From VT News:

Global change research in Jeb Barrett’s lab is featured this week in VT News:

“How important is the soil beneath our feet to what grows above it?

The short answer is very, according to Virginia Tech’s Mahtaab Bagherzadeh of Annandale, Virginia, a senior majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science and a 2014 Fralin Life Science Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow.

Bagherzadeh recently participated in a study that discovered invading rhododendrons affect the nitrogen cycle and surrounding plant communities.

In recent decades, rhododendron, an evergreen shrub that grows in large thick patches, has expanded in areas where there has been loss of other plant species. These species, which include hemlocks and chestnuts, have died off due to invasive pests. In particular, the rhododendron beats out other species because of its control over nitrogen, a chemical element essential for plant growth.

“What we have seen is that rhododendron acts like a native invader because it comes into places where hemlock has died off, and it takes over the soil because of its influence on the nitrogen cycle,” said Jeb Barrett, associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and Bagherzadeh’s fellowship advisor.

Under Barrett’s guidance, Bagherzadeh investigated how the rhododendron invasion has affected soil ecosystems and nutrient cycling by comparing areas of land with dense rhododendron to areas with little to none.”

Read the entire article at VT News.

This story was written by Cassandra Hockman, communications assistant at the Fralin Life Science Institute.