Joe von Fischer
I study how the physical environment affects the ecology of plants and soil microbes.  Because global climate change will alter key aspects of the physical environment, this research seeks to improve our  capacity for forecasting ecosystem responses to global change.  As a biologist, my primary approach is to understand ecological responses from the perspective of individual organisms.  However, my interests in ecosystems and global change frequently require me to aggregate the response of many organisms from many species into communities or functional groups.  At this scale, much of my work falls into the interdisciplinary field of biogeochemistry, where the focus falls on phenomena like methane emissions from wetlands that emerge from the interaction between plants, soil microbes and their physical environment.

A notable feature of my research has been my interest in developing new methods for measuring plant and microbial activity in situ, with minimal impact on the organisms of interest.  Many of the assays commonly used in ecosystems ecology cause major disruptions to the environment experienced by plants and soil microbes, thus inducing noise and/or bias in the observed processes.  Application of these techniques has revealed previously unknown processes, tested biogeochemical theory, and quantified the relative importance of physical and biological controls in methane biogeochemistry.  I have also used stable isotopes in my work because they provide non-disruptive window into ecosystem function.  Stable isotopes have been part of my work on the plant response to climate , and the response of soil microbes to changes in their environment.

I am also interested in the question: does microbial community composition matter for predicting biogeochemical transformations?  To address this question, work in my lab has measured the ecophysiology and community composition of grassland methanotrophs, and we use reaction-diffusion models to link these measures back to field observation of methane uptake.  We have also characterized bacterial communities using clone libraries of functional genes, quantitative PCR, and pyrosequencing.

I’m always interested in conversations and new collaborations in this area.  Please drop me a line if these topics interest you: