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Smith, Joshua


Joshua Smith Student ProfileResearch Topic: Mycorrhizal fungi: The unseen powerhouses of terrestrial carbon cycling

Research Location: FIP basement and 3rd Floor SCI

Research Supervisor: Dr. Melanie Jones

Research Description:

Fungi are amazing, globally distributed, and extremely versatile. A specialized group of fungi possess the ability to form symbiotic relationships with plant roots. Despite my use of the word 'specialized', this bond between these two types of organisms happens in 90 % of plant species. So, when you look around outside, almost every single plant you can see has multiple fungal partners in the soil that are working hard to scavenge nutrients for the plant. In exchange, the plant provides carbon to the fungus.
But these fungi may still possess the ability to acquire carbon by decomposing dead organic matter, like the saprotrophic fungi that they evolved from. Why does this matter? The amount of carbon stored in the soil is greater than the amount of carbon stored in all terrestrial vegetation and the atmosphere combined. Currently, carbon cycling models, essential to climate change research, only account for carbon flowing from plants to fungi to the soil. I am developing a technique to determine what percent of fungal carbon comes from the soil, instead of the plant. If even 1 % of fungal carbon comes from the soil this would represent millions of tons of carbon, that is not accounted for in current models, being removed from the soil storage pool. My overall goal is to improve climate change models and enable humanity to better estimate how the world is going to change.

Home Town: Williams Lake, BC

Country:  Canada

Faculty/School: Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences

Program: Master of Science in Biology

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Biology is strange yet beautiful. If anyone has watched 'The Blue Planet' or 'Planet Earth' and has said "What!? Why!?" then they understand why I chose this field. There is an exception to every rule and something has found a way to live everywhere.
'Mammals give birth to live young.' - Platypus says "nope".
'Organisms need energy derived from the sun.' - Sulfur-reducing bacteria at the bottom of the ocean says "I'll pass."

Everything new I learn in this field just makes me want to learn more. I am hooked and do not see it slowing down anytime soon.

Why did you decide to study at UBC's Okanagan campus?

Being from Williams Lake, I will admit that large cities can be somewhat uncomfortable to me. What makes Kelowna so amazing is that it has a small-town feel but also the infrastructure and amenities of a large city. Plus, what is there not to love about a location that has beaches, wineries and hot weather during the summer, yet skiing nearby during the winter.
UBCO, specifically, is gorgeous. Yes, the campus is smaller but the buildings and facilities are new, the professors are kind and knowledgeable, and the students are friendly and outgoing. I have been attending UBCO for 6 years now and it would be surprising if I could find another institution that I would enjoy as much.

What impact do you hope your research will have?

With global carbon dioxide concentrations rising as fast as they are, we just hit 400 parts per million (a two million year record), it is essential that any and every aspect of carbon cycling and climate change be studied and modeled extensively. Currently, the potential for symbiotic fungi removing carbon from the soil is only theorized and highly debated. If I can develop a method to put a number on the amount of carbon that these organisms are removing from the soil carbon-storage pool it will help improve current models.
Although my research is only a small facet of carbon cycling, every small brush-stroke that helps paint the picture of how our world functions makes us one step closer to understanding and preparing for how the world is going to change as humanity grows as a species.

What has been your most memorable Okanagan experience so far?

There are too many to pick the best one. Almost any activity you can do here is memorable and fun, with a group of friends or by yourself. Channel days in Penticton, finding a new cliff jumping spot, hiking with or without a group to the top of any of the hills around town, camping at any of the nearby lakes, and ski trips to Big White and Silver Star, to list a few.
If I had to pick a specific experience it would be BreakOut West 2010. Seventy bands playing at bars all over town for three days with an all-access wristband for only $20. The only problem was choosing who to go see and then running all over town to make a show, but that became one of the fun parts of the experience now that I reflect on it. I might have disagreed at the time though.



Canadian Graduate Scholarship Master Program - NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship



Last reviewed shim11/20/2015 2:19:11 PM