As a Soil Ecologist I work on the Point Blue Working Lands Team within a cross-organizational partnership on rangeland carbon monitoring. Our working group develops protocols for the CA Healthy Soils Program to assess the effect of conservation practices on ecosystem carbon above and belowground. I recently collaborated on a similar international project with the Arequipa Nexus Institute in Peru as part of the Soil Health Assessment Team, creating a rapid spectroscopic screening of soil chemical properties to test for carbon accumulation and heavy metals (2020). Critical components of this work included capacity building with partner universities, field education for undergraduates, and learning from producers in the Andean highlands. I am constantly in awe of the diversity supported by Earth’s soils, from the abundant fauna and microbes underground to the supported communities of plants and animals, including humans.
Prior to my field research on soil health, I earned my B.S. in Natural Resource Conservation and a minor in Wilderness Studies (U of Montana, Missoula) and then my PhD in Ecology (Colorado State University, Fort Collins). I analyzed the impact of organic amendments, such as biochar and manure, on soil carbon sequestration and microbial nutrient cycling. With a USDA NIFA Predoctoral Fellowship I studied these interactions in dryland ecosystems in CO and participated in an NSF Program to study soil microbiology in Senegal, where I again learned the strength of above and belowground networks.
I remain dedicated to environmental field education, teaching undergraduate courses for the Wild Rockies Field Institute (MT), and previously climate change and natural history courses for No Barriers Youth (CO), Gastineau Guiding (AK), and Tryon Creek State Park (OR). I am in my home ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, having grown up in Portland, and I am now delighted to be based out of the beautiful Petaluma area, with research ranging statewide and around the West. When not ogling over the beautiful CA soils, plants and animals, I enjoy trad climbing in the Rockies, sailing in the San Juans, and biking or running on trails as much as possible.
Email: Erika Foster