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Soil Ecology Lab News

  •  May 2024

    • Samantha Colunga graduated with her Master's in Agricultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences and will be a Post-Master's Researcher with the Soil Ecology Lab during the summer.

    • We completed an 8-session webinar series focused on Natural Resources Careers for Dual Credit, STC, and UTRGV students. Speakers included:

      • Assalia Belmares, Natural Resource Specialist, NRCS

      • Dayvson “Boston” Bernardo, Recruiter, Forest Service

      • Greg Flood, Wildlife Biologist, Forest Service

      • Matt Kautz & Aurora LaDieu, Forestry Technicians, Forest Service

      • Fallon Garza, Soil Conservationist, NRCS

      • Jake Cortez, Environmental Scientist, RRP Consulting Engineers

      • Juan R. Segoviano, Acting State Conservation Engineer, Nevada, USDA NRCS

      • Rick Tafoya, Management & Program Analyst/National Program Manager, NRCS

  •  April 2024

    • Our lab participated in the College of Science Annual Research Conference. Some of us presented while others served as judges.

    • Isaiah Jaramillo started a new position with the USDA in Temple, Texas, as an urban soil scientist.

    • Samantha Colunga defended and submitted her thesis titled “Soil Carbon Sequestration Efforts in Arid and Semi-Arid Climates Under Conservation Agriculture and Reforestation.”

    • Dr. Pereira received the Faculty Excellence Award for Graduate Coordinator.

  •  March 2024

    • Dr. Kang, along with Drs. Pereira and Cheng, had their proposal selected for funding under Border 2025: U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program from the EPA. This project aims to improve organic waste management by producing biochar from local biomass feedstock for use in stormwater filter socks, thereby enhancing water quality and engaging the community in carbon sequestration and contaminant treatment efforts.

  •  February 2024

    • This Spring 2024 semester, we are teaching a Soil Conservation class cross-listed for undergraduates and graduate students. A highlight this semester is a Cover Crop Trial at Dos Rios Vineyard in Rio Grande City, where students designed cover crop mixes and will monitor plant and soil quality indicators throughout the semester.

    • New lab members include Bianca Quiroz and Dr. Carine Cocco, who will work on the Texas Climate Smart Initiative.​

  •  January 2024

    • Samantha Colunga was selected to become an intern at Oak Ridge National Labs under the National Nuclear Security Administration Minority Serving Institutions Internship Program (NNSA-MSIIP). Her internship begins in June 2024.​

  •  December 2023

    • Larissa Cantu graduated with her Bachelor's in Environmental Sciences and is now working with the USDA in Sinton, TX, as a Soil Conservationist. 

  •  November 2023

    • Dr. Feria and Dr. Pereira were selected for funding with Texas A&M AgriLife Partners on a proposal for the Climate-Smart Organic Sorghum Partnership for Grain and Silage Production. Under this project, UTRGV students will receive research training at Texas A&M.​

  •  October 2023

    • Dr. Pereira presented at the NOPHNRCSE Virtual Training Conference about the partnership between our lab and the NRCS on strengthening workforce development via NRCS partnership at a Hispanic-Serving Academic Institution.

    • Samantha Colunga and Larissa Cantu attended the 2023 ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, to present their research on soil health under different land uses.

    • Eduardo Terrazas attended the HACU Conference in Chicago, IL. His participation was sponsored by the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement.

  • July 2023

    • USDA FPAC Deputy Under Secretary, Gloria Montaño Greene, visited UTRGV, giving us the opportunity to share our plans for our two climate-smart projects and discuss the progress of our workforce development efforts. During the event, we also had the opportunity to hear about the experiences of our UTRGV students who were interning at NRCS. Following the event at UTRGV, we joined the Under Secretary and NRCS staff on a visit to an urban farmer in Harlingen, TX, where we heard about the challenges and opportunities faced by the farmer.

  • June 2023

    • Dr. Pereira held an In-depth Symposium on "Microbiomes of Agriculture: Supporting crop production and mitigating environmental impact" at the American Microbiology Society meeting in Houston, TX (ASM Microbe 2023). She also delivered a presentation titled "Microbial communities as drivers of soil functioning in farmlands: Assessing spatial and temporal variability."

  • May 2023:

  • April 2023:

    • Congratulations to Jon Dale for successfully defending his thesis on " Sweet Potato In The Lower Rio Grande Valley: Evaluating Performance Across Several Cultivars" 

    • Our M.Sc. student Isaiah Jaramillo was transferred back to the RGV to work at USDA NRCS San Benito Office as an Urban Conservationist. Before, Isaiah was a Soil Conservationist at the USDA NRCS Fredericksburg, TX. We are excited to have Isaiah back in the RGV to continue collaborating on local initiatives. 

