Bird SOIL Biogeochemistry Research Group


Our research group is focused on belowground C and N cycling in terrestrial and estuarine ecosystems.  Soils are critical controllers on the flow of matter and energy in the environment and are considered especially important in the Earth's response to climate change.  Soils act as both a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and as a sizable, stable sink for plant C and N inputs.

We investigate how soil microbial communities, plants, climate and mineralogy interact to control the turnover, loss or stabilization of soil C and N in boreal, temperate and tropical ecosystems.

Much of our work uses stable isotopic tracers (13C and 15N) to follow carbon and nitrogen among plants, soil microbes, and mineral surfaces to better understand how soils support ecological productivity, the production of food and fiber and environmental quality. 

All photos, figures and data on this site are prohibited from use without permission

How will forested ecosystems respond to climate change? 

One impact of climate change is more frequent and intense forest fires.  Wildfires are a major ecosystem disturbance that alters the flow of C and N, especially through the addition of charcoal or pyrogenic organic matter (PyOM) to the air, soil and water.   The forested site (shown above) last burned in 1980 and is host to a long-term study led by the Bird lab on the fate of pyrogenic organic matter in the environment.  Soil samples from this site, located at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, MI,  illustrate the distinct soil horizons present in this developing Spodosol.  More information about this project is available on our research and publications pages.