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lab news archive

September 2022:

  • A new schoolyear and exciting time for the lab!

  • Welcome to Liz Becker, starting in the Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology. Liz has extensive experience in conservation and restoration work, and she is interested in how restoration can support ecosystem services in mixed agricultural-natural landscapes.

  • Check out some of our new papers studying grazing impacts on threatened beetles in Germany, herbicide effects in honeysuckle-invaded woodlands, and some big collaborative papers we were excited to contribute to. 

  • And congrats to Camille and Maricela, who presented their research at ESA in Montreal. We had a great time meeting other ecologists and being able to connect with friends face-to-face.

  • Finally, check out this amazing paper in Science, led by Amy Zanne, to which we contributed data. It was great to be part of a truly global project.


June 2022:

  • A busy few weeks for the lab. In May, Nick led a group of SDSU SACNAS students on a NSF-funded trip to Illinois to meet students at NIU and Northwestern. We visited Nachusa Grasslands, the CAPER experiment, and NU's downtown medical campus. Read about it here and see pictures here.

  • Kendall led a successful soil sampling visit to Faville Prairie in southern Wisconsin and prepared samples at Wes Swingley's lab at NIU to look at soil microbial communities. Pictures here!

  • Camille and Mareike joined Nick in Illinois for a soil-sampling marathon on the hottest days of year. Camille worked with Meghan Midgley and her amazing team of interns to process almost 200 samples.

  • Travis and Sam held down the fort in California while the rest of us were on the road. They've been cultivating lots of prairie plants, collecting exudates, and processing some stinky pitfall trap samples.

May 2022:

  • Congratulations to Sam P. and Maricela on their graduation! Maricela was also honored as SDSU's Outstanding Biology Undergraduate!

  • Welcome to Dr. Kendall Beals, who starts a postdoctoral scholar position in the lab to study prairie soil microbiomes in collaboration with Dr. Paul Zedler at the UW-Madison.

  • Camille passed her qualifying exams this spring – way to go, Camille!

  • We have a busy field season ahead of us as we travel to Wisconsin and Illinois for soil sampling, and keep growing plants to collect root exudates in the lab.


February 2022:

  • Welcome to Sam Irwin and Travis Johnson, two new bio undergrads in the lab!


October 2021:

  • We are hiring a postdoc! The position will lead soil microbial community sampling in remnant and restored prairies in Wisconsin in collaboration with Dr. Paul Zedler. See details on applying here, and please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.

  • CAPER plots are looking great, thanks to the indefatigable lab techs/managers Sam & Lizzy. 

August 2021, a busy summer:

  • Earlier this summer Nick & Camille traveled to Illinois to set up our new CAPER (Community Assembly in Prairie Ecosystem Restoration) experiment with our NIU collaborators. See pictures of the set-up and experiment here.

  • We collected 437 soil samples in one day from the Morton Arboretum's Ware Field Prairie experiment for the PRISM project. See the pictures.

  • Sam successfully completed her US Fish & Wildlife Directorate Fellows Program fellowship studying a rare California butterfly.

  • Maricela successfully completed her NOAA fellowship compiling data on killer whales from the Pacific Northwest.

  • Fernanda got an internship with a local biotech company.

  • Azeem's manuscript was accepted and published at Environmental Entomology!

  • Welcome to Mareike, a biology major and new student in the lab.

  • We also managed to find a day for several of us to meet for an enjoyable hike through Los Peñasquitos Canyon and welcome Mareike in-person!

May 2021:

  • Some great news from our lab as a very long schoolyear comes to an end:

  • Fernanda was accepted to SDSU's Biological & Medical Informatics MS program!

  • Sam has an internship with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service this summer!

  • Maricela has an internship with the National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration!

  • Camille was awarded a University Graduate Fellowship!

  • Look at these pretty pictures we published in the ESA Bulletin.

April 2021:

  • The semester has kept everyone busy, but thankfully we've all been healthy.

  • Sam, Maricela, and Fernanda presented posters at SDSU's Student Research Symposium. The next day, Sam and Maricela presented their poster at the Midwest Ecology & Evolution Conference. Everyone did a really impressive job, and the posters look great hanging in the lab now!

  • Check out this exciting paper in PNAS from our Nachusa crew, led by Dr. Pete Guiden. We show that management activities in restored prairies have stronger effects on animal diversity than plant-mediated effects.

  • Lab alumnus Azeem Rahman recently accepted a job with the USDA-NRCS -- congratulations, Azeem!


January 2021:

  • Happy New Year - we're fortunate and thankful that everyone in the lab has stayed healthy and well, and we're looking forward to another virtual semester.

