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Smith Lab News

February 23, 2024: Risa's new paper on biophysical feedbacks from cover cropping out in Ecosphere!

Former lab Masters student, Risa McNellis, published her thesis work today in Ecopshere! The paper uses a combination of observational data, field manipulation data, and modeling to examine the impact of winter cover cropping on biophysical feedbacks to climate.

We find that winter cover cropping increases both albedo and latent heat fluxes in Texas High Plains agro-ecosystems. This indicates that winter cover cropping provides multiple direct cooling feedbacks to climate in this region. This indicates an added climate benefit of cover cropping on top of previous findings of increased carbon sequestration. Thus, cover cropping is a management practice that can increase the sustainability of agro-ecosystems in multiple ways.

McNellis R, van Gestel N, Thomas RQ, Smith NG (2024) Winter cover cropping increases albedo and latent heat flux in a Texas High Plains agroecosystem. Ecosphere, 15, e4753.

Figure 5 from the paper showing an increase in plot albedo with cover corps as compared to fallow fields, particularly when soils are wet (right side of figure).

Figure 7 from the paper showing an increase in plot latent heat flux with cover corps as compared to fallow fields, particularly when cover corps have high amount of leaves (right side of figure).

February 14, 2024: New paper mapping C4 vegetation

We had new paper published in Nature Communications entitled "Mapping the global distribution of C4 vegetation using observations and optimality theory". The paper was led by Remi Luo (Singapore National University). In the paper, we show that C4 vegetation covers ~17% of the land surface, with values decreasing slightly over time due to a decrease in natural C4 vegetation that is buoyed by an increase in agricultural C4 plants. We also find that C4 plants constitute ~20% of global primary production.

The paper shines a light on the breadth and importance of C4 vegetation, which is still understudied. Future research should focus on better understanding and predicting the response of C4 vegetation to improve present-day and future estimates of global carbon cycling. Eco-evolutionary optimality approaches such as the one used in the paper, as well as others (e.g., Scott and Smith, 2022) could help with this.

Full citation: Luo, X., H. Zhou, T. W. Satriawan, J. Tian, R. Zhao, T. F. Keenan, D. M. Griffith, et al. 2024. Mapping the global distribution of C4 vegetation using observations and optimality theory. Nature Communications 15: 1219.

(Left) Global coverage of C4 vegetation. (Right) Uncertainty in global C4 coverage. From Luo et al. (2024).

February 13, 2024: A lab rebranding

After months of discussion and debate, the lab has settled on a rebranding. We are now the Physiology for Understanding the Functioning of Ecosystems at Texas Tech University Lab! The focus of the lab remains unchanged, but the name and logo (see below) are now way more fun! We can't wait to continue integrating plant physiology, ecosystem ecology, and fancy cakes!

PhUnFETTy lab logo created by Hannah German.