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Ember Morrissey

Ember Morrissey with her daughter.


Most of my research is focused on understanding how microbes impact the cycling of nutrients, particularly carbon and nitrogen. We look at how the present absence and differences in the composition of microbial communities relate to soil carbon storage and mineralization. That’s relevant to both agricultural systems and natural systems because we want to manage these systems so that we store as much carbon in the soil as possible. With agricultural systems, we want to manage them to maintain soil fertility and microbes are a big part of that. 


The most interesting thing is that the activity of microbes is related to their evolutionary history. Just like with plants and animals, more closely related bacteria are more similar to one another. There’s been some debate whether or not that’s true for microbes because microbes share genes across species. That can kind of disrupt that connection between evolutionary history and phenotype. Some of my research finds that, despite those processes, there’s still a pretty strong connection between the evolutionary history of the microbes and what they’re actually doing in the environment.

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

I was a postdoc at Northern Arizona University. There, I also worked with soil microbes. