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Lab Group

Dr. Steven Fonte – Associate Professor

I am an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at CSU. My background involves a mix of soils, agriculture, forestry and ecology. Rooted in these disciplines, my research largely focuses on plant-soil interactions, nutrient cycling, and management impacts on agroecosystem function and sustainability across a broad array of ecological contexts. This work encompasses diverse efforts, ranging from studies to improve forage production and quality in grassland fallows of the Andean highlands, to exploring the effects of tillage and residue management on key ecosystem functions (e.g., productivity, water and nutrient regulation, C storage) on farms in rural Central America and Colorado.

Dr. Steven Vanek -Research Scientist II

See profile for Steve Vanek

Dr. Mark Caulfield – Affiliate Researcher

I recently completed a PhD program in Farming System Ecology at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands. My research focuses on how farm management and agroecosystem patterns co-evolve from multiple socio-ecological interactions and feedbacks. By working collaboratively with farmers and local stakeholders, the objective of my work is to facilitate the co-development of more contextualised development options for improved natural resource management. The transdisciplinary nature of this approach means that I adopt a diverse range of methodologies from both social and biophysical science backgrounds at different scales of analysis.

Nora Flynn – PhD Student (Agroecosystem Management)

I’m working at the USDA water management research site and studying the impacts of deficit irrigation on soil structure and related processes. Exploring ways to improve the sustainability of agriculture in a changing climate is what excites me most. I seek out opportunities to learn from and collaborate with farmers who guide me towards relevant and practical questions. My previous research has focused on reduced tillage in corn-soybean systems in Southeastern Minnesota.

Courtland Kelly – PhD Student (Ecology)

I am a graduate student in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, interested in using ecological systems thinking to improve agricultural practices. I came to Colorado State after working as a nature guide in Colorado and at an urban agriculture nonprofit helping low-income families and children grow their own vegetables. My main interests are soil health and soil-plant interactions. Currently, I am working on a project examining the benefits of cover crop/forage rotations in wheat systems.

Blessing Magonziwa – PhD Student (Agroecosystem Management)

Blessing has a special interest in researching technologies and methods that allow for sustainable development in smallholder agricultural communities. She holds a bachelor’s degree (Soil Science) and a master’s degree (Agronomy) from the University of Zimbabwe. She is in early stages of her research career and has since focussed on soil fertility and water management practices. Blessing has worked as a research and teaching assistant at the University of Zimbabwe and is currently a Graduate Research Assistant at Colorado State University.

Lisa Eash – PhD Student (Agroecosystem Management)

I am interested in applying ecological principles to increase efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems. My current research investigates the impact of cover crops on soil health and cash crop productivity in dryland agroecosystems on the Colorado Plateau. Previously, I have researched smallholder maize and bean systems in Central America, working to identify limitations to production that could be addressed by local development efforts. I am passionate about using a participatory approach to my research to ensure that findings can be directly applied to improve issues facing local farmers.

Siwook Hwang – PhD student (Ecology)

I am a PhD student in the Graduate Degree Program of Ecology. I am interested in crop genotype X rhizosphere interaction as a potential tool to manage agroecosystem soil health. After graduating from Kalamazoo College with a bachelor’s degree, I came to CSU to work at the Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory as a technician. My current project focuses on the rhizosphere characteristics of the perennial grain crops that are being developed at the Land Institute in Salina, KS.

Joyce Mutai – PhD student (Agroecosystem Management)

I am a graduate student in the department of Soil and Crop Sciences, interested in expanding and deepening my academic knowledge and skills in areas of soil science, particularly soil-borne pathogens and parasitic nematodes. I have a BSc. Degree in Agriculture from Kenyatta University, and an MSc degree in Research Methods from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology, Kenya. My interest in soil and soil-borne pathogens developed while working for a National Research Organization in Kenya as a Research Scientist, which involved working closely with smallholder farmers in western Kenya.  I am especially interested in understanding interactions between soil type, management practices, and cropping systems, and the abundance of soil-borne pathogens and parasitic nematodes in these systems.

Katherin Meza Retamozo – MSc student (Agroecosystem Management)

I am pursuing a MS degree in Agroecosystem Management at CSU. What I enjoy most about working in agriculture is conducting research and working closely with farmers throughout the Andean highlands. Upon finishing my BSc in agronomy, I interned with the International Potato Center (CIP), where I worked in potato breeding to improve resistance to a common (Phytophthora infestans) pathogen, examined the survival of potato varieties across three different sites in the Peruvian Andes, and characterized morphology of 200 varieties of native potato to produce a catalog. Over the last several years, I have been working with Grupo Yanapai, focusing on how integration of different forage options can improve fodder availability and restore soil fertility during fallow periods. This work also examines the important role that farmers play in preserving their landscape and ecosystem services, and the value of local knowledge in the sustainable management of agricultural lands.

