BOZEMAN, Mont. -- A Montana State University graduate student has received a fellowship to study soil crusts unlike any he has ever seen.
Located around some of the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, the soil is very fine, soft and has a unique rippled texture that reminds him of a brain, said James Meadow, recipient of the Boyd Evison Graduate Fellowship. It houses microorganisms, but mostly consists of the glassy dead bodies of diatoms. Diatoms are microscopic algae that turn light into energy. Their cell walls are made of silica.
"The diatoms are what makes this soil crust so unique," Meadow said. "Diatom deposits are generally only found in lake and marine sediments. ... It is very unique to find these deposits growing on the soil surface."
He noticed the unusual crust while sampling plants near alkaline hot pools in the Imperial Meadow of the Lower Geyser Basin, Meadow said. Working on his Ph.D. in ecology and environmental sciences, Meadow said his primary research deals with fungi that live symbiotically with plant roots. Symbiosis occurs in all soil systems, but his Ph.D. research focuses on fungi that thrive in harsh thermal environments.
Cathy Zabinski, his adviser in MSU's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, said ,"If we can understand how plant/microbe interactions enable plants to grow in this extreme environment, we can also apply those same principles to other extreme environments, such as remediation sites after mining activities. We are also using this work to understand how plants might respond to warming soil temperatures in the future."
Grand Teton National Park and the Grand Teton Association selected Meadow out of 19 applicants for the 2010 fellowship that honors the late Boyd Evison. Evison worked 42 years with the National Park Service and then became executive director for the Grand Teton Association, which is dedicated to aiding interpretive, educational and rese
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Montana State University