Doctoral Students Study Climate Change Effects on Soil, Forest Growth

Thought you had it tough shoveling the walkway this winter?

Corianne Tatariw and Kaizad Patel cleared four 16.5-foot by 33-foot plots of land in University Forest in Old Town every time it snowed.

All in a quest for knowledge.

Tatariw and Patel are pursuing doctoral degrees in ecology and environmental science at the University of Maine. They’re researching how seasonal climatic changes from winter to spring affect soil nutrient cycling and therefore the biology, chemistry and physical characteristics of the woods.

Climate drivers of nutrient cycling are very strong in the Northeast, Patel says, and may impact how forests grow in the near future. Project findings, he says, could be interesting to forest managers, as well as to agriculture specialists.

Tatariw and Patel came to the project with different specialties.

Tatariw, who earned her undergraduate degree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and her master’s at the University of Alabama, is fascinated by microbial ecology.

While microbes — the oldest forms of life on Earth — are invisible outside of the lab, “these tiny machines can do anything and we’re able to live on the planet because of microbes,” says Tatariw, from Herndon, Virginia.

“They drive everything that’s going on.”

Patel, of Mumbai, India, earned his undergraduate degree in pharmacy at the University of Mumbai. He switched to environmental studies and became interested in soils while pursuing his Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I enjoy working outdoors in the forest. If it’s underground, I like it. I like getting my hands dirty,” says Patel, who is examining soil nitrogen levels for the project.

In December, Tatariw and Patel measured the eight plots —four not-to-be-shoveled control plots and four plots to be shoveled to simulate the effects of warmer winters with reduced snow accumulation.

In January, they activated and buried electronic temperature data loggers. And since February, they’ve routinely been retrieving temperature data and collecting soil and snow samples to measure nutrients.

Tatariw and Patel have found soils in the “no snow” plots were significantly colder, with more soil frost, than those in the control plots. This, they say, is expected to drive changes in soil microbial processes.

Tatariw and Patel will continue to collect data samples until the end of May for the project that Patel believes is the first of its kind in Maine.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777