  • Take a look at a recent paper from Ryan Blackburn's NIU MS work that was recently published, examining how inexpensive drone imagery can predict prairie characteristics.


September 2020:

July 2020:

  • Congratulations to Azeem, who successfully defended his MS thesis in which he used stable isotope analysis to study ground beetle diet shifts in response to fire and bison management in prairies.

  • We were awarded another NSF grant for a collaborative project with Dr. Holly Jones! This $700,000 project will establish a biodiversity plot experiment and continue our Nachusa plant surveys to study how trait-informed community assembly processes influence ecosystem function.


June 2020:

  • A very busy spring and start to summer while everyone is working from home.

  • First, the Ecology Program Area faculty issued a statement in response to protests against anti-Black racism in the U.S. We commit to reducing barriers in ecology that result from systemic racism and taking actions to uphold that commitment.

  • We were awarded a NSF Rules of Life grant! This $2.5 million collaborative project will explore how plants influence soil microbial community structure and function through the release of root exudates. We will be recruiting a PhD student in the fall. More details on this position to come soon, but read about the project here!

  • Nick and colleagues published a paper in PNAS on plant communities and bumble bee parasites that was featured on the cover. The paper was led by Lynn Adler.

  • Melissa Nelson's thesis on ground beetle community structure and predatory function was accepted at Ecological Applications (link)

  • Welcome to Sam Padilla and Fernanda Terrazas, bio undergrads who will be joining the lab this fall!


April 2020:

  • We've transitioned to working at home, and hopefully everyone is able to stay healthy and well.

  • Congratulations to Maricela, who over the past few weeks received an REU fellowship, a NOAA fellowship, and was accepted to a study abroad program in Antarctica!!!


December 2019:

  • Welcome to Maricela Alaniz, SDSU bio undergrad will be joining the lab in January!

  • We have a new paper evaluating the initial impacts of bison re-introduction on dung beetle communities and function in tallgrass prairie.

September 2019:

  • Welcome to Emma Bock, SDSU Environmental Science undergrad who joined the lab this fall!


August 2019:

  • Take a look at the Special Feature in Journal of Ecology that Nick edited with David Gibson and Holly Jones. Our contribution looked at how environmental and historical characteristics of 120 tallgrass prairie influenced taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity. 

  • Welcome to Camille Traylor, who is joining our lab and the SDSU-UCDavis Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology!


June 2019:

  • Nick has spent the last few months at the University of Würzburg on a Humboldt Foundation fellowship, working with Jochen Krauss in the Department of Animal and Tropical Biology. We are studying ground beetle communities in managed calcareous grasslands. 

  • Azeem is processing beetle samples in the lab this summer with the help of two SDSU undergraduates, Christine Bennett and Bhakti Patel. Welcome, Christine and Bhakti!

  • We have a new paper in Ecology led by Cornell Ph.D. student Julie Davis, from her undergraduate thesis work with Lynn Adler. The takeaway is that mycorrhizae alter pollen chemistry with consequences for bee pathogens, but the effect depends on soil nutrients!

  • Friends of Nachusa Grasslands gave us a grant to continue our dung and ground beetle monitoring at Nachusa, so Sheryl has been carrying out work this summer to continue our long-term community data. 


March 2019:  Exciting achievements this month:

  • Kaleb, Sheryl, and Melissa all successfully defended their MS theses and did outstanding jobs presenting their research. Special thanks to Dr. Wes Swingley, Dr. Holly Jones, and Dr. Rich King for chairing the committees.

  • Kaleb will be starting a job with Illinois Audubon this spring as a Land Steward!

  • Sheryl will be starting a PhD at the University of Illinois-Chicago this fall, AND she received a fellowship from the university to support her work!

  • At SDSU, Azeem proposed his thesis and will be starting data collection this spring and summer examining diet niches of ground beetles using stable isotopes.

  • And check out a new paper on how nectar compounds affect bumble bee pathogens from our collaboration with Kristin Michaud, Becky Irwin, and Lynn Adler.


January 2019:  Happy New Year! Some great news items to start the new year:

  • Welcome to Azeem Rahman, new SDSU MS student in the lab. 

  • After her successful MS defense last fall, Anna Farrell accepted a job with Trileaf Corportation!

  • Kaleb accepted a job with the Illinois Audubon Society that will start after he finishes his MS this spring. He also received a grant from Friends of Nachusa Grasslands to continue monitoring plant communities in his thesis experiment.

  • Friends of Nachusa also awarded us a grant to continue monitoring ground and dung beetle communities in restored and remnant prairies.

  • See Barber Lab research highlighted in the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands Annual Report.

