03.27.13 VILLANOVA, Pa. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $1,170,000 grant to Villanova University for support of a research project in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences centered on the nitrogen cycles of peatland bogs and the effects of wildfires in boreal regions of western Canada. The project, entitled “RUI: Post-fire Nitrogen Cycling in Boreal Bogs—Critical Unknowns Explored,” is under the direction of R. Kelman Wieder, PhD and Melanie Vile, PhD in the Department of Biology.
Peatlands of the world, which include bogs, have been converting atmospheric carbon dioxide to organic carbon in the form of peat for thousands of years. They are vital to global terrestrial carbon and nitrogen balances. Peatland bogs cover only three to four percent of the earth’s land surface, yet store over 125 billion tons of carbon as incompletely decomposed organic matter, or peat.
“Peat bogs cover a large percentage of the landscape across northern Alberta, Canada, yet these ecosystems are under threat by a changing climate, an increase in wildfire extent and frequency, and increased atmospheric nitrogen deposition in rain and snow related to the ongoing development of the Alberta oil sands,” Dr. Wieder said. “We seek to understand how these threats interact to influence the ecological function of peat bogs, and in particular their ability of to continue to remove CO2 from the atmosphere into the coming decades.”
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find regions of boreal peatland that are unmarred by human activities, yet these pristine ecosystems are necessary for continued carbon sequestration, which also offsets rising atmospheric carbon-dioxide.
“Our research has afforded us the insight into biogeochemical conditions that acted as evolutionary constraints before the advent of regional-scale human impacts, and has begun to revolutionize the way we think about nitrogen cycling in these pristine systems,” said Dr. Vile. “Our research will have important implications for the vulnerability of global peatland carbon and nitrogen reservoirs in the face of ongoing, global environmental-change.”
The NSF award was effective March 15, 2013. The research will support the participation of graduate and undergraduate students, who travel to Alberta each summer to work alongside Dr. Wieder and Dr. Vile on the project.
“This award from the National Science Foundation recognizes the importance of this project from a global perspective,” said Jean Ann Linney, PhD, Dean, Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It will further our mission of offering increased opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in groundbreaking research projects alongside the College’s outstanding faculty, and supports Dr. Wieder and Dr. Vile in developing these students’ talents.”