Michelle Gooding – MSc Student (Agroecosystem Management)

Background: Michelle originally hales from Wilder, Idaho where her family owns and operates a 600 acre hop farm. She, along with her two sisters, form the sixth generation of hop growers in the family. She completed her BS in Health Sciences at Boise State University in 2013. She also played Division I golf during her undergraduate degree and now frequents the local courses in Fort Collins. She enjoys all activities in the outdoors (skiing, biking, running, hiking, camping) and also has a rambunctious pomeranian named Dani. Her research examines soil health and fertility in hop yards.  More specifically, she studies the effects of cover crops and manure additions on soil organic matter, biological activity, and nutrient availability.

Carolita Landers – Research Associate

I graduated from CSU in 2018 with two bachelor’s of science; Soil & Crop Sciences, and Animal Sciences. My research interests include observing and testing different effects of land uses and how they contribute to global changes. In the future I’d like to incorporate more of an interdisciplinary approach to my research to factor in social dynamics and how policy and social practices, biases, and disparities affect sustainable development within agricultural systems. I’m passionate about conserving outdoor spaces, improving systems to mitigate and adapt to climate change, promoting biodiversity, and building more resilient food systems.

Bo Collins – BSc Student (Soil and Crop Sciences)

I am currently an undergraduate student in the Department of Soil & Crop Sciences pursuing a concentration in Soil Restoration & Conservation. My interests in soils and agriculture began while living and teaching English abroad in rural rice farming villages  across Thailand. Inspired by the diligent and essential work of small farmers, I eventually returned to the U.S. and began a career as a vegetable farmer in Charleston, South Carolina. A few years ago, I decided to return to school increase my scientific understanding of soil and crop management and to explore practical solutions that may help to improve and maintain the agricultural productivity and biological diversity of global soil resources. I have become increasingly interested in learning more about plant-soil microbiome interactions and effects on nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, plant growth, etc. Overall, I’m excited to further my knowledge and hopefully play a small role in finding solutions to the myriad challenges of global soil degradation & food insecurity.

— Past Lab Members and Visiting Researchers —

Peter Olayemi – PhD 2021 (Agroecosystem Management) – Co-advised with Matt Wallenstein

Peter Olayemi is a PhD candidate whose goal is to elucidate specific characteristics of the soil biota that support farmer-centric outcomes associated with soil health. His current project is focused on exploring the effects of tillage and residue management on soil properties in dryland systems with specific focus on soil carbon storage and soil biota.


Dr. Paulina Ramírez Cisterna – Postdoctoral Researcher (2020-2021)

I recently completed a PhD program in Engineering Science, area of specialization in geosciences, the environment, and resources at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. My PhD research focused on the interaction between soil microbes and carbon dynamics, the study of temporal and spatial patterns of soil organic carbon stock, labile organic C fractions and finally the study of the effects of climate, land uses and soil types on soil carbon stocks. I have been immersed in very different disciplines, which has allowed me to work with multidisciplinary teams, and collaborating with international teams in laboratory and field settings. I am interested in in the prevention and mitigation of risks in agriculture and natural resources, for that reason my postdoctoral research is about precision farming and the study of soil quality indicators.

Kaytee Ankrom – PhD 2021 (Biology) – Co-advised with Diana Wall

I am a PhD candidate in the Biology department studying nematode ecology in the Great Plains. My current project aims to elucidate the response of soil nematodes to altered precipitation regimes in grassland ecosystems as part of a NSF-funded research grant. I am particularly interested in nematodes as bioindicators of soil health and how nematode biodiversity and functionality may be used to extrapolate a system’s response to climate change. My previous research was focused on agronomically important plant parasites of soybean at The Ohio State University.

Priscila Matos – Visiting PhD student (2018-2019), Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I have a master’s degree in Forestry Sciences with focus on sustainability assessment of different types of forest management in the Caatinga biome. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in Agriculture. My research concerns the evaluation of soil quality, through biological, physical and chemical indicators, under agroecological agroforestry systems used as an alternative for recovery of degraded soils in Brazil.

Katie Rocci  – MSc 2019 (Ecology), Co-advised with Francesca Cotrufo

I am an MS student in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, interested in how biogeochemical cycling is affected by global changes and tools to mitigate these changes. Currently, I study how biochar, a sustainable soil amendment, affects nitrogen cycling in agricultural systems. I am, additionally, excited by science outreach and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the sciences. My previous research as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, focused on nutrient and trace gas cycling in temperate forests and subarctic wetlands.

Thesis title: Soil Nitrogen Cycling in Agroecosystems as Modified by Biochar Amendment and Plant Processes

Dr. Jinhua Liu – Visiting Scholar (2018-2019), Jilin Agriculture University, China

I am a researcher and lecturer at Jilin Agriculture University in China. I teach about analyses and experimentation in soil science and also conduct research on soil fertility and plant nutrient absorption efficiency. I like teaching, as it gives me the opportunity to interact with young people and lets me feel younger and more dynamic. I also enjoy research, because it can solve practical problems and help farmers produce more food with fewer inputs, thus protecting our environment. My recent work focuses on the effect of maize straw retention on the soil physical and chemical properties, especially the distribution of different size aggregates, and associated C, N and P distributions. I hope that my work and the knowledge I acquire during my time at CSU will ultimately help farmers with sustainable agricultural production.

