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The Soil Health & Ecosystem Ecology Lab Team

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Christine Sprunger, PhD

Principal Investigator
sprunge5@msu.edu

Dr. Christine Sprunger is an Assistant Professor of Soil Health in the Department of Plant,
Soil, and Microbial Sciences and is based at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. Her research focuses on the intersection of agriculture and the environment, where she investigates how various agricultural management practices impact soil health and ecosystem services. In addition, Dr. Sprunger is interested in understanding how nematode communities can serve as key soil biological health indicators within agroecosystems. Lastly, Dr. Sprunger explores how climate change impacts rhizosphere dynamics and soil food webs.

 

Prior to joining MSU, Dr. Sprunger was an Assistant Professor of Soil Science and Rhizosphere Processes at Ohio State University from 2018-2022. Prior to starting a faculty position, Dr. Sprunger completed a National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Biology at Columbia University, where she examined the relationship between soil carbon dynamics and crop productivity in small holder farming systems in Kenya and Tanzania. Dr. Sprunger holds a Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior from Michigan State University, and she received both a B.S. in Forest Resources and a B.A. in Program on the Environment from the University of Washington with a minor in Human Rights.

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Katherine Naasko, PhD

Postdoc 
naaskoka@msu.edu

Katherine obtained her Ph.D. in Soil Science from Washington State University in Fall 2022. Originally, she is from Michigan and obtained her B.A. in Chemistry from Michigan State University in Spring 2016. Out in Washington State, she studied deep soil health in winter wheat cropping systems with respect to physical, chemical, and biological indicators as part of the NRCS Dynamic Soil Properties for Soil Health project. She also worked as a Distinguished Graduate Researcher at the DOE Pacific Northwest National Lab in the Soil Microbiome Science Focus Area for two years studying ecological interactions between the soil microbiome and irrigated perennial wheatgrasses through sequencing, metabolomics, lipidomics, and proteomics. She joined Dr. Sprunger's lab in Spring 2023 and is working on several on-going projects. Katherine is interested in agroecology with respect to how land management and climate change impacts microbial-driven soil carbon and nitrogen cycling in deep soil profiles. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring nature and playing with her two cats, Sapphire and Tony.  

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Alexa Smychkovich, PhD

Postdoc 
smychkov@msu.edu 

Alexa obtained her Ph.D. in Plant and Soil Sciences from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, University of Massachusetts Amherst in Fall 2023. The primary focus of her graduate work was to improve the sustainability of cropping systems using cover crops and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, with a particular focus on soil health, nematode community composition, and cash crop yield and quality. Shortly after, she joined the Soil Health & Ecosystem Ecology lab, where she is involved in a collaborative project supported by the Environmental Defense Fund to evaluate the potential of commonly measured SOC pools for use as reliable indicators of soil carbon trajectories in agroecosystems. Her research interests are centered around the sustainable intensification of agricultural systems and the use of nematodes as biological indicators of soil health and function. In her spare time, Alexa enjoys mountain biking, spending time with friends, and hanging out with her cats, Obie and Masha.  

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Tvisha Martin, MS

PhD Student 
mart2758@msu.edu

Tvisha Martin obtained her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Toledo in May, 2019. Additionally, Tvisha obtained her M.S from The Ohio State University in May 2021 from Dr. Christine Sprunger’s Lab. Her Master’s thesis analyzed the effects of tillage and crop rotation on soil biological health through the quantification of nematode communities. Tvisha has since started her doctoral research in the Soil Health & Ecosystem Ecology lab where her research will aim to understand how nematode communities can serve as soil biological health indicators under induced drought. Additionally, Tvisha’s doctoral research will aim to understand how soil biological health changes over the growing season under systems with a varying management gradient. Her doctoral research will be performed at the Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Restoration Site. Tvisha's research interests include quantifying soil biological health through microbial sequencing and nematode communities, optimizing agricultural management under climate change, and the using quantitative modeling to understand the soil health framework. In her free time, Tvisha enjoys running, hiking, climbing, and reading a good book.  