November 2018: 

  • New book chapter out in Aboveground-Belowground Community Ecology, eds. T. Ohgushi, S. Wurst, and S. Johnson.  The book is available here.

October 2018: 

  • Anna successfully defended her MS thesis on plant functional trait composition in restored prairies and did an outstanding job!

August 2018:  Very busy summer for everyone in the Barber Lab:

  • Lots of research going on at Nachusa Grasslands as part of the ReFuGE project and other related projects.  Melissa and Kaleb got great starts on their thesis research, while Anna and Shery continued building their datasets.

  • We had a great crew helping out on ReFuGE, including new lab members Rebecca Stelzer, Sandra Vaughn-Pottorff, Seth Gedes, Danielle Doll, and Nikolas Ballut, who were all hard at work in the field, in our lab, and in the Jones Lab

  • Sheryl, Anna, and Nick presented at the Ecological Society of America meeting in New Orleans. 

  • Congratulations to former lab member Matt Nissenbaum, who is starting in the Biology MS program at NIU in the Duvall Lab

  • And finally, Nick managed to move across the country and is setting up his new lab at SDSU this fall while Barber Lab East keeps busy in Illinois.  Keep an eye out for announcements about prospective student opportunities in the near future. 

May 2018:  As the academic year wraps up, several big news items. 

  • Congratulations to Amanda and Nicole, who are graduating. Nicole also won a Senior Leadership Award and a Women in Volunteerism Award!

  • Most the lab's students attended the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference last month, and Sheryl, Anna, and Amanda all presented their work. 

  • Nick received a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which will let him spend time in Germany to collaborate with Jochen Krauss at the University of Würzburg in 2019 and 2020.

  • And finally, Nick will be relocating to start a new position in the Department of Biology at San Diego State University in the fall.  He is still planning to maintain his reserach projects in the midwest, while expanding into new systems in California!


February 2018:  Anna, Sheryl, Melissa, and John all received research grants from the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands!  Anna also received a grant from the Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals.  Congrats everyone!

We also welcome Matt Nissenbaum and Nora Schofield to the lab.

December 2017:  Amanda received a Student Engagement Fund award from NIU's Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning to study relationships between soil nutrients and plant biomass.

November 2017:  Sheryl presented some of her work on dung beetle communities at the Entomological Society of America meeting in Denver!

October 2017:  Members of our lab and friends in the Jones lab and King lab presented research at the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands Science Symposium.  Sheryl took some nice photos of the event that you can see here.

Nick, Holly Jones, and Lacie Barber had a correspondence published in Nature in response to a poorly-conceived article about grad students taking on second jobs.  You can read the published excerpt here, or the full letter here.

September 2017:  For our weekly lab meeting, we've been reading the papers in Journal of Applied Ecology's recent special feature, "Toward Prediction in the Restoration of Biodiversity."  It's a great collection of papers and has really helped generate discussions about our own research.  There journal's blog has also featured some pieces highlighting these papers: here, here, here, and here!

August 2017:  We're excited to welcome Melissa Nelson and Kaleb Baker to the lab as MS students.  Melissa completed her undergraduate degree at North Central College and has worked at Neal Smith NWR and the Morton Arboretum.  Kaleb is a NIU (and Barber Lab!) alumnus who has been crew leader at Nachusa Grasslands for the past 2 years. 

Speaking of Nachusa, we've had a busy but extremely productive summer working on the ReFuGE Project.  Anna and Sheryl have been collecting lots of data, aided by our excellent summer crew and collaborators in the Jones Lab.

We also presented some of our preliminary work on dung beetles at the Ecological Society of America conference in Portland, and Nick and Holly Jones organized a session on consumers in restored ecosystems.  See the ReFuGE News page for more highlights.

April 2017: Anna and Sheryl both did outstanding jobs on their thesis proposals and are gearing up for a busy field season.


March 2017: Sheryl received a grant from Prairie Biotic Research, Inc., and Jones Lab member Peyton Whiston presented his dung beetle poster at MEEC.


February 2017:  Congratulations Anna for being selected to attend the phylogenetic & trait analyses workshop at SESYNC!

February 2017: we had a great visit from Lars Brudvig, who gave a fascinating seminar on Feb 9.


January 2017: New semester, welcome to Katelyn, Robert, Zack, and Nicole who joined the lab.  Sheryl was awarded grants from the biology department and from the Friends of Nachusa grasslands to study dung beetles!


November 2016: Catie Ausland won NIU’s Outstanding Thesis Award


September 2016:  Check out our new paper in Restoration Ecology.  And welcome to Anna, Sheryl, and John who joined the lab this fall!


