PhD, Ecology and Biogeochemistry, The Pennsylvania State University
BS, Biology, College of Charleston
Roots perform multiple functions for trees including soil exploration and absorption of nutrients and water, plant anchorage within the soil matrix, and storage of plant carbohydrates. From large tap roots and coarse structural roots to the smallest fine roots and root hairs, functioning of these heterogeneous belowground organs are vital to the overall health, stability, and longevity of trees in natural and urban landscapes. Yet, due in part to their hidden nature beneath the soil surface, we are only beginning to appreciate how roots perform their basic functions and how shifts in their activities feedback on plant growth.
Research in the Root Lab seeks to understand how functional root traits vary among plant species, among populations of the same species, and even within individuals over time. Our efforts then take a further step applying this information to understand the performance and success of trees in different environments. As roots and their activities belowground are often the least understood components of the integrated plant system, gaining better understanding of these enigmatic organs has tremendous capacity to improve our appreciation and management of trees. We use modeling and field-based research to interpret patterns of trait diversity and plant responses to their environment across spatial scales leveraging tools from multiple disciplines including plant physiology, plant and microbial ecology, and whole-ecosystem science. Our vision is to fundamentally change how belowground systems are perceived in both basic and applied research communities, highlighting the importance of root and rhizosphere processes to the overall health, resilience, and productivity of forest ecosystems.