Stressed out Soils: A Conversation with Jane Lucas
Healthy soils produce the majority of our food supply, buffer extreme weather, and safeguard water resources. Yet we are losing fertile soil much faster than it can be replaced.
Jane Lucas studies microbial communities, which exist in nearly every environment and play a key role in nutrient cycling. These tiny and abundant microorganisms help fertilize plants and recycle organic debris, with important implications for agriculture and ecosystem health. Lucas is working to uncover the hidden complexity of microbial life, primarily in soils, from tropical forests to farmlands around the world. A central question: How are people impacting the composition and function of microbial communities?
Lucas’ current research is investigating how livestock practices shape antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics given to livestock inject biologically active compounds into the environment – with unknown consequences. Using field studies and new molecular tools, Lucas is examining how livestock antibiotics affect soil microbes, soil carbon storage, nitrogen cycling, and the rise of antibiotic resistance.
The ‘One Health’ approach is central to Lucas’ work. This is the idea that agriculture, the environment, and public health are inextricably linked. Lucas aims to work with farmers and government agencies to encourage sustainable agricultural practices that support healthy ecosystems and meet global food demands.
Before coming to Cary, Lucas completed a USDA Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Idaho. She received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Oklahoma, where she studied how nutrient availability and antibiotics influence tropical soil communities. Past work has looked at how antifungal and antibacterial compounds affect decomposition in soils, and how activities of a tropical ant impact microorganisms and nutrient cycling in its environment.