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Rachel Drobnak,BS

MS Student 
drobnakr@msu.edu

Rachel joined Dr. Sprunger’s lab as a Master’s student at the end of August 2023, after graduating with her B.S. in Crop & Soil Sciences from Michigan State University in May 2023. Her research will aim to determine the impacts of prairie strips on soil health through analysis of soil food web structures, nematode communities, and a variety of soil health indicators. This research will be conducted in the LTAR (Long-Term Agroecosystem Research) and LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) plots at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. Rachel has previously worked with MSU Extension as an Agriculture & Environment Team Assistant and as an undergraduate intern. She values research that benefits both farmers and the environment and intends to have a career in agricultural outreach. Rachel is from the Greater Cleveland area and enjoys reading, hiking, playing the carillon, and spending quality time with cats.

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Meredith Mann, BA

Lab Manager

mannmere@msu.edu

Meredith joined Dr. Sprunger's lab in the beginning of September 2019, after working for The Ohio State University's Soil Fertility Lab since 2017. As lab manager, she oversees lab operations and analyses, coordinates field research trials, and facilitates graduate and undergraduate research. Meredith is a northeast Ohio native with a B.A. in Geology from the College of Wooster. She enjoys working with the environment and in her free time can be found hiking, reading, and tending sheep.

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Lisa Hargest, BS

Research Assistant

hargestl@msu.edu

Lisa joined Dr. Sprunger’s lab as a technician in April 2024 after working as a Research Assistant in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. She gained interest in agriculture and food systems while growing up cooking in the suburbs of Baltimore, Md. She moved to Oregon in 2008, where she spent 12 years working for small vegetable, fruit, and livestock farms. She obtained her B.S. in Microbiology with a minor in Chemistry at Oregon State University in 2023. While earning her undergraduate degree, she gained laboratory experience working in the molecular diagnostic lab of the Plant Clinic at Oregon State. Her work and degree experiences piqued her interest in soil health, plant pathology, plant breeding, and agroecology. In her spare time, she enjoys running, biking, walking, cooking, knitting, foraging, and spending time with her partner Anthony and tortoise shell cat named Alligator.

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Emily Parker, BS

Research Assistant

parke463@msu.edu

Emily obtained her B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University in May 2022. She has worked in the Rain Exclusion eXperiment at the KBS LTER for two summers, both as an undergrad and a technician. She joined the lab as a part-time technician in December 2022. Emily is interested in how different aspects of the environment affect ecological interactions, both on small and large scales. In her free time, she enjoys tending to her houseplants, and snuggling up on the couch with her cats Ash and Moose.

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Andrew Wade

Undegraduate Research Assistant

wadeand2@msu.edu

Andrew is currently an undergraduate student at Michigan State University studying plant biology. Andrew is also a member of the MSU Soil Judging Team, having competed at Purdue University last fall. His interests include plant systematics as well as the geomorphology of soil. Andrew is a 2024 KBS URA and is working on prairie strip research. In his free time Andrew enjoys reading, hiking, and biking around campus.

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 SPRUNGER LAB 2023

KBS LTAR canola field - Hickory Corners, MI

From back left to front right:

Meredith Mann

Katherine Naasko

Christine Sprunger 

Emily Parker

Ben Bridge

Hanna Korn

Elena Zakolski &

Tvisha Martin

FORMER LAB MEMBERS

Research Technicians

Undergraduate student researchers

Nicole Hoekstra, 2018-19

Hanna Korn, 2022-24

Aiden Martin, Research Assistant 2024

Ben Bridge, URA 2023

Elena Zakolski, REU 2023

Abby Rees, LTER REU 2022

Allison Bunce, Research Assistant 2022

Ainsley Lightcap, Research Assistant 2022

Jacob Murray, Research Assistant 2021-22

Christian Mammana, LTER REU 2021 

Graduate students

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