Dr. Yang Lin has recently been appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Soil and Water Sciences Department with a specialty in Soil Health. We asked him a little about how his career has developed and what his future research goals are.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Originally from China, I earned my bachelor’s degree in Biology from Zhejiang University. As an undergrad, I enjoyed my field courses the most, including Ecology in the Field. I was really amazed by the diversity and complexity of soils during those field trips. I later went to the University of Alberta for a master’s degree in Soil Science. For my thesis project, I got to travel back to Inner Mongolia Plateau in China to explore the impacts of sheep grazing on soil fertility and forage production. This experience introduced me to the field of biogeochemistry, which examines the cycling of carbon and nutrients in natural and agricultural systems. I continued following my interests in soil science and biogeochemistry in a Ph.D. program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I studied the decomposition process of plant litter in Mediterranean annual grasslands and specifically examined the role of sunlight. I discovered sunlight can enhance litter decomposition via increasing microbial activities. I then went to the University of California, Berkeley for postdoctoral training and studied the roles of oxidation-reduction dynamics in regulating soil biogeochemical processes in tropical forests. I was also involved in collaborative projects on topics including soil restoration with compost application and methane production from dairy farms.
What are your research interests?
My research interests include soil carbon persistence and decomposition, coupled carbon-nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems, soil health assessment and evaluation, and biogeochemical implications of climate change and land use. My field sites span a wide range of ecosystems, including arid grasslands, sub-tropical forests, and agricultural landscapes. I take a variety of analytical approaches to characterize the physical, chemical, and biological properties of plant, soil, and water samples.
What prompted you to apply for this job with UF/IFAS Soil and Water Sciences?
I was really excited by the opportunity to join such a productive and diverse group of scientists who are all passionate about Soil and Water Sciences! I really enjoyed reading the recent papers from each faculty and I am impressed by the depth and width of their research programs. It is very cool their research not only advances the frontiers of many disciplines, such as soil science, hydrology, microbiology, and urban ecology, but also has made big impacts on agricultural production and environmental conservation. Most of these works were carried out by our amazing and hard-working graduate students. The position also offers a rare opportunity for applying my background in soil science and biogeochemistry to improve soil health and conservation.
What is your vision for your teaching and research projects?
My teaching is centered around improving students’ problem-solving and quantitative skills. In Forest and Soil Ecosystem Services, I will introduce the concepts of ecosystem services in forest and soil systems and teach the analytical methods for quantifying ecosystem services. In Spring 2021, I will teach a Quest 2 course ‘Unintended Consequences in the Environment’ that fulfills the general education requirement of undergraduate students. This course addresses two intertwined pressing questions: Why do human actions often result in unintended consequences in the environment? And how can we better predict and prevent them? To address these questions, I will engage students to explore the complex relationships between humans and the environment using a system approach. I am also developing a new class focused on deciphering the concept of soil health and assessing soil health with real data.
The overall objective of my research program is to advance the understanding of soil as a complex system to promote environmental sustainability. I am particularly interested in how different components of a soil system interact with each other and how these interactions enable/regulate the resilience of soil against disturbance. Topics of particular interest include 1) lab- and field-based assessment of soil carbon dynamics in agricultural and natural ecosystems; 2) soil health assessment in sandy and subtropical soils; 3) large-scale ecoinformatics analyses of soil systems.
Are there particular projects or collaborations you already have underway?
I recently started a collaboration project with Dr. Allan Bacon and doctoral student Daniel Colopietro. Dr. Bacon’s recent work identifies deep podzolized carbon (DPC) as a very important carbon pool in the southeastern U.S. We are interested in characterizing the chemical composition of deep podzolized carbon along soil depth profile and explore the resilience of this large carbon pool against disturbances such as drought and the lowering water table.
What do you foresee as being the biggest challenge ahead (professionally or in your field of research)?
I believe that our food production systems will experience extreme disturbances more frequently in the future. Hurricane Irma and COVID-19 pandemic are two examples. Despite their differences, both made/are making detrimental impacts on the agricultural sector in Florida. How to increase the resilience of food production systems would be my biggest challenge. I think promoting soil health and regenerative agriculture would be one of the key answers to this challenge. Education and extension would also go a long way towards raising awareness among farmers, land managers, and the public and developing a collective solution.