The fellowship allows recipients to develop their own ideas, independent of the projects their advisers have funded, Zabinski said.
"From a graduate training perspective, there is no better way to prepare students for the academic job market," Zabinski said.
Meadow said he will use his fellowship to study the composition, diversity and ecological environmental of the soil he observed in Yellowstone. The soil changes color and texture with the season. A product of thermal vents, it is loaded with chemicals, especially silica.
A major benefit of the fellowship is that it will allow him to conduct molecular analysis, Meadow added. Instead of identifying organisms under a microscope, which could take years, he can crush small samples of the soil, pull as much DNA as possible and run tests to identify the organisms that live in the soil and, to some extent, tell what they are doing.
"It's pretty common to find new organisms in these environments," Meadow said. "What I have seen so far is, it seems to be a combination of common crust organisms, along with those only found in thermal environments.
Soil crusts -- generally called biological soil crusts -- are composed mostly of bacteria (primarily cyanobacteria), fungi, lichens and mosses, Meadow said. They also incorporate the top few millimeters of soil. They dominate in arid soils where plants are limited and open patches of soil are exposed to full sunlight.
Scientists have conducted extensive studies of the crust environments in Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, both in Utah, Meadow sai
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University