Our research aims at increasing our understanding on the ecological processes securing the environmental sustainability of cropping systems. To achieve this goal, we conduct experiments involving integrated crop-livestock systems, crop rotations, weed ecology and integrated management, and multi-trophic interactions.

Current research:

assessing the resiliency field work

Assessing the resiliency of integrated crop-livestock organic systems under current and predicted climate

Collaborators Drs. E. Lehnhoff, P. Hatfield, P. Miller, T. Geodeon, R. Engel, and Z. Miller

Organic production has become a major agricultural, economic, and cultural force. However, in the face of unprecedented climate change and market demand, organic producers in water-limited environments need to increase the resiliency of their enterprise to secure their long-term environmental and economic sustainability. Based on inputs from stakeholders, we developed organic systems that replace tillage with targeted sheep grazing. While successful to terminate cover crops, manage pests, and improve nutrient cycling; can this integration enhance the long-term resiliency of the organic enterprise while mitigating the emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases?

multiple herbicide resistance field work

Molecular, physiological, and ecological characterization of multiple herbicide resistance in Avena fatua (wild oat)

Collaborators: Drs. B. Dyer, E. Lehnhoff, and B. Keith

The intense and uniform selection pressures applied at a landscape scale by agronomic practices like herbicides make agroecosystems a valuable and yet underutilized experimental system for studying evolution. Under these conditions, it is possible to investigate the compressed evolution of traits and their resulting consequences on a time scale that is rarely achievable in natural ecosystems. We are conducting laboratory, greenhouse, and field experiments to study the molecular, physiological, and ecological aspects of multiple herbicide resistance in Avena fatua (wild oat).

sheep grazing

Targeted grazing to reduce tillage in dryland systems

Collaborators: Drs. P. Carr., P. Hatfield, P. Miller, M. Burrows, Z. Miller

The Northern Great Plains is a leading producer of organic small grain, pulse, and oilseed crops; but management options are limited by highly variable precipitation and easily eroded soils. This area also has strong potential for low-input organic sheep production, but access to sources of grazing and feed represents a challenge for ranchers. This project evaluates integrated animal and crop production systems were we replace tillage with targeted sheep grazing to terminate legume cover crops, manage crop residues, and reduce weed, insect, and pathogen pressures.

searching for pollinators

Impacts of agricultural intensification on pollinators

Collaborators: Drs. L. Burkle, K. O'Neill

Two suites of particularly important associated biodiversity in agroecosystems include weeds and arthropods. Weeds are often considered as an impediment to production in agroecosystems and thus detrimental organisms. However, weeds can provide food and habitat for beneficial insects including pollinators. This research focuses on the effects of different agricultural systems (organic vs. conventional) and cover crop termination strategies (sheep grazing vs. tillage) on weeds and pollinators.

Pyrenophora semeniperda growth

Integrating Pyrenophora semeniperda into cheatgrass management in range and croplands

Collaborator: Dr. J. Mangold

This project assesses the effect of P. semeniperda on target (Bromus tectorum, cheatgrass, downy brome) and non-target species in a greenhouse, cropland, and rangeland field settings. It also evaluates if a fungicide seed treatment can prevent or reduce P. semeniperda infection and mortality of non-target species and which combination of cheatgrass plant stages and daily inoculation timings enhance P. semeniperda infection. This information will be used to determine if cultural, chemical, and biological practices can be integrated to improve cheatgrass management in crop and rangeland settings.

examining microbial communities in a greenhouse

Effects of management systems and climate change on soil microbial communities

Collaborators: Drs. S. Ishaq and C. Yeoman
Plants alter soil biota which subsequently modifies plant growth, plant-plant interactions, and plant community dynamics. While much research has been conducted on the magnitude and importance of soil biota effects (SBEs) in natural systems, little is known in agro-ecosystems. This study investigates the interactions between crop management system and current and predicted climate conditions on soil microbial diversity and SBEs.
fieldwork for agricultural management systems and plant disease dynamics

Agricultural management systems and plant disease dynamics in field crops in Montana

Collaborators: Drs. M. Burrows, Dr. Z. Miller, Dr. T. Seipel
This research focuses on how agricultural management systems (organic and conventional) and agronomic practices (use of resistant varieties, amount and timing of nitrogen fertilization, and seeding dates) affect disease communities and impacts. This research is aimed at improving our understanding of the basic ecology of agro-ecosystems and improving disease management of the Wheat streak mosaic virus of wheat and soil-borne and foliar pathogens of wheat and pulse crops.
people looking at field plots

Climate-resilient sustainable agriculture in Montana

Collaborators: Drs. B. Irene Grimberg, Z. Miller, S. Ahmed, and Ellis Colter
In the face of unprecedented climate change, we need to understand the variables that influence the decision-making process of agricultural stakeholders to design extension programs geared towards enhancing the long-term sustainability of their initiatives. The goal of this project is to understand the knowledge, needs, constraints, and perceptions of Montana agricultural producers and educators (hereafter audience) related to climate change and agricultural mitigation practices.

 

For completed research, see Fabian Menalled's ResearchGate or Google Scholar webpages.