Victor Galindo – Visiting PhD student (2018), Universidad del Valle, Colombia

I’m a Ph.D. student in the Biology program of the Universidad del Valle in the South of Colombia. My past research has focused on restoration ecology of degraded riparian corridors in the Andes. Currently, my work seeks to understand the complex ecological processes that underpin the provision of ecosystem services in mountainous Andean landscapes. More specifically, my research focuses on the regulation of water quality and erosion control. This work is conducted in collaboration with rural communities and aims to identify best practices for conservation of above- and belowground biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions.

Anna Maria Visscher – MSc (2018), Wageningen University, Netherlands

I obtained a BSc degree in International Development Studies with a focus on communication, technology and innovation. With a passion for participatory approaches and an eye for feasibility, I hope to support and empower projects that try to re-green rural zones to benefit the livelihoods of local inhabitants.  I am especially interested in agroecology and restoration ecology. I am currently a MSc student at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, and am enrolled in two MSc programs: 1) International Land and Water management, with specialization in irrigation and water management, and 2) Plant Science, with specialization in soil quality. My thesis research is related to functional agrobiodiversity in the Andean highlands of central Peru.  More specifically, I’m focusing on the role of field margins in regulating soil-based ecosystems services and biodiversity in smallholder production fields of the region.

John Berlejung – MSc 2017 (Soil Science)

After graduating with a bachelor’s in geology, I worked in the oil and gas industry to apply my education and to better-understand the environmental impacts of drilling operations. When I realized that economic conditions would soon put me out of a job, I re-evaluated my career path and decided that I want to protect and restore our natural environment from anthropogenic harm; I’m particularly interested in researching soil remediation techniques that allow disturbed sites to return to a state of high health and productivity for future generations to use and enjoy.

Thesis title: Amendment effects on soil physical properties and restoration of decommissioned forest roads

Junaidi  – MSc 2017 (Agroecosystem Management)

As a young scientist at the Indonesian Rubber Research Institute I have been involved in research related to yield improvement. Now, I am interested to learn about and explore new approaches for sustainable agriculture. My specific interest is to improve ecosystem services using environmentally friendly inputs and to maintain long-term productivity. In this work, I am studying interactions between soil biology, inputs and crop growth.

Thesis title: Evaluation of spring wheat genotypes in response to soil health promoting management practices.

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Paulina Ramírez – Visiting PhD student (2017), Universidad Católica, Chile

I’m a PhD student in the Science of Engineering program at Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile. My undergraduate degree is in Biochemistry and I obtained a Master of Engineering in mining and environment area. My main interests are focused on environmental restoration and soil health. For that reason, I decided to conduct my PhD research on soil organic carbon in agroecosystems. I’m studying the carbon dynamics from an interdisciplinary perspective; this means, understanding the micro and macro scale processes and support my research by using mathematical and geographic tools. My decision to study croplands comes from many areas in my country having been affected by soil degradation as a result of anthropogenic and climate factors. Therefore, the understanding soil organic carbon dynamics is crucial to keep soil productivity in the long-term.

Daniel Melman – International Intern (2016-2017), University of São Paulo, Brazil

I am an undergraduate student in the Program of Agricultural Sciences at the University of São Paulo (ESALQ) in Brazil. In my studies I focus on understanding agricultural production through an ecological perspective, and using agroecological knowledge as a tool to improve agroecosystem resilience. I am currently working on a project evaluating the impact of tillage and residue management on soil quality as well as relationships between macrofauna abundance and soil physicochemical parameters.

B.Sc. Thesis title: Tillage and residue management effects on soil quality and function in an irrigated cropping system of Eastern Colorado

Anne de Valenca – MSc (2016), Wageningen University, Netherlands

I obtained my M.Sc. Organic Agriculture from Wageningen University (The Netherlands).  I specialized in agroecology and conducted my thesis research on landscape and soil ecology. This work took place within the project ‘Suelos Andinos – Diversification of agriculture from plots to farmscapes’ in Peru, where we conducted a study to assess the impact of land use on soil biodiversity and fertility. It was very inspiring to collaborate there with the local farming community, Peruvian students and a team of international researchers, who all had the same goals to have sustainable agroecosystems.

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Edwin Garcia – Visiting Scholar (2016), CIAT, Honduras

I am a researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in the Tropical Soils program. I’m an agronomist by training, with a M.Sc degree in Tropical Agroforestry. I study crop production and other ecosystem services within Slash and Mulch Agroforestry Systems as well as participatory adaptation of these systems to new areas across Central America. Similarly, I have worked in the co-design of silvopastoral systems for smallholder farmers in hillside landscapes of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua with the aim of having more eco-efficient production and contributing to poverty reduction for smallholders in Central America and similar areas around the world.

Project Title: Participatory evaluation of improved pastures and forage legumes for smallholder livestock production in Central America.

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