    • Congratulations to Armida Rivera for winning the graduate program's competition for the Outstanding Thesis Award.

  • March 2023:

    • Our lab was presented at the "We are Women in Ag Workshop" organized by UTRGV's Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement. We offered attendees a short training on soil color and texture 

    • Congratulations to Lilly Elliott and mentors for publication: Elliott-Vidaurri, L. V., Martinez, I., Pereira, E., Penn, H. J., & Choudhury, R. A. (2023). Tree canopy cover and elevation affect the distribution of red harvester ant nests in a peri-urban setting. Environmental Entomology, nvad025. https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvad025 

  • January 2023: 

    • Armida Rivera (M.Sc. '22)​ has started a new position with the USDA NRCS Kellogg Soil Survey Laboratory (KSSL) as a Physical Science Technician in Lincoln, NE. We are very proud of her accomplishments and thank her for all her efforts and support to our team over the last few years! We already miss you Armida!

  • December 2022: 

    • Congratulations to Rocio Hernandez for successfully defending her thesis entitled: "An assessment of physical and microbial dynamic properties sensitive to tillage practices in Hidalgo sandy clay loam soils". 

    • Congratulations to our Fall 2022 graduates. Rocio Hernandez and Isaiah Jaramillo with an M.Sc. in Agric., Environ., and Sustain. Sci, and Deisy Garcia with B.Sc. in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Chemistry. Good luck everyone on your next endeavors! 

    • We shared soil science activities with visitors to the Biodiversity Festival at IMAS! Thanks to our student volunteers: Samantha Colunga, Stephany Garza, Harley Humphrey, and Betsy Rivera. 

    • We also shared soil science activities with the 5th graders of Berta Palacios Elementary School (PSJA ISD). Through hands-on activities, students learned about soil colors, soil texture, and soil aggregates. Thanks to Samantha Colunga and Deisy Garcia for preparing and delivering many of the activities!

  • November 2022:

    • Our lab attended the 2022 ASA, CSSA, and SSSA International Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MDAbstracts: de la Rosa, Rivera, Pereira

  • October 2022:

    • Our lab alumna Thais Boni was recruited by Sao Paulo State University as an Assistant Professor of Agronomy. We are super proud of her efforts and look forward to collaborating with her and her future students. 

    • 2022 SACNAS meeting in San Juan, PR: Members of our lab (Angel and Isaiah) and TRESS interns traveled to Puerto Rico to attend the meeting. The program has many professional activities that will surely fuel everyone's motivations to pursue their career goals!!

  • September 2022:

    • Our research was featured on UTRGV's ​YouTube channel, check it out

  • August 2022: Busy month for our lab!

    • Armida Rivera successfully defended her thesis "Revealing the Effects of Climate Change and Fungicides on Soil Microbial Communities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley". 

    • Gladys de la Rosa successfully defended her thesis​ "Assessment of Nitrogen-Based Fertilizer Transport and Microbial Activities in Sandy Soil Profiles in South Texas". 

    • Samantha Colunga is starting her master's in Agriculture, Environment, and Sustainability Sciences. She will be funded through the Dean's Graduate Assistantship and her research will estimate soil C sources and sequestration rates through the reforestation efforts in the Rio Grande Valley.

    • Angel Salinas is starting his master's in Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences and will be funded by a DOE grant to work on Greenhouse gas flux response in biochar- and compost-amended urban soils under simulated soil hydrologic dynamics (PI: Dr. James Kang, Co-PIs: Pereira, Cheng, Almeida).

    • Deisy Garcia returned from an internship with the Forest Service in Washington state. Read about her experience here and here.

  • July 2022: Thais Boni's field study found that amending an exposed and degraded sub-soil with aquatic macrophytes and sugar cane bagasse leads to a decrease in exchangeable aluminum concentration, which is a limiting factor for the establishment of vegetation. Check out the paper in PlosOne.

  • June 2022:

    • Deisy Garcia was selected by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) to join the Forest Service (USDA) on an internship at the Deschutes National Forest. Congratulations Deisy! We wish you a productive summer!

    • Samantha Colunga was selected to participate in the  Expanding the Critical Zone Research Network Workshop at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. Her participation is fully sponsored by the program through an NSF grant.

    • Dr. Pereira was named a E. Kika De La Garza Fellow by the USDA. Dr. Pereira will spend 2 weeks in July meeting leaders from different USDA agencies in Washington, DC, and visiting the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Check out News Release here.

  • May 2022:

    • Congratulations to our Spring 2022 graduates: Angel Salinas graduated with a B.Sc in Environmental Sciences, Armida Rivera and Gladys de la Rosa graduated with a Masters in Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Well done!! Check out our commemorative photo here.

