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Kirkwood Lab participates in largest crowd-sourced field study

Kirkwood Lab researchers Massimo, Sarah and James working together to retrieve and process cotton-strips on-site.A social media call for collaborators has a UOIT professor and her lab collaborating with over 170 researchers from more than 50 countries.

Dr. Andrea Kirkwood, Associate Professor of Biology in the Faculty of Science, and researchers in the Kirkwood Lab are participating in the Cellulose Decomposition Experiment (CELLDEX), a global study conducted in the banks of streams and rivers across the globe. Spearheaded by Dr. Scott Tiegs, Associate Professor at Oakland University, the study uses cotton strips placed adjacent to streams to determine the decomposition rate across different biomes in the world and how environmental factors can influence them, including climate change. All ecosystems depend on decomposition to remove waste and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem to sustain life, so the research provides an important baseline.

 “It’s been interesting to hear about some of the challenges collaborators have encountered in the field,” said Dr. Kirkwood “From snow covering the strips in Argentina making them difficult to find to mischievous children in Amazonia borrowing temperature loggers and rodents eating the strips in Kenya. Although frustrating, the diversity of these problems illustrates the wide-ranging environmental conditions everyone is working in, and the decomposition data will reflect this.”

Eight cotton strips per stream, and four temperature loggers in four headwater streams across Durham Region were deployed for their part of the experiment. Dr. Kirkwood and her team then retrieved the samples 30 days later and shipped them to the UK and USA for analysis.

“Unlike many partners who participated in this project, the CELLDEX study is closely aligned with the research that we do in the lab. Not only does this add to our research repertoire, but it opens up new opportunities to collaborate with other scientists around the world on future projects,” said Dr. Kirkwood. “To be part of such a novel and highly impactful study is very exciting not only for my lab, but for the university, especially for national and international name recognition. My students were certainly excited to be part of it.”

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