How will ecosytem recovery from acid rain change forests and soils?

Project Description : 

In the Bernhardt lab, we seek to understand some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our day using the tools of ecology and biogeochemistry. We are looking for one or two undergrads to work with us on a project to understand how forested ecosystems may recover from acid rain. While acid rain has been greatly reduced across the US, forests remain severely impaired by its legacy, and recovery of these ecosystems is expected to take decades to centuries. We seek to understand how ecosystem recovery from acid rain will change nutrient cycling between plants, soils and streams. Early indicators show that recovering forest ecosystems will decompose soil organic matter much more rapidly, leading to a substantial loss of soil fertility and carbon, contributing to climate change.

Using a greenhouse experiment, we want to discover the mechanisms by which ecosystem recovery from acid rain may accelerate soil decomposition. In this experiment we have constructed soil microcosms planted with tree seedlings, and we have altered the soils by raising their pH and/or increasing calcium fertility. (Both pH and calcium fertility are depressed by acid rain.) We are testing to see if either of these treatments will enhance soil decomposition, plant growth, and plant-mediated decomposition. Next fall, we will conduct biological and chemical analyses of the soils and plant tissues from these microcosms, and we want you to help us unlock the secrets of these plants and soils! Analyses that you may perform include: measurement of soil physical and chemical properties, measurement of microbial respiration in soils, analysis of plant tissue chemistry, and examination of root-fungal symbioses in sugar maples. Your work may vary based on your interests, and we can possibly work to develop this into an honors' thesis. Your primary mentor will be Richard Marinos, a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the lab.

The experiment is a part of the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study. Hubbard Brook was where the environmental imacts of acid rain were discovered in the 1970s, and it is one of the longest-running ecosystem research sites in the world. You can learn more about Hubbard Brook at .

Please email Richard ( with any questions!

Name of Lab: 

The Bernhardt Lab

Lab website:
Logistics Information

Expected number of students to be accepted to position: 


Student Ranks Applicable: 

Hours Per Week: 


Contact Information

PI Name: 

Emily Bernhardt

PI Email:

Contact Person: 

Richard Marinos

Contact Position: 

Ph.D. candidate, 5th year

Contact Email: