Research Projects

Stressed Out Soils

Stressed Out Soils examines how five common environmental stressors and human activities — drought, warming, fungicides, antibacterials, and pesticides — interact to shape soil health in grassland ecosystems. To study these interactions, I am combining field research and laboratory studies. I have established 80 plots on grasslands at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. These experimental plots will be exposed to temperature manipulation, moisture, or treated with different antibiotics, with an intention to add additional stressors in the future.

Drought and warming simulate ubiquitous environmental stressors and the selected antibiotic treatments — an antibacterial, an antifungal, and a pesticide — are commonly used in agriculture and at home. To simulate real world conditions, the antibiotic treatments will be applied according to the manufacturers’ recommendations. The design of this research is factorial, meaning the experiment will test combinations of the stressors and with differing levels of warming and drought. The study uses control plots and replications to properly assess variability between the stressed out plots.


While it’s necessary to understand how stressors impact soils in the present day, this project will also investigate how historical conditions, uses, and locations impact soil responses. Many grassland ecosystems have experienced historical disturbances such as drought and antibiotic use. Using ‘legacy’ plots established in year 1 of the study, I will perform lab studies to understand how previous exposure to stress shapes present day soil communities.

Additionally, this research will investigate how stressors, and the timing of those stressors, may disrupt carbon and nitrogen cycles. Similar experiments will be performed on samples sourced from across the US to investigate how location, particularly those with climates different from the Hudson Valley, impact the microbial communities in soil.

Ecology of Antibiotics


M, Strickland, Danielsson, R.J., Dahlberg, M. Ramin, S. Agenas, I. Tapio, A. Bayat, T. Hammer, T. Roslin, M. Kaspari, E. Gora.

Methods from one of our projects:


Relevant Publications: 

Wepking, C., B. Badgley, J. Barrett, K. Knowlton, K. Minick, P. Ray, J.M. Lucas, S. Shawver, M. Strickland. (2019) Prolonged exposure to manure from livestock‐administered antibiotics decreases ecosystem carbon‐use efficiency and alters nitrogen cycling. Ecology Letters.

Danielsson, R.J., J. Lucas Dahlberg, M. Ramin, S. Agenas, I. Tapio, A. Bayat, T. Hammer and T. Roslin. (2019) Context-dependence of antibiotic effects on methane emissions from livestock.  Royal Society Open Science.

Lucas, J.M., E.M. Gora, and M. Kaspari. (2019) Antibiotics as chemical warfare across multiple taxonomic domains and trophic levels. Proc. R. Soc. B.

Lucas, J.M., B. Sone, D. Whitmore, M.S. Strickland. (2021) Antibiotics and temperature disrupt soil communities and their function. Soil Biology and Biogeochemistry. 

Lucas, J.M., H. Nunn, and M. Kaspari. Detritivorous invertebrates avoid harmful antibiotic compounds to increase survival rates. In prep.

Funding: NSF, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute


Field sampling of CO2 production and microbes in manure from cattle treated with penicillin.

How do orthopteran communities shape above- and below-ground ecosystems and their functions?


Jayne Jonas-Bratten, Angela Laws, David Branson, Steven Pennings, Chelse Prather, Michael Strickland

Relevant Publications: 

Lucas, J.M., J. Jonas-Bratten, A.N. Laws, D.H. Branson, S.C. Pennings, C.M. Prather, and M.S. Strickland. Herbivore functional groups, not species, shape belowground communities, but not their function. In review.

Funding: USDA

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Microbiomes of the Ant-Built Home


Azteca trigona Project: Michael Kaspari

Azteca-Cecropia Project: Emily Meineke, Rob Dunn, Mary Jane Epps, Daniel Fergus, Anne Madden, Peter Marting, Clint Penick, Julia Stevens

Relevant Publications: 

Lucas, J.M., B. Bill, B. Stevenson, M. Kaspari. (2016) The microbiome of the ant-built home: the microbial communities of a tropical arboreal ant and its nest. Ecosphere.

Lucas, J.M., A.A. Madden, C.A. Penick, M.J. Epps, P.R. Marting, J.L. Stevens, D.J. Fergus, R.R. Dunn, E.K. Meineke. (2019) Ants control insect pathogens, but not plant pathogens, inside their nests in a model ant-plant mutualism. Proc. Roy. Soc. B.

Funding: NSF, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, University of Oklahoma


Canopy ants and host trees: a facultative mutualism?


Azteca trigona Project: Michael Kaspari, Bradley Stevenson, Brian Bill

Relevant Publications: 

Lucas, J.M., N.A. Clay, and M. Kaspari. (2018) External myrmecotrophy benefits host plants of dominant canopy ant, Azteca trigona. Ecological Entomology.

Clay, N.A., J.M. Lucas, M. Kaspari and A.D. Kay. (2013) Manna from heaven: Refuse from an arboreal ant connects aboveground and belowground processes in a lowland tropical forest. Ecosphere.

Funding: NSF, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, University of Oklahoma

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