Meet Our 2021 Graduate Student Fellows

The 2021-2022 Jornada LTER Graduate Fellowship recipients have been announced. This year, we were excited to add the Deb Peters Dryland Fellowship to our graduate research program. The Peters Fellowships are supported by New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences in recognition of Dr. Deb Peters’ long-term leadership of the LTER. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is supported by the National Science Foundation. Get to know this year’s awardees by reading more about them below! Congratulations to all!

Kieran Andreoni
Project Title: Mammalian Herbivores and State Transitions: Effects of Invasive Oryx Relative to Native Small Mammals and Livestock

I am a master’s student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  I work with co-PI’s Dr. Robert Schooley and Dr. Brandon Bestelmeyer on mammalian herbivory dynamics at Jornada LTER.  Our research focus is to clarify herbivory pressures that native rodents and lagomorphs, cattle, and exotic African oryx impose on arid grasslands and their subsequent potential to interact with grassland-to-shrubland state transitions.

Caleb Seth Burruss
Deb Peters Dryland Fellowship
Project Title: Estimating Biological Soil Crust Cover in the Chihuahuan Desert using Hyperspectral Remote Sensing from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

I am currently a master’s student working with Dr. Colby Brungard in the Plant and Environmental Sciences department at New Mexico State University.  My research project will be to develop and implement a method to remotely detect biological soil crust in a shrub dominated landscape.  I received a B.S. degree in environmental science from Ferrum college Va., in 2012, which was followed by nine years of experience working in conservation, and environmental consultation.

Courtney Currier
Project Title: Long-Term Directional Changes in Precipitation on Ecosystem Functioning: From Plant Phenology to Nutrient Cycling

I am a PhD candidate with Dr. Osvaldo Sala at Arizona State University. I am broadly interested in long-term patterns in plant-ecosystem interactions with precipitation extremes and other global change drivers. These interactions include phenology patterns and biogeochemical cycling. My research focuses on phenological controls of productivity and plant-soil nutrient cycling as a result of long-term extremes in precipitation in drylands.

Mikaela Hoellrich
Deb Peters Dryland Fellowship
Project Title: Linking Biogeochemical Function to Microbial Diversity: Biocrust Nitrogen Fixation

I am a master’s student with Dr. Nicole Pietrasiak in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at New Mexico State University. I am looking to link biogeochemical function (in terms of carbon flux and nitrogen fixation) to microbial diversity in Chihuahuan Desert biocrusts. I am interested in understanding the physiological limits of microbial life and seeking out proxies for extraterrestrial life.

Sam Jordan
Project Title: Drought and Disturbance in North American Drylands

I am a PhD student in the Sala lab at Arizona State University studying how climate, soil water, and disturbance control plant diversity and functional type abundance in dryland plant communities. With my PI Dr. Osvaldo Sala, I lead a new multi-year manipulative experiment on the Jornada Experimental Range to examine how the interactions of both drought and disturbance control productivity and nutrient cycling in the Chihuahuan desert.

Charlie Kimsal
Project Title: Characterization of Subsurface Water Flow and Hydrologic Connectivity Across a Heterogeneous Bajada Landscape

I am a master’s student with Dr. Enrique Vivoni in Geological Sciences at Arizona State University, School of Earth and Space Exploration. I previously received a B.S. in Geological Sciences from the University of Delaware (2021). I am studying the subsurface migration of water in an experimental watershed to understand how its behavior relates to surrounding landscapes and ecosystems. The work will be expanded to other parts of the basin to compare different types of bajada watersheds and will contribute to an understanding of hydrologic connectivity on a broader scale across the landscape. My research interests are: desert hydrology, hydrologic connectivity, groundwater-surface water interactions, groundwater flow.

Corey Nelson
Project Title: Interactions in the Microbiome of the Biological Soil Crust Cyanobacterium, Microcoleus vaginatus

I am a PhD student with Dr. Ferran Garcia-Pichel at Arizona State University. My research focuses on the microbial ecology of biological soil crusts (biocrusts), particularly, the beneficial microbial interactions between the phototrophic and heterotrophic microbes that allow for the formation of biocrusts. I’m also investigating ways to apply my research to optimizing the restoration of these microbial communities in dryland ecosystems.

Julie Bethany Rakes
Project Title: A Bacterium Predatory on Cyanobacteria from Biological Soil Crusts

I am a PhD student with Dr. Ferran Garcia-Pichel at Arizona State University. I research biological soil crusts (biocrusts), focusing on cyanobacterial and heterotrophic microbial components and their contribution to the health of the crust. I am also interested in restoration approaches and microbial threats to the health of cyanobacteria within the community. The applied component of my research includes growth of cyanobacterial community members and remediation of microbial threats.

Molly Reichenborn
Project Title: Impacts of Mesquite Control on Plant Recovery

I am a PhD student co-advised by Dr. Akasha Faist in Range Sciences and Dr. Erik Lehnhoff in the Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science department at New Mexico State University. Previously, I received my master’s degree from Wichita State University, where I focused on plant community ecology and worked as a research project manager examining the response of plant, insect, and bird communities to grazing on grasslands replanted through the USDA Conservation Reserve Program in Kansas. My dissertation research at NMSU centers on the control of honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) through aerial herbicide application and how this affects subsequent plant community recovery (or lack thereof) on the Jornada Experimental Range. I am broadly interested in the mechanisms underpinning the maintenance, invasion, and successful restoration of ecological communities, and developing data-supported management practices to guide effective land stewardship.
Twitter: @m2r_eco

Ryan Schroeder
Deb Peters Dryland Fellowship
Project Title: Rangeland Seed Bank Dynamics: Understanding How Soil Properties and Land Management Strategies Influence Seed Bank Suitability and Pathways for Ecosystem Restoration

I am a PhD student at New Mexico State University working with Dr. Akasha Faist in the Dept. of Animal and Range Sciences. My research focuses on soil seed banks – specifically, how soil properties influence rangeland soil seed banks and how soil seed bank information can be incorporated into rangeland management/restoration. I received my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from Purdue University and my master’s in Ecology at Colorado State University. At Colorado State University I worked under Dr. Mark Paschke in the Restoration Ecology Lab where I worked with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to better understand the soil seed bank composition of degraded shrublands and it’s potential impact on ecological restoration . I am an active member in the Soil Science Society of America, Society for Ecological Restoration, and Society of Rangeland Management, as well as being active on science twitter @SeedyRanges! I’m a bit of a plant nut (don’t get me started on plant puns), an avid outdoorsman, and dad to my awesome red heeler named Chispa (Spanish for “Spark”)!

Tyler Turk
Deb Peters Dryland Fellowship
Project Title: Connectivity and Seed Availability: The Role of Seeds in Chihuahuan Desert State Transitions

I’m a Master’s student studying restoration ecology in the Faist lab at New Mexico State University. My research is focused on the mechanisms of seed availability and recruitment in the Chihuahuan desert. More specifically, I’m looking at seed availability at differing scales and where shrubland to grassland state transitions have occurred.

Christopher Vito
Project Title: Belowground Net Primary Production Response to Changes in Precipitation: Effects of Amount and Time of Precipitation on Plant Functional Groups

I’m a Ph.D. student studying dryland ecology in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. My advisor is Dr. Osvaldo Sala. My background is in both geology and ecology, and I am interested in understanding ecosystem level processes in the face of climate change.