Penn State Soil Characterization Lab
Soil is an integral part of ecosystem function. There are 29 million acres (11,735,884 hectares) of soil in Pennsylvania supporting: wetlands; forest lands; agricultural lands; urban lands; homes, businesses, and roads; our drinking and wastewater filtration. Without soil, these activities and functions would be much more difficult and in some cases even impossible, for soil is as precious to our lives as the very blood in our bodies.
Research in the Soil Characterization Laboratory focuses on people’s use of landscapes and the accompanying changes in soil function across the larger ecosystem the soil supports. Dr. Drohan’s research group addresses basic science questions, but also demonstrates how this new knowledge can be applied to improve land management and ecosystem stability.
Soil Characterization Lab News
NEW PAPER: Plant community composition as a driver of decomposition dynamics in riparian wetlands; A. Britson, D. Wardrop, P. Drohan
October 2, 2015Riparian wetlands are well known for providing the important ecosystem service of carbon storage. However, changes in land-use regimes surrounding riparian wetlands have been shown to result in alterations to the wetland plant community. These plant community changes have the potential to alter litter quality, decomposition rates, and ultimately the capacity of riparian wetlands to store carbon. To determine the effects of plant community shifts associated with disturbance on decomposition and carbon inputs, we performed a yearlong decomposition experiment using in situ herbaceous material, leaf litter, and control litter and examined biomass inputs in six headwater riparian wetlands in central Pennsylvania. Two sites were classified as Hemlock-Mixed Hardwood Palustrine Forest, two were classified as Broadleaf Palustrine Forest, and two were classified as Reed Canary Grass-Floodplain Grassland (Zimmerman et al. 2012). Plant matter with greater initial percent C, percent lignin, and lignin:N ratios decomposed more slowly while plant matter with greater initial cellulose decomposed more quickly. However, no significant differences were found between plant community types in decomposition rate or amount of carbon remaining at the end of the experiment, indicating that the differences in plant community type did not have a large impact on decomposition in riparian wetlands. This work has important implications for studies that examine the decomposition dynamics of a few select species, as they may not capture the decomposition dynamics of the plant community and thus extrapolating results from these studies to the larger ecosystem may be inappropriate. Wetlands Ecol. & Mgmt. DOI 10.1007/s11273-015-9459-6
Another great SOILS 516 trip
August 28, 2015This summer Jim Thompson of West Virginia University hosted the 2015 Northeast Pedology Graduate Student trip. Students were able to see mineland reclamation, amazing old-growth deciduous and spruce forests, research on non-equilibrium ecology in the recovering high-altitude spruce forests, beautiful wetland systems in Canaan Valley and experience tubing on the Cheat River! Thanks Jim for hosting a great trip.
NPR's national show "Here and Now" covers our fracking rehab research
July 9, 2015"Reforesting After Fracking: Working To Restore Pennsylvania’s Drilled Land While most of the attention on the impacts of fracking has focused on things like drinking water, air pollution and earthquakes, state regulators in Pennsylvania are working on another less-discussed, but no less serious, side effect of oil and gas development: forest fragmentation."