    • Congratulations to Paola Granados (Dr. Kang's lab) and co-authors on a recent publication on biochar for lead removal from aqueous solution. Check out the paper here.

  • April 2022: We were recently awarded a Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates grant from the USDA NIFA. Through “Pathways to NRCS and Academic Careers to Civil Engineering and Agriculture Students” (PANACEAS), we will prepare future soil and agriculture scientists and civil engineers for future careers in agriculture-related professions. To learn more about it, click here and here.

  • Mar 2022: Dr. Engil Pereira and Dr. Wendi Williams hosted a session on "Geosciences Education: Advancing Concepts and Inclusion" at the 2022 South-Central Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America. Click here to check out the full program.

  • Feb 2022: Our lab attended the Soil Survey & Land Resource Virtual Workshop hosted by Texas A&M University. Dr. Pereira and Samanta Colunga presented results from their C sequestration studies. It was a great opportunity to hear updates from the Cooperative Soil Survey Groups and colleagues from other universities.  

  • Jan 2022:

    • Congratulations to Rafaela Conz for publishing the second chapter of her dissertation. The paper reveals the main soil fertility management practices employed by smallholder farmers in Manhiça, Moçambique. Check it out here.

    • On Jan 16th, our lab was at the International Museum of Arts and Science (IMAS) offering visitors hands-on activities to learn about soils during the Dig It! The Secrets of Soil, an exhibition created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. We had a great time talking to visitors about the topic we love the most. Special thanks to Samantha Colunga and Lilly Elliott for their amazing and super engaging presentations!

  • Nov 2021 - The UTRGV College of Science hosted its Annual Research Conference and our lab did an amazing job showcasing the research we have done over the past year. Here is the list of lab presenters:

    • Angel Salinas: Implementing Organic Fertilization Practices and Magnetic Water to Improve Aloe Vera Growth and Soil Health in the Rio Grande Valley.

    • Armida Rivera: Revealing the Effects of Climate Change and Fungicides on Soil Microbial Communities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas

    • Diobenhi Castellanos: Measuring Microbial Activity of Sweet Potato Crop in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

    • Gladys de la Rosa: Measuring nitrate loss in the form of leaching in different soil types and nitrogen fertilizers

    • Samantha Colunga: Carbon Sequestration in Sandy Soils of Arid and Semi-Arid Climates ***Samantha won the best oral presentation award at the Undergraduate category! Great job, Samantha!

  • Sept 2021 - Congratulations to Isaiah Jaramillo for starting a position as a Soil Conservationist for the USDA NRCS in Fredericksburg, TX. Way to go Isaiah! Isaiah was also recently featured in the UTRGV's Profile in Excellence, Check it out here.

  • Aug 2021

    • Congratulations to Angel Salinas for receiving the National Organization of Professional Hispanic NRCS Employees (NOPHNRCSE) Scholarship. We are very proud of you!

    • Aug 2021 - Congratulations to Dr. Cheng & team for the recently awarded NSF GEOPATHS grant. This project will promote research and education in geosciences to our local students. More information will come soon. Dr. Pereira is a proud co-PI. 

  • Jul 2021

    • Congratulations to Samantha Colunga for the great job presenting the summer work she did at Brown University under the Leadership Alliance program. Her presentation took place at the Leadership Alliance Virtual National Symposium 2021.

    • Dr. Pereira and Dr. Paty Feria are editors for a Special Issue in "Sustainability, Climate Change, and Ecology: Challenges and Opportunities" for the Journal of Sustainability. Click here for more information. 

  • Jun 2021 - Nora Gallarotti (Co-advised by Dr. Pereira) published her master's research about N2O fluxes from tropical forest soils in the ISME Journal. Link for paper here.

  • Mar 2021

    • Gladys de la Rosa passed her proposal defense. Her committee was composed of Drs. Pereira, Cheng, and Kang. Congratulations, Gladys!

    • Yvette Garcia, former Research Assistant and Engaged Scholar in our lab, started a full-time research position at the Pebble Labs in Los Alamos, New Mexico 

  • Feb 2021

    • Armida Rivera passed her proposal defense. Her committee was composed of Drs. Pereira, Feria, and Choudhury. Congratulations, Armida!

    • Isaiah Jaramillo passed his proposal defense. His committee was composed of Drs. Pereira, Cheng, and Kang. Congratulations, Isaiah!

  • Jan 2021 - Rafaela has the 1st chapter of her dissertation published. Good job Rafa! Link for paper here.

  • Dec 2020 - Undergraduate students Josabeth and Jahdiel have their papers published. Congratulations! Check it out here.

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