Center for Ecosystem Science and Society

The Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (Ecoss) at Northern Arizona University seeks to understand ecosystems and how and why they change. The vision of Ecoss is to understand ecosystem function and change from the cell to the globe and their implications for future Earth.

Our research probes the biology, chemistry, and geology of the biosphere, bringing tools and perspectives from ecosystem science to the ecology of the integrated earth system. In our work, we conduct research on ecosystems and how they respond to and shape environmental change, train future scientists, and communicate discovery and its relevance to people.


Biochar illustration by Victor O. Leshyk Scientists believe that biochar, the partially burned remains of plants, has been used as fertilizer for at least 2,000 years in the Amazon Basin. Since initial studies published several years ago promoted biochar, farmers...

Our Work

Researcher investigating ecosystem experiement

The global environment is changing. Climate change, species invasions, and land use all affect Earths natural ecosystems and how they function. Changes in ecosystems also affect the global environment. At Ecoss, our work asks, how do ecosystems respond to environmental change? How do those responses shape the environment?

Lanscape image of a Boreal forest.

At Ecoss we study many aspects of our environment, including plant physiology of redwood and pinyon pine trees, invasive species, soil, aquatic ecosystems, leaf litter decomposition, aquatic macroinvertebrates, food web dynamics, and river and wetland restoration.

Steam rolling out of a hot spring.

Single-celled organisms are the engines of the global biogeochemical cycles, driving nearly half of all photosynthesis globally and nearly all decomposition, moving elements among the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. At Ecoss we study how soil microbes are affected by heat waves in Arizona, by the extreme cold of Antarctica, and the constant temperature of hot springs in the western U.S. and China.

Digital rendering of microbial ecosystem.

Antibiotic resistance in human pathogens is a growing concern, one increasingly recognized as an ecological problem in an anthropogenic ecosystem comprising medicine, agriculture, and the built environment. Microbial ecosystems are mediators of human health and disease. The human microbiome can play a key role in host susceptibility to pathogens, in the nasal cavity for chronic infection by Staphylococcus aureus, in the gut microbiome influencing multiple infections with E. coli, as well as in the genital microbiome, influencing sexually-transmitted diseases from bacterial vaginosis to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Graphic of microbial taxa.

In collaboration between Ecoss and two DOE National Labs, we are addressing whether microbial taxa exhibit differences in growth and death rates and the underlying biochemistry in these environments, and to what degree these responses are genetically determined or environmentally induced. For the first time we have the opportunity to link in vivo taxon-specific microbial growth and death rates to metabolic capabilities and activities in strongly contrasting soil environments. Information on microbial growth and death rates, and their metabolic capabilities and activities in undisturbed soil environments is an essential step towards developing more mechanistic soil C cycling models.

Graphic of the chemeical analysis tool located at the Colorado Plateau Analytical Laboratory.

Ecoss houses the Colorado Plateau Analytical Laboratory, which is a major service center for the Northern Arizona University science community as well as scientists around the world who require chemical analyses of environmental samples.