Skip to main content
ARS Home » Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems » Soil and Air » Docs » GRACEnet Soil Biology Group

National Program 212: Soil and Air
GRACEnet Soil Biology Group
headline bar

GRACEnet Soil Biology Group


Dr. Veronica Acosta-Martinez works at the Cropping Systems Research Laboratory in Lubbock, TX. Acosta-Martinez leads the GRACEnet-Soil Biology group (SBG) teams to modify the DET (Data Entry Template) to increase soil biology data with the valuable contribution/expertise of all members and research activities that include a multi-location study to identify microorganisms key to N availability (lead by Mike Lehman). Her research focuses in elucidating the complex interactions of agricultural management and climatic fluctuations on soil microbial communities and their link to soil health/functions related to biogeochemical cycling and organic matter dynamics in semiarid climates. Alternative management evaluated in the Southern High Plains includes the integration of cattle into cotton systems and the incorporation of dryland sorghum for forage and biofuels. Her team is combining different techniques such as fatty acid methyl ester analysis and high throughput sequencing approaches to better characterize the microbial community composition of semiarid soils. Her goal is to assist in the selection of management practices to better protect essential microbial assemblages to soil health and functions. She is also involved in soil health networks with Canada (AAFC), Soil Health Institute, and/or NRCS-Soil Health Division to select best soil health indicators and methods.

Dr. Jane Johnson works as a Research Soil Scientist at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, MN leading the Stewardship of Upper Midwest Soil and Air Resources through Regionally Adapted Management Practices Project. Since 2005, served on ARS-GRACEnet steering committee, organized and facilitated team planning and implementation workshops, served in a scientific advisory capacity on technical data team charged with developing a common data entry template.  As the REAP co-leader coordinated communication among team members, co-wrote the cross-location plans and facilitated team meetings, served as liaison to GRACEnet fostering alignment and coordination and thus avoided duplication of effort. In 2015, she was appoint by ARS Associate Administrator with approval from the USDA-OSEC to serve in the United States Co-Chair position of the Global Research Alliance – Croplands Research Group.  Her role is facilitating communication and research activities among international collaborators from member countries and for helping organize and facilitate annual group meetings. Research interest include 1) assessing impact of crop management for C-sequestration and greenhouse gas emission mitigation, 2) determining role of biomass for energy and impacts on soil quality and crop productivity and identifying and developing environmentally sustainable, and 3) establishing economically viable and agronomically feasible agricultural practices though local, national and inter-national collaboration.

Dr. Tom Ducey is a Research Microbiologist with ARS-USDA at the Coastal Plain Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence, SC. He has served in this role since 2005, during which he has led interdisciplinary research on a variety of agricultural issues ranging from antibiotic resistance and animal wastewater treatment, to assessing the impacts of agricultural management practices on soil health. His current research has a strong focus on looking at the role of microbial communities in the improvement of soil health and resiliency, and he has worked with several state and federal agencies to develop and assess methods to restore soil health to nutrient impoverished and mine-impacted soils.

Dr. Rob Dungan (Kimberly, ID; Logistics POC)is a Research Microbiologist at the Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, ID. He is a GRACEnet collaborator and is currently investigating the effect of manure and enhanced-efficiency fertilizers on greenhouse gas emissions from an irrigated dairy forage rotation. In addition, he is interested in understanding the influence of long term manure applications on soil health, nutrient cycling, and antibiotic resistance in semiarid soils. His goal is to improve the quality, productivity and sustainability of manure-amended soils, while developing strategies to prevent negative environmental impacts.

Dr. Lisa Durso (Lincoln, NE) is a Research Microbiologist working with the Agricultural Research Service in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Her current program focuses on solving applied problems related to pathogens and antibiotic resistance in manure-impacted and natural settings, characterizing the role of manure-borne microbes in soil health, and using microbiome tools to elucidate ecology of microorganisms in soil.  Dr. Durso embraces a One Health perspective to problem solving.  For example, she is interested in defining “resistance” for agricultural and environmental bacteria in a way that integrates human, animal, and environmental health.  Her areas of expertise include microbial ecology of agricultural production systems and tracking manure-borne bacteria, including routine surveillance and outbreak investigations. 

Dr. Hero Gollany is a Research Soil Scientist with the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Adams, OR. With a background in soil biogeochemistry and soil physics, her research is focused on interactions between soil, water, plant and atmosphere that impact agricultural productivity and environmental quality. Dr. Gollany is currently working on increasing soil organic carbon and reducing reactive nitrogen compounds to maintain agricultural production capacity and resilient cropping systems while minimizing environmental impacts of dryland crop production in semiarid regions of the Pacific Northwest. Greenhouse gas emissions and soil organic carbon changes are monitored for seven dryland cropping systems. She also collaborates with ARS-GRACEnet scientists across the U.S. on simulating soil organic carbon changes under diverse soils, climate and agroecosystems using their long-term soil carbon data to predict best cropping systems for soil organic carbon maintenance under future climate change scenarios. Her goal is to improve our understanding of the biogeochemical processes which influence carbon, nitrogen, and plant nutrient cycling and interactions within the soil-water-plant-air continuum using process-based models.

