How do a landscape and its people evolve through time? SOILS 499A examines this question and focuses particularly on the role natural resource management has played in the evolution of culture, society, and civilization.

"Co-evolution of Land and People". SOILS 499A (3 cr) and 499B (0.5 cr) Maymester trip.

How do a landscape and its people evolve through time? SOILS 499A examines this question and focuses particularly on the role natural resource management has played in the evolution of culture, society, and civilization. Readings examine the role that forms of government have had in shaping culture and land tenure, management of natural resources with population growth, and the stability of long-term civilizations. Finally, this course examines our current civilization in the context of past ones, and evaluates its future stability.

Optional Embedded trip to Wexford, Ireland in May 15-24, 2016. Students must register for 0.5 cr. SOILS 499B in SU16.

Students admitted to the summer abroad program will work with Dr. Drohan and collaborators of his in the Teagasc agriculture and food development authority at Johnstown Castle, Wexford Ireland. We begin our trip by examining the history of Ireland with visits to the Irish National Heritage Park living history museum and then the Viking towns of Waterford and Wexford. These towns were also invaded by the Normans and important in the history of the Irish Rebellion. We will examine past agricultural and land tenure issues and their role in the Irish famine at New Ross when we visit the Dunbrody famine ship. We will investigate modern agricultural production practices with Irish sheep and dairy farmers and examine current agricultural challenges set forth under the Irish Agricultural directives Food Harvest 2020 and Foodwise 2025. We will examine soil and water protection under the Irish Environmental Protection Agency and visit several different land management projects.

TWO slots are open for the 0.5 cr. (SOILS 499B, Maymester) Wexford, Ireland Program. The 0.5  cr., 10 day trip in the Wexford and Waterford area, is expected to run ~ $2000 American dollars. Tentative dates: May 15-24. $500 deposit due October 30, 2015. We will leave from Philadelphia and it is your responsibility to get to Philadelphia for the flight to Ireland. The trip price includes your breakfast, lunch, lodging, vehicle travel in Ireland, flight, and some dinners.

To apply for the summer trip, please send ASAP a one page, typed statement by email to Dr. Drohan ( State why you wish to participate in this course and provide the names of two faculty for recommendations. If you have participated in a Penn State study abroad program you must list the course(s), faculty leader, and dates of participation.

The USDA-NRCS Soil Survey is working towards helping to identify Ecological Sites across the United States. An ecological site is a distinctive landscape with a unique vegetative potential. Our new research, led by former Post-doctoral Scholar Alex Ireland, derived a rapid, easily implemented methodology to identify Ecological Sites in forested regions of the Appalachians. See this article in the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

"Hydropedology is an emerging, interconnected branch of soil science and hydrology that studies interactive pedologic and hydrologic processes and properties in the Earth’s Critical Zone. It emphasizes in situ soils in the landscape, where distinct pedogenic features (e.g., structure, macropores, and horizonation), environmental variables (e.g., climate, landforms, and organisms), and anthropogenic impacts (e.g., land use and management) interact and dictate the fluxes and pathways of energy and mass flow in the landscape. Considerable synergies are expected through bridging pedology with soil physics, hydrology, and other related bio- and geosciences to enhance the integrated understanding of soil–water–landscape–ecosystem relationships. There are two fundamental questions of hydropedology: 1. How does soil architecture (ranging from the soil pore to landscape scales) control the partitioning of hydrologic fluxes (and related biogeochemical and ecological functions) in heterogeneous landscapes? 2. How does landscape hydrology (and associated transport of energy and mass) influence soil genesis, variability, and function across space and time?"

This project is based on applying soil restoration recommendations put forward in Chapter 6.7.3 of the Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual as well as recommendations for ecologically sensible and practical re-vegetation to inactive areas around shale gas pads. Our overarching goal is to design a scientifically sound, replicated experiment that will be monitored through time and can also serve as a demonstration and education site for regulators and gas operators.

"The SSSA has created twelve 2-minute educational videos on the importance of soil, available at The group is also encouraging farmers and others to campaign for a Google Doodle on December 5, which is recognized as World Soil Day. Email to make your case." -Ben Potter,

"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."

L-R: Shauna Kay Rainford, Lauren Vitko, Julie Weitzman, Patrick Drohan, Katie Speicher, Abbe Hamilton, Amanda Ramcharan, and reclining Lillian Hill

This 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.

Riparian 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

How do a landscape and its people evolve through time? SOILS 499A examines this question and focuses particularly on the role natural resource management has played in the evolution of culture, society, and civilization.

"Riverine wetlands are perhaps the most important type of wetland to humanity due to dependence on them for supporting aspects of navigation, food, power production, development, flood control and recreation (Smith et al., 2008). Today, their protection is essential for flood control and wildlife habitat, and these goals have resulted in numerous efforts at restoring degraded function."