Rachel K. Thiet, PhDCore Faculty
Department of Environmental Studies
Professional Goals / Research Interests
I am honored to work with the intelligent, creative students in the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch New England Graduate School. Our students feel a profound responsibility to the Earth and to their communities, and they have chosen to attend graduate school in Environmental Studies at Antioch to deepen their science literacy and to develop their skills as environmental practitioners. I love bringing new perspectives on nature to students and watching their faces light up when they tie challenging concepts together. I especially enjoy giving students an appreciation for the important role of soil ecological processes in plant community structure and function, nutrient cycling, and global environmental change. This broader and deeper perspective on terrestrial ecosystems not only improves students’ biological literacy, it also gives them a deep sense of wonder and appreciation for a fascinating belowground world they often know virtually nothing about.
I am interested in the impact of the distribution, abundance, and activity of soil organisms on plant community structure, nutrient cycling, and long-term ecosystem sustainability. In my research in natural systems, I have evaluated the impact of soil mycorrhizal fungi on plant invasion ecology in rare short-grass prairie/scrub oak barrens plant communities, and the contributions of N-fixing, cyanobacterial biological soil crusts on soil water and nitrogen dynamics in active sand dune systems in the Midwestern U.S. I have also worked in agricultural systems, using stable isotope analysis to evaluate the impact of soil fungal and bacterial physiology and amino sugars production on microbial-derived contributions to carbon pools in agroecosystems. Currently, I am developing projects at small organic farms in southern NH to evaluate the impacts of various cover crops and tillage on soil microbial and food web dynamics. I am also developing a project at Cape Cod National Seashore to explore the role of green algal, cyanobacterial, bryophytic, and lichen biological soil crusts in the long-term sustainability of a restoring pitch pine-scrub oak barren, and in the beachgrass-heath plant communities of the Provincelands parabolic sand dunes; both of these systems provide critical wildlife habitat to numerous species of migratory birds, shorebirds, amphibians, insects, and plants. I’m always looking for motivated students to involve in these fascinating projects!