Dr. Virginia Jin (Lincoln, NE)

Dr. Mike Lehman (Brookings, SD) is a soil microbiologist with the ARS North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota. Mike researches the interactions between soil microorganisms and agricultural management practices. The majority of the research is conducted on no-till cropping systems. His research evaluates the potential for cover cropping, crop rotation, and residue retention to influence soil microorganisms, their processes, and ultimately the services they provide in these systems. Two projects involve grassland systems and evaluate how grassland management (grazing, conversion to row cropping) influence microbially-mediated soil processes and the long-term soil health in these systems. Multiple analytical tools are used to assess microbial communities and their activities including biochemical, microscopic, molecular, and trace gas analytical techniques. Collaborative research projects have involved the role of ground beetle gut bacteria in mediating beetle fitness, and the potential for these gut bacteria to be vectors for antibiotic resistance genes. 

Dr. Dan Manter (Fort Collins, CO; Data POC) is a Research Soil Scientist with the Soil Management and Sugar Beet Research Unit in Fort Collins, CO.  Dr. Manter’s research focuses on soil biology and plant-microbial interactions aimed at optimizing soil health, defining microbial community structure and function, and disease suppression.  Research emphasis is on developing new management strategies and novel assessment approaches and techniques to promote and maintain soil health and productivity using rapidly developing genetic techniques. 

Dr. Jude Maul (Beltsville, MD) is a research ecologist in Beltsville, MD working in the Sustainable Agriculture Systems Laboratory. Dr. Maul's lab conducts research on multi-scale organismal and biochemical interactions in agroecosystems. This includes conducting research on plant/soil/microbial ecology focusing on plant health, symbiotic nitrogen fixation and rhizosphere associated food webs. The biogeochemical transformation and storage of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and complex organic matter are also studied in the Maul lab to put soil biological processes in context. His current research focus is on how changes in microbial community structure and function influence greenhouse gas flux, organic matter cycling and, plant and soil health.

 Dr. Maysoon Mikha (Akron CO) is a Research Soil Scientist with the Central Plains Resources Management Unit, at Akron, CO.  With a background in soil fertility and microbial ecology, her research is focused on1) develop sustainable dryland cropping systems that improve water and nutrient use efficiency and maintain/improve desirable soil physical, chemical, and biological properties; and 2) develop best management practices for increasing soil C and enhancing soil quality, soil health, and productivity for crop land and eroded soils.  Dr. Mikha is currently working on: 1) quantify soil and crop management effects on soil quality/health indicators such as soil organic matter (SOM) accumulation and decomposition, particulate organic matter (POM) amount and (POM-C), aggregate stability, frequent drying and wetting cycles, and microbial activity; and 2) evaluate management practices, including the use of organic amendments to improve soil quality/health and sustainability of eroded land. Dr. Mikha is an active collaborator to nationwide USDA-ARS programs GRACEnet and REAP database for determining GHG flux and C-sequestration, and balance residue removal for alternative energy sources, respectively. Dr. Mikha is also a collaborator in the area of SOM dynamics and processes in the new soil biology group of GRACEnet. The goal is to include expanded information in the new datasheet that will be publicly available nationwide and will benefit the public with group research across the country.  Dr. Mikha is an active collaborator to nationwide NRCS Soil Health Institute/Division to select best soil health indicators and methods for soil health assessment.  Recently Dr. Mikha was invited to be part of the nationwide USDA-ARS effort for Nutrient Use and Outcome network (NUOnet) which contribute to the collection of important information and resolution of nutrient management challenges.  

Dr. Catherine (Kate) Reardon is a Research Microbiologist at the Soil and Water Conservation Research Laboratory in Adams, OR.  A background in microbial ecology and biogeochemistry has shaped her research focused in evaluating the effects of crop management in dryland systems on soil microbial communities to promote and enhance soil health.  The traditional cropping system in the low and intermediate precipitation zones of the Pacific Northwest region is a wheat- fallow rotation.  Her research is determining whether intensification and diversification to a 3-year, 2-crop system can improve soil health by changes to the microbial nutrient cycling capacity and nutrient availability of the soil.  In addition, Dr. Reardon is collaborating with other ARS scientists improve crop quality and reduce fertilizer application through precision agriculture management. 

Dr. Kerri Steenwerth (Davis, CA)

Dr. Kristin Trippe is a soil microbiologist with the Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon. Dr. Trippe’s laboratory conducts research on microbes, molecules, and methods that enhance the soil health of marginal and degraded landscapes, including agroecosystems and abandoned mine sites. In agricultural systems, she is specifically interested in accessing how infrequent tillage and incorporation of crop residues change the structure and function of microbial communities – and understanding how those changes can enhance or diminish crop productivity and system sustainability. Dr. Trippe’s laboratory also conducts research on the ability of novel soil amendments, including biochar and biofertilizers, to improve degraded soils. Her laboratory has developed decision support tool kits that help farmers learn about biochar and pair cropping goals with biochars that address specific soil deficiencies.

Dr. Kristen Veum is a Research Soil Scientist in Columbia, MO. With a background in geological sciences, water quality, and soil biogeochemistry, her research is cross-disciplinary and focuses on soil health assessment for sustainability and environmental protection. Her research involves assessment of soil health in the Midwest, particularly in degraded and marginal landscapes. In particular, she is interested in soil microbial community structure and function in a wide range of ecosystems, including agroecosystems, managed forests, and native prairie. Dr. Veum is currently collaborating with other scientists to quantify the effects of drought on native prairie plant production and diversity, microbial metagenomics, and microbial function. In addition, she is collaborating with other ARS scientists to utilize in-field sensor technology for rapid, high-resolution estimation of soil properties.

Dr. Paul White (Houma, LA; Technical POC)