Matthew Bowker, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor

bowker Research Interests

Community and ecosystem ecology of soils; restoration ecology; biological crusts and mycorrhizas

Community and Ecosystem Ecology of Soils

I am a soil ecologist largely focused on ecosystem and community ecology of sub-humid and dryer ecosystems (inclusive of some forests, woodlands, grasslands, steppes and deserts). My research topics vary from empirical work focused on the advancement of theory in the areas of biodiversity effects on ecosystem function, and species interactions, to applied work focused on modeling the distribution of biological crusts, restoration of biological crusts, and understanding erosion processes. I am a qualified plant ecologist and mycorrhizal ecologist, but I am best known for my work on biological crusts having authored over 20 papers on this topic, including several specifically on restoration. I maintain an international network of collaborators in Spain, Australia, and the United Kingdom and I was recently a participant in a truly global scientific network studying ecosystem multifunctionality.

My current and future research lines include the following:

1. Ecosystem Multifunctionality: Which soil and plant community properties are the most important influences on ecosystem multifunctionality? Ecosystems are valued not just for particular functions which they perform, but also for their ability to perform multiple functions simultaneously. An example might be a semi-arid woodland which, to be considered multifunctional, must simultaneously serve as a carbon sink, produce forage, and curtail soil erosion, among other functions. My collaborators and I have been investigating the relative influence of community properties such as biodiversity (including richness and evenness), patch size distributions and other spatial patterns, community structure, and overall abundance in determining ecosystem multifunctionality.

2. Soil organism roles in plant migrations: What role will symbiotic soil organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi play in plant migration under climate change? This is a new direction for me. In previous work, we determined that local mycorrhizal fungi assist local plant ecotypes in adapting to their local soil environments. We will apply this question in an experimental climate change manipulation.

3. Biotic controls on soil erosion: Which biota are the “heavy lifters” in terms of stabilizing soil against erosion in various subhumid, semi-arid, and arid ecosystems? I have long been looking at the relative import of plants, biocrusts, and mycorrhizal fungi in creating soil aggregation in systems where vegetation is discontinuous. Recent developments, such as major drought die-off of trees in semi-arid woodlands, will provide a template to extend this research.

4. Biocrust restoration materials: Can biocrust organisms be developed as restoration materials to be applied after disturbances such as woodland wildfires, overgrazing, or ORV damage? Along with several partners in ecosystems ranging from Pinyon-Juniper woodlands to Mojave Desert scrub, we are seeking resources to determine the potential for culturing soil mosses and cyanobacteria to assist in recovering ecosystem function.


B.A., University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 1998
M.S., Northern Arizona University, 2004
Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2006

Contact Information

Office: Building 82 - Room 236
Phone: 928.523.6600

Selected Publications

Publications are listed at Google Scholar.

Other Resources and Endeavors

Forest-Rangeland Soil Ecology Lab
Geodermatophilia (Biocrust blog)