The Ecology of Desert Biological Soil Crusts, from Mosses to Metagenomes

Speaker: Dr. Kirsten Fisher, Returning LABS Speaker!
Cost: $50
Saturday, February 29th • 10:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
540 South Marengo Avenue, Pasadena, California 91101

Biological soil crusts (often called ‘biocrusts’) are communities of diverse organisms, including bacteria, mosses, and lichens. While they typically stand less than half a centimeter tall, biocrusts are incredibly important in drylands and deserts worldwide, where they represent up to 50% of soil surface cover and regulate critical ecosystem functions like nutrient cycling. Since these communities are easily damaged or destroyed by human activities, they are also of considerable concern in managing dryland environments. We will explore the different organisms that compose biocrusts, and learn about some of the specialized traits, such as desiccation tolerance and clonal growth, that allow them to survive and reproduce in harsh environments. We will also investigate how data gathered through the sequencing of environmental DNA can provide information on the composition and function of bacterial communities associated with different biocrusts.

About the Speaker

IEA is very excited to host Dr. Kirsten Fisher as a returning LABS speaker. She earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2004, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC, and is currently a Professor of Biological Sciences at Cal State LA, where she has worked since 2008. Dr. Fisher teaches courses in General Biology, Evolution, Plant Systematics, and Science Writing, and serves as the curator of the CSLA Herbarium. Her research interests revolve around the molecular ecology of a desert moss species, Syntrichia caninervis. As plants that must rely on external water for all their life processes, mosses are typically associated with predictably moist environments; thus, moss species that survive and persist in severely water limited environments such as deserts provide a unique system for studying the short- and long-term genetic consequences of specialization for extreme environments.