How can reliance on biodiversity and ecological processes create productive, resilient, and healthy agricultural systems? This question frames my overarching goal, which is to support transformation of our agricultural system from one reliant on intensive, synthetic inputs to one based on ecological processes. In particular, I am interested in how agricultural management based on ecological principles and honed through on-farm experience affects soil health, resource-use-efficiency, and resilience to environmental change, especially drought. This research lies at the intersection of agroecology, soil ecology, and biogeochemistry with a focus on plant-soil-microbe interactions. I use several approaches, including on-farm research across agricultural landscapes, historical data synthesis from long-term trials, and field and greenhouse experiments. Through collaboration with farmers, agronomists, conservation biologists, social scientists, and economists I aim for a multidimensional perspective on agroecological transformations.
PhD in Ecology, 2015
University of California Davis
BA in Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2007
Maria is a postdoc studying relationships among crop diversity, ecosystem processes, and resilience.
For all publications, see Google Scholar
We study how agroecological approaches, especially practices that diversify farms at multiple scales, help build resilience to deal with challenges related to climate change, especially drought, by sustaining yields and maintaining key ecosystem services.
We study ecological interactions at the root-soil interface (the ‘rhizosphere’) for enhancing nutrient cycling and water use, especially in stressful environments.
We investigate how to manage soil microbes and soil organic matter, the dynamic elements of soil that largely comprise ‘soil health’, for enhancing key benefits from soil, especially nutrient cycling and retention, and water availability.
I am always interested in inquiries from potential undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows with common research interests. Please contact me if you are interested in exploring one of these opportunities.
Interested graduate students may apply to work with me through the graduate program of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. I encourage all potential students to get in touch with me prior to submitting an application to ESPM, so that we can discuss interests, potential projects, and funding options (e.g., NSF GRFP, USDA AFRI ELI Pre-doctoral Fellowships, Ford Foundation, and the Livermore Graduate Scolars Program (post-quals only)). Generally, I am looking for students with a strong background in biological and/or physical sciences driven to use ecological principles to improve agriculture. I am particularly interested in students who want to work in interdisciplinary teams, and who are excited about the prospect of field work. I would also encourage prospective students to read advice on applying to graduate programs in ecological fields, such as here.
I am always interested in inquiries from potential postdocs with overlapping interests; please contact me! There are several potential opportunities to fund a postdoc in my lab, including UC Berkeley’s Miller Fellowship, UC’s President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, USDA AFRI ELI Postdoctoral Fellowship, NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology, and the Ford Foundation, among others. I am also interested and willing to write standard grants with prospective postdocs to fund a position, and happy to provide advice and feedback on grant applications.
I am teaching two courses in 2018: