutorials will be developed with a postdoctoral researcher, who will also participate in UW-Madison teaching workshops, further helping to improve both STEM education and educator development. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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