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News & Events

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leshyk illustration biochar
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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 around the world have been using it as a soil additive to increase fertility and crop yields. But a new study casts doubt on biochar’s efficacy, finding that using it only improves crop growth in the tropics, with no yield benefit at all in the temperate zone. "We saw a huge boost for crops grown in the tropics, but zero results for crops in the temperate zone," said Dr. Bruce Hungate, Director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University and co-author on the study. "Given all the talk about the benefits of biochar, we were...
field studied for permafrost loss by schuur
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Permafrost landscape, Yamal peninsula, Northwest Siberia (credit C. Schädel) Edward A. G. Schuur, a permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University, said the study was “an important and interesting calculation of where permafrost will be at some distant point in the future as we undergo climate warming.” “What’s really important is this is based on totally different assumptions,” Dr. Schuur said. “It’s useful because it gives us a different perspective.” Dr. Chadburn said her study did not delve into the details of how different permafrost areas might be affected. Dr. Schuur said that as the planet warms, more southerly regions, where the permafrost occurs in discontinuous patches, would be expected to thaw first. But there will still be changes even in areas of extensive permafrost in the far north, Dr. Schuur said. “There will be surface changes that affect everyone who...
leshyk illustration quantify economic value
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Illustration by Victor Leshyk Wildflowers splashed across a meadow in different sizes, shapes and colors offer more than just beauty. The natural mix of plant species in an ecosystem—its biodiversity—helps it grow faster and cycle nutrients more efficiently. These ecosystem functions also deliver life-sustaining services on which humans rely, such as purifying water and providing food, fuel and oxygen. Illustration by Victor Leshyk Biodiversity is declining around the world due to a variety of causes, including changes in land use, pollution and climate change, so it is more important than ever that land managers and other policymakers are better informed when making decisions that affect biodiversity in their regions. But how do you measure the value of biodiversity? Northern Arizona University ecologist and Regents’ Professor Bruce Hungate led a team of scientists who developed one of the first models to...
leshyk illustration rhizosphere
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A future is depicted in which rhizobacteria sourced from stressful areas around the world may be used as a metaphorical “prescription for drought.” (Illustration by Victor Leshyk 2016) ECOSS researchers recently published findings in the scientific journal Plant and Soil showing that rhizosphere bacteria could help reduce crop losses due to drought. See the full article Listen to an interview by Knau with Rachel Rubin Watch an interview with Rachel Rubin for Arizona PBS
permafrost sample with title
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Scientific American Well known among the global scientific community for his research on the vast amounts of carbon stored in rapidly thawing permafrost soil – and its potential threat to the environment – Ted Schuur, professor of NAU’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, has spent nearly 20 years working to bring awareness to the issues revealed by his scientific findings. But a new article published in the December 2016 issue of Scientific American magazine, a popular science publication that reaches 9 million readers worldwide, is likely to have a much broader impact on the public’s understanding of this environmental challenge. Read the full NAU news article here
natasja van gestel lecturing in classroom

Dr. Natasja van Gestel Dr. Natasja van Gestel presents research regarding the effects of climate change on the Antarctic ecosystem at the Sinagua Middle School. This presentation was part of the “Scientists in the Classroom” program, founded by Jillian Worrssam. The partnership between Sinagua Middle School teacher Kathryn Wertz and Ecoss will add authentic scientific research to the regular curriculum.  Ecoss’s outreach to the school is facilitated by Kathryn Wertz, Jillian Worssam, and Mindy Bell from STEM City.  
cover page for biannual report
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Bi-annual report Ecoss Jan-Jun 2016 Members of the Center of Ecosystem Science and Society (Ecoss) have been very productive in the first half of 2016. Download this Bi-annual report to find out about grants, invited talks, books, publications, and promotions that happened between January and June of 2016 within Ecoss.
science in the park
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Science in the Park, Flagstaff 2016 Water plus soil makes mud, right? It’s definitely mud when it’s on the kitchen table at home. But for the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (Ecoss), water plus soil makes paint, and it enjoyed centerpiece status on our table in Science in the Park in Flagstaff, last weekend, part of Flagstaff’s 2016 Festival of Science (September 2016). Visitors were handed a brush and a blank canvas and created art with a palette of natural soil paints, from beige to black to red to all shades of brown. Most, before even beginning, were curious, and asked why: “Why are the soils different colors?” That’s our entrée to science: soils vary in color because of the different amounts and types of chemical elements they contain. Red and yellow soils contain particular forms of iron, black...
Northern Arizona University campus in the summer showing buildings in the foreground and the Peaks in the background
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Northern Arizona University campus in the summer. Copyright NAU Marketing PhD and MS positions in Ecosystem Ecology are available in the Center for Ecosystem Science in Society (Ecoss) at Northern Arizona University. The Ecoss mission is to conduct high-impact, innovative research on ecosystems and how they respond to and shape environmental change, to train next-gen scientists, and to communicate discovery and its relevance to people. Research opportunities are available in the following areas linked to specific Ecoss faculty: The impact of climate change on Alaskan ecosystems, including effects of changing fire and permafrost on plants, soils, and ecosystem services. M. Mack, T. Schuur How microorganisms shape the ecology of planet Earth and its responses to environmental change, from soils to hot springs to humans. B. Hungate, P. Dijkstra, E. Schwartz  Freshwater ecology, including the science of river restoration and dam...
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Ectomycorrhizal fungi (the mushrooms connected to the roots of the tree) increase the uptake of nitrogen by the plant, even when that nutrient is scarce in soils. Artwork by Victor O. Leshyk. Bruce Hungate, Director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University, is one of the coauthors of this new study. He was surprised to find a symbiotic relationship between plants and a certain fungus boosted growth even without nitrogen. Hear about the study in this short broadcast by KNAU.
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