Reason #47 to Talk Soils with your Students

KABT816VennDiag.001If you are a person that falls into the center of a Venn Diagram with one circle representing RadioLab listeners and the other representing people that watched/attended the 2015 KABT Fall Meeting, you might have already made this connection. If you are not if you fit into this Venn Diagram at all, please do yourself a favor and check out this, and this, and this, and also this… I can wait.

Are you back? Pretty neat, right?

Radiolab’s latest podcast is one of their best (soils bias showing here a bit) and deals with the importance of fungal communities to plant productivity and ecosystem health. It isn’t particularly long, so I intend to use it as homework, or an activity for a rainy day in case one of my sections somehow gets way ahead of the others. #WoodWideWeb 😂

At our 2015 Fall Conference, we had presentations from KU researchers Dr. Ben Sikes and Dr. Peggy Schultz that really lit a fire under the people in attendance. Their research deals with some of the myriad ecological applications of fungi in prairie ecosystems.  I think you will notice some crossover here, which is pretty cool. Dr. Schultz’s talk is especially linked to the information in the podcast, and does a good job of touching on the science of how the AMF (mycorrhizae) function. Here is video from their talks.

Dr. Peggy Schultz (Kansas Biological Survey) beginning at 00:42:15.

Dr. Ben Sikes (Kansas Biological Survey)

Where might this fit into your classes? Is this information an addition to your ecology unit? Or do you work it in when you talk fungi and/or classification? If you have more time to devote to soils and fungal-plant mutualism (environment science and field biology classes?), you might contact the two KU researchers; both labs do a really great job of outreach to classroom teachers and students. You can find their contact information here.

Figure courtesy Dr. Dan Carter
Effect of AMF on Growth in Grass Species. Figure courtesy Dr. Dan Carter

Not sure where this fits into your class, but want to try? Post a question in the comments or in our Facebook group and let’s have the Hivemind work on it! And let us know if you picked up on the hidden reference to the RadioLab podcast.


Earthworms Across Kansas

Looking for a new outdoor ecology investigation to conduct with your students?  … something that will require them to get their hands dirty?  … and aid in their learning and appreaciation for our native fauna? 

Then look no further than the new citizens science project, Earthworms Across Kansas organized by Dr. Bruce Snyder at Kansas State University.  As stated on their website and in an introductory letter I recieved a few weeks ago…

Earthworms Across Kansas is a free program that engages middle and high school students throughout the state in answering some basic, yet unanswered questions about Kansas earthworms, such as “Which species are here?” and “What are the ranges of these species?”

The project aims to educate Kansas’ middle and high school students about earthworm biology and invasive species issues by engaging them as citizen scientists.  One-third of the approximately 170 species of earthworms known to reside in the United States have arrived here from another continent.  We expect that most every earthworm your students collect will be an exotic species.

We are currently recruiting teachers to participate (online registration form), although only until we run out of kits.  Once registered, you can prepare for your participation by viewing curricula and lesson plans associated with earthworm biology that will be posted online through May.  In July or August your kit will be mailed, and your students can complete their collecting anytime during the 2010-2011 academic year.  The data from across the state will be uploaded on their interactive google map, and thus facilitate your students answering the basic questions posed by the project.

If you’d like more information about the program before registering certainly visit their website, and if you have further questions, please email the project at

I haven’t read through the protocols for this project yet but thought you may interested in learning from the active worm collectors and the research associated with their methods.  Check out Worm Grunting, Fiddling, and Charming—Humans Unknowingly Mimic a Predator to Harvest Bait published in PLOS.  Besides the article there are a number of interesting quicktime video links demonstrating the research.