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K-State professor using NSF award to study the impact of nitrogen deposition on global change

Manhattan, Kan. -- To understand how global change is happening today, a Kansas State University professor is looking back 10,000 years at nitrogen availability in forest and grassland ecosystems.

Kendra McLauchlan, assistant professor of geography, is receiving a nearly $440,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award to examine contrasts in vegetation history among three sites and to reconstruct past changes in nitrogen cycling and other ecosystem properties. McLauchlan is the sixth K-State professor this year to receive the award.

"This award will help us understand past ecosystems to provide context for modern changes to Earth systems," McLauchlan said. "The CAREER grant is unique because it supports both my research and teaching roles. It represents a major step forward for my program."

For the project, her research team will look at ecosystem changes in increments of 10, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 years by examining data from a prairie site, a forested site and a site that transitioned between forest and prairie. McLauchlan said the project's outcomes will include evaluating how vegetation, climate change and disturbances affect biogeochemical changes over time, as well as formalizing techniques that will allow researchers to determine whether humans are increasing or decreasing nitrogen availability.

Richard Marston, who heads K-State's geography department, said McLauchlan is proving to be a great addition to the community of Konza prairie researchers in Kansas while also maintaining her breakthrough research in forest-grassland transitions elsewhere in North America.

"Dr. McLauchlan has compiled a superb record of award winning teaching and research at the start of her career," Marston said. "She is publishing in high-profile journals. The National Science Foundation CAREER Award is a highly significant recognition of her potential as a scholar and will explicitly help her build a program of research and student mentoring in grassland ecosystems. It is a credit to K-State that we can attract such an outstanding and highly valued faculty member. She is a trusted, productive and highly respected member of our department, appreciated by faculty and students."

McLauchlan said that her project will help train the next generation of scientists, from graduate students to middle school students. The research results will be available to the public with an interactive display at the Itasca State Park visitor's center in Minnesota and a modified online module that shows McLauchlan at work retrieving sediment cores.

McLauchlan directs K-State's Paleoenvironmental Laboratory. Her other research interests include North American biogeography, soils, and Quaternary paleoecology. She has been part of three other National Science Foundation grants at K-State, including two for which she is principal investigator or co-principal investigator. In 2009, she received a William L. Stamey Teaching Award from K-State's College of Arts and Sciences and a Making a Difference Award from K-State's Women in Engineering and Science Program.

She earned doctorate and master's degrees in ecology from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor's degree from Carleton College. Before coming to K-State, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College.


Contact: Kendra McLauchlan
Kansas State University

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