Three new in press papers on microbial and geochemical characterization of the peatland ecosystem at the future SPRUCE site

Here are links to three new accepted papers that are just out online.  These papers represent some of the first of our hopefully continued fruitful efforts to characterize the peatland SPRUCE site characteristics prior to the onset of warming treatments next year.  These come from core support of the SPRUCE project itself as well as an additional DOE funded effort led by my long-time collaborator Joel Kostka at Georgia Tech and of course the hard work of several fabulous students and postdocs!

Lin et al. Microbial metabolic potential for carbon degradation and nutrient acquisition (N, P) in an ombrotrophic peatland. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, In Press.

Lin et al. Microbial community stratification linked to the utilization of carbohydrates and phosphorus limitation in a boreal peatland at Marcell Experimental Forest. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, In Press.

Tfaily et al. Organic Matter Transformation in the Peat Column at Marcell Experimental Forest: Humification and Vertical Stratification. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, In Press.


It has been some time since I posted on the blog and I hope this will be one of several upcoming updates on projects, papers and personnel!

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Soil Carbon Cycle Science and Microbial Ecology now open in my group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Biosciences and Environmental Sciences Divisions, and the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (, are seeking a postdoctoral researcher to support interdisciplinary efforts to understand the effects of climate change on soil biogeochemical and microbiologically driven carbon cycling. The selected candidate will work across linked projects involving a long-term climate change experiment to understand ecosystem-level responses in experimental manipulations of an ombiotrophic bog (peatland) in Minnesota (more information found at  The second project involves complementary lab- and field-scale experiments to improve understanding and modeling of interactions between physical, chemical and biological drivers of soil organic carbon decomposition.

Major Duties/Responsibilities

Design, conduct and interpret laboratory and field based research; lead and contribute to the development of scientific manuscripts and proposals.


Required Qualifications: Ph.D. in biology, ecology, microbiology, soil science or a related scientific disciplines, with demonstrated experience and expertise in the research areas related to the above projects. Demonstrated expertise must include a track record of primary contributions to peer-reviewed publications in one or more of the following areas: soil nutrient and carbon cycling, soil biogeochemistry, and molecular microbial ecology.

Qualifications Preferred:  Priority will be given to applicants with a successful history of interdisciplinary, integrative, and innovative research in these areas.  Familiarity with software tools for next generation DNA sequence analysis of rRNA and metagenomic microbial datasets (e.g QIIME) as well as the ability to program and script in R, Python or Perl to customize such analyses would also be preferred.

Applicants cannot have received the most recent degree more than five years prior to the date of application and must complete all degree requirements before starting their appointment.

Official applications will only be accepted via the site.  However, questions about the position should be directed to and

Cool toys = Hot data? (part 1)

As part of our work on a the SPRUCE experiment, we have been quantifying the various microbial activities in a peat bog in MN. We have also been lucky enough to explore some new approaches to improve our research methods as part of this. Two of these efforts involve some pretty cool science ‘toys’. Im going to discuss one below, and save the other for a future post.

One of the ways we are trying to accomplish the above, is to understand more thoroughly how the enzyme activities of microorganisms may vary in response to a range of temperatures. These enzyme potential analyses have been around for years and allow us to understand how microbial activity contributes to the cycling of carbon and nutrients under various specific stimuli. These work are possible now, thanks to work in the past by Bob Sinsabaugh, Don Zak, and many others. We accomplish this by adding peat (or soil) to mixtures that contain a fluorescent dye labeled substrate compound, that the enzymes the microorganisms secrete into the soil (or peat) can breakdown. When the fluorescent label is liberated from the the substrate compound, it fluoresces, and we can quantify it. If we want to quantify this response over a range of temperatures, it usually involves hunting up a host of large incubators in which to do the studies. At most usually 4 or 5 of these are available at any given time. Last month, Meg Steinweg and I visited the lab of collaborator Joel Kostka at Georgia Tech that had a cool toy that allowed us to do this much more efficiently.

HeatBlockThis is a gradient heat block (much like those used for PCR, but bigger) that allowed us to fairly precisely conduct our experiments. It is a custom designed tool that was machined from a block of solid aluminum, and has an electric heater attached on the high temperature end, as well as ports that allow circulation of a chilled glycol solution on the low temperature end. To this they added holes at an even spacing that we can add test tubes too. This creates a precise gradient of temperatures over a range of about 0 to 40 degrees Celsius (~32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) to do our enzyme assays. Once we set the temperature, this gradient was repeatable each day as seen below (there are three separate measurements in the graph, taken over two days, that largely overlap!)

This science ‘toy’ is translating to some really cool data sets for our SPRUCE projet. In SPRUCE we will be using a belowground heating system to warm up the peat in the bog to understand how all the carbon stored in the peat will respond (a paper on this technology is here). This could have implications for the potential of future climate change to feedback and cause additional releases of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere from bogs and other ecosystems. To get an initial handle on this in laboratory experiments, we used the ‘toy’ above to look at three different microbial enzyme responses tied to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling using peat collected from Minnesota at different times of the year. Typically we would expect responses leading to a rather smooth exponential curve showing increased activity with increased temperature (up to the point where the enzymes become denatured and activity drops off). Somewhat surprisingly, Meg’s work using this tool, looks to be showing two different responses in at least some samples. In an example of one of our Beta-Galactosidase activity assays below, we see a linear response at lower temperatures (below about 15C), and what seems to be a separate linear response at higher temperatures (above about 15C), instead of the expected exponential curve. While this graph is only showing a set of data originating from one peat sample, for one enzyme activity, collected at one time of year… When we look at a range of such samples, Meg’s data is showing trends that vary by depth in the peat, and time of year the samples were taken. B-Glucosidase

Im not sure exactly how these data should be interpreted yet (we need more of them of course), but what it could suggest, is that what we are seeing is enzyme responses from multiple communities of microorganisms, that exist separated by space (depth in the peat) and time (season in which the samples are collected). That would be pretty cool to prove, as it might effect the interpretation of the seasonal responses we will see in Minnesota when we heat up the bog. This is not unprecedented, as we saw similar phenomena when I was studying alpine tundra communities in Colorado during graduate school. However, this could justify more winter trips to MN, which believe it or not, I enjoy!

We have recently began some work collaborating with a group that does sensor development at ORNL, that is related to the SPRUCE project objectives. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to blog about it as well. However, as of now, while im convinced we are producing some really cool toys, the project has yet to produce enough cool data. Hopefully the data arrives soon!

Job Posting for Hobbie Lab at UNH on our collaborative SPRUCE project.

Ph.D. opportunities in terrestrial ecosystem ecology and mycorrhizal fungi at the University of New Hampshire (this posting is for a collaborator on our SPRUCE project)

The Hobbie lab invites applications to the UNH Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science (NRESS) Ph.D. Program. We welcome inquiries from motivated students interested in how the interactions of organisms with their environment influence carbon and nutrient cycling. Our lab is an interactive group with interests in ecosystem modeling, remote sensing, the application of stable isotopes in ecology, and belowground processes, particularly mycorrhizal fungi. We are currently looking for students on two projects, one to work on a new global change experiment in northern Minnesota, another to work on biogeochemical consequences of shrub expansion in the Arctic. Incoming Ph.D. students are encouraged to develop their own research projects in these areas. For more information on research projects in the lab, please visit our website>.

Interested applicants should email Dr. Hobbie <>. The deadline for domestic and international applications is Jan. 15, 2012. In your email, include “Ph.D. opportunity” in the subject line, and a brief statement of your current or future research interests (please be as specific as you can), and a curriculum vitae. For information on applying to the NRESS Program, visit <>.