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Quantifying the effects of a fungus-mediated termite and bark beetle interaction on wood decomposition


Working with an interdisciplinary team of entomologists, biologists, and metagenomicists, we have established

research sites in Mississippi, Arizona, and Honduras to experimentally quantify the contribution of a newly

discovered fungus-mediated interaction between bark beetles and subterranean termites to wood

decomposition rates in a wide array of coniferous forests (tropical, subtropical, and arid) that contain ongoing

bark beetle epidemics and three distinct levels of subterranean termite abundance and diversity. My role in

this project is to collect meteorological data (temperature, precipitation, throughfall, soil moisture), wood and

soil heterotrophic respiration data, and wood and soil carbon and nitrogen samples to isolate the role of

biological interactions from exogenous climatic conditions on nutrient turnover dynamics. Also, I have

established a simulated pine beetle outbreak experiment to quantify the extent of spatial and temporal impacts

of tree mortality on carbon budgets. In this study, enhanced fluxes from dying trees primed surrounding soils while decreased tree water use provided additional soil moisture to create biogeochemical hotspots, which may be leading to accelerated carbon decomposition and mineralization. Our recently discovered link between two ecosystem engineers (bark beetles and termites) is likely a significant driver of carbon fluxes in many forest ecosystems, and therefore may have significant impact on the future conceptual frameworks employed to quantify and model wood decomposition rates.

Collaborators: John Riggins (BCH-EPP, MSU), Natalie Clay (LaTech), Juliet Tang (USFS), Heidi Renninger (MSU), Kimberlyn Pace (Current MS Student)

Funding: NSF (DEB-1660346)

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