My research studies aquatic ecology – specifically, the intersections of microbial ecology and biogeochemistry, mostly in estuaries.
Massive amounts of inorganic nutrients are cycled through ecosystems in a constant flux. Microbes are responsible for the vast majority of these transformations via a diverse suite of metabolic pathways. The resulting biogeochemical reactions shape ecosystems from the bottom up and therefore affect ecosystem productivity, food webs, and species diversity, among many other facets of aquatic ecology. My research seeks a greater understanding of the environmental factors affecting biogeochemical reactions and the responsible microbial communities in aquatic ecosystems.
Nitrogen is a particularly interesting nutrient. Synthetic production of ammonia and urea has allowed for the synthesis of massive amounts of nitrogenous fertilizer, much of which eventually flows into estuaries and the coastal sea. Additionally, wastewater treatment plants discharge massive amounts of nitrogen into estuaries, rivers, and the ocean. Nitrogen loading is thus one of the prime factors driving the eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems. Finally, nitrogen is great for biologists, as practically all nitrogen-cycling reactions are driven by microbial reactions. Combining techniques from isotope geochemistry, analytical chemistry, microbial ecology, and bioinformatics allows my research to investigate aquatic nitrogen cycling at both micro and macro scales, from genes to organisms to ecosystem processes.