August 2016:  Holly Jones and I received a NSF-EAGER grant to support our Nachusa Grasslands research.  Read all about the project on the ReFuGE page.


Summer 2016:  Getting started on a busy summer of field work.


March 2016:  Catie did an outstanding job in her thesis defense – way to go, Catie!  She will be starting her Ph.D. at the University of Kansas this fall. And she won the Biology department’s Terwilliger Award for being an outstanding grad student!


And congratulations to Will for his acceptance to veterinary school! 


Also check out our new paper in Journal of Applied Ecology. 


January 2016:  Welcome to Dania and Kaleb who joined the lab.


November 2015:  Will was honored as a NIU Lincoln Laureate nominee!


August 2015: Nick presented beetle community results at ESA in Baltimore. Also, welcome to Dylan and Armando, two new undergraduates in the lab. 


May 2015: Phyllis successfully defended her MS thesis – great job, Phyllis!


April 2015:  Great success at URAD, with Dylan, Baret, and Will presenting posters.  Congratulations to Will for winning 3rd place (for his work in the psych department, but we’ll still celebrate it!). 


Also special thanks to my students who nominated me for Mentor of the Year.  It’s a great honor to be recognized for the part of my job I enjoy the most!


March 2015:  Will received a scholarship from the Biology Department! Lab members will be presenting 5 posters at the Phi Sigma research day and 3 at NIU’s Undergraduate Research & Artistry Day.


February 2015:  Friends of Nachusa Grasslands gave us a grant to survey dung beetles.


December 2014: Congratulation to Angie who graduated and is headed to an internship at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.


August 2014:  Rene and Jared presented their REU projects at NIU’s Summer Research Symposium, and former REU participant Taylor Skokan presented his work at ESA in Sacramento.

Catie Ausland is joining the lab to start the MS program in Biology.  Welcome Catie!


Summer 2014:  Welcome to Rene Peralta (UC-Irvine) and Jared Sherwood (Butler University), working with us and in the Swingley Lab as part of the Operation E-Tank REU program this summer.


Phyllis is growing a lot of pepper plants in the greenhouse (some with AMF, some not).  Will is catching, sorting, and ID’ing a lot of beetles.  We’ll also be at Nachusa Grasslands frequently this summer.


May 2014:  Megan is starting an internship at the Richardson Wildlife Foundation.


May 2014:  Congratulations Will on being selected for an Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program for the fall semester. 


April 2014:  Jes, Andre, and Sarah presented their research poster at NIU’s Undergraduate Research & Artistry Day.


January 2014:  Welcome Jess and Andre to the lab.


December 2013:  Congratulations Sarah for graduating from the Environmental Studies program!


November 2013:  Congratulations to Michelle for successfully finishing her M.S.  First Barber Lab graduate student!


October 2013:  Our new paper in Ecological Applications came out.  Click here to read it.


September 2013:  New paper out in Frontiers in Plant Science.  Check it out here.  In fact, check out the whole special feature on aboveground-belowground plant-microbe-insect interactions here.


September 2013:  Welcome to Sarah Nelson, NIU Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship recipient.


August 2013: Check out former lab member Lindsey Gordon in the news (working with NIU alumna Alison Sacerdote-Velat).


August 2013:  Nick presented some cucumber-belowground-herbivory research at ESA.


July 2013:  Welcome to Taylor Skokan and Ed Robleto, participants in NIU’s Operation ETank REU Program, who will be working on ground beetle communities at Nachusa.


June 2013:  Busy with research including setting up projects at Nachusa Grasslands and in the greenhouse.


April 2013:  Lindsey presented her poster (with Michelle as a co-author) at NIU’s Undergraduate Research & Artistry Day.


April 2013:  We received a Research & Artistry Grant from NIU to study mycorrhizae, herbivory, and pollination in prairie restorations!


May 2013:  Congratulations to Lindsey who graduated and started an internshp with the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute.


November 2012:  Check out our new paper in Oecologia.  It’s about birds!


October 2012:  Elizabeth presents her summer research at Argonne National Laboratory’s Undergraduate Research Symposium.


September 2012:  New semester, new paper published in Journal of Plant Ecology.


August 2012:  Mycorrhizae-plant trait research presented at Ecological Society of America meeting in Portland.


July 2012:  Check out our new paper in Ecology.


Summer 2012:  Congratulations to Dan Calderon who graduated in May, Treashure Wade who was accepted to an REU at Miami University, and Elizabeth Justus who received a NIU Undergraduate Research Assistantship!


Apr 2012:  Elizabeth, Dan, and Treashure's poster presented at Phi Sigma Research Symposium and NIU Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day!

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