Current Members

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Members of the soil BGC group standing on the “Notch” while hiking the Skyline train in Jasper, NP. August 2016.

JELA BURKUS, B.Sc., CTech, Laboratory Technician

IMG_2262My major responsibilities in the soil biogeochemistry laboratory include supervision, operation, maintenance, troubleshooting and quality control of several analytical instruments that include GC-FID, GC-TCD, Py GCMS, and a number of standard laboratory equipment such as a microplate reader, freeze drying system, pH and conductivity meters, centrifuges, grinders, ovens, etc.. I ensure day to day lab operation at optimal performance level by training and assisting graduate students and post-docs in term of analytical techniques, use of equipment, quality control, safety in the lab, ordering lab supplies, following standard university protocols, and procedures. I perform analysis and method development for biomarkers and nutrients extracted from environmental samples and incubation experiments. At the moment, I am working on method development for biomarkers from soil samples using our new multishot pyrolysis GC MS system.

FREDERIC REES, Ph.D., Post-DocThe most handsome guy in the lab

My research interests are related to the dynamics of carbon, nutrients and trace elements in soil-plant systems, specifically in the context of human-impacted soils. My PhD focused on the effect of amendments of biochar, i.e. the solid product of biomass pyrolysis, on the mobility of heavy metals in contaminated soils and their uptake by plants. I later investigated the dynamics of organic carbon in Technosols constructed with different organic and mineral materials, using the model RothC to predict the long-term evolution of soil carbon stocks. I am currently looking at the dynamics of water and nutrients (N, P) in soils reclaimed after the extraction of oil sands. I am also interested in the role of pyrogenic C produced by wildfires on soil chemical properties, as well as in the dynamics of soil inorganic carbon.

May 2012 samplingKAREN THOMPSON, Ph.D., Post-Doc

I study soil microbial ecology within natural, disturbed, and agro-ecosystems. I specialize in using molecular methods to characterize soil microbial community diversity, abundance, potential activity and community structure, with specific interests in connecting microbial diversity with ecosystem functioning and process rates. I am interested in how microbial communities respond to agricultural management, disturbance, and climate change, particularly with respect to how changes in their diversity and activity relate to changes in carbon and nitrogen cycling processes in soils. I am currently assessing the functional recovery and resilience of carbon and nitrogen-cycling microbial communities after industrial disturbance. I am studying changes in soil microbial diversity, abundance and community structure after the construction of the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line in mixed grass prairies, and whether the use of access mats (‘rigmats’) mitigate the impact of industrial traffic on these soils.



My research is focused on developing reflectance spectroscopy tools for the rapid quantification and characterization of soil organic carbon. I am interested in using these tools to examine the spatial distribution of soil organic carbon throughout the soil profile. Currently, our understanding of the distribution and nature of soil organic carbon below the topsoil is limited in Boreal Forest soils. By obtaining high vertical resolution data using reflectance spectroscopy, I aim to improve our understanding of soil organic carbon reserves and their distribution throughout the soil profile.



PaulSewellPAUL SEWELL, M.Sc. Student

I am studying the influence of vegetation and local topography on carbon flux in boreal forest soils. I am performing this research at the Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) Project, and will also be investigating the effects of variable retention harvesting on soil organic matter pools. I am currently using incubation experiments in combination with 13C isotope analysis in order to probe organic matter dynamics. I am also interested in characterizing the composition of soil organic matter through 13C NMR spectroscopy techniques as well as biomarker analysis.

, M.Sc. Student

I am studying oribatid mite abundances, densities, and richness in the Alberta Oil Sands. Oribatid mites play a role in the litter breakdown of boreal soils. I am analyzing these factors on a post-mining chronosequence that has forested stands of aspen and white spruce. I want to identify any trends in mite communities that develop over time with the forest floor. I am also interested in the relationship between the exotic earthworm D. octaedra and oribatid mites in aspen and white spruce stands. This relationship may change the way forest floors develop and function in the boreal forest.




Land disturbance linked to resource extraction in Alberta ranges in severity from full ecosystem removal during surface mining in the Athabasca oil sands region, to more surficial disturbance during timber harvesting. I am studying the functional diversity of soil microbial communities in chronosequences of disturbed soils to determine whether these soils evolve towards their undisturbed analogs with time since disturbance. My objective is to determine if the functional diversity of soil microbial communities can be used as an indication of recovery following land disturbance.


WillBarnesWILLIAM BARNES, M.Sc. Student

My research aims towards understanding nutrient dynamics of sandy soils in the boreal forest region of northeastern Alberta and how nutrient accumulation and availability, both in the mineral soil and forest floor, is influenced by the physical properties of these soils. I am also interested specifically in the influence of the depositional layering of these sandy soils, which are developed from post-glacial sediments, on these nutrient dynamics. In addition, I am exploring the relationship of these soil physical properties with the varying forest productivity levels found on these sandy soils.


My research focuses on potential impacts of climate change on rhizosphere carbon in boreal forest soils. Climate change is expected to result in vegetation shifts from white spruce stands to aspen stands, due to increased occurrence of fire. The rhizosphere is the zone of soil characterized by root influence; this is unique because carbon is generally readily available for microorganisms. My first step is to characterize rhizosphere microbial communities under aspen canopies versus spruce canopies, and compare to bulk soil. I am studying the priming effect (increase in organic matter decomposition due to stimulation of soil microorganisms by rhizodeposition) within aspen and spruce rhizospheres in fine-textured versus coarse-textured soils. I am interested in conducting a 13C stem injection experiment to trace carbon movement from aspen and spruce trees into the rhizosphere and soil microorganisms.

NILUSHA WELEGEDARA, Ph.D. StudentNilushaWelegedara

I am studying the effects of capping materials and depth on water, nutrient and salt fluxes through reclaimed landscapes which is critical in restoring ecosystem productivity. I am using a comprehensive mathematical process model, ecosys to understand ecosystem processes by comparing water and nutrient cycling and salt redistribution, and ecosystem productivity of present reclamation practices with those in natural ecosystems, which is crucial to predict the long-term time course of changes in water and nutrient cycling during reclamation. My main objective is to examine the best reclamation practices to achieve long-term sustainability of reclaimed lands and to help develop innovative land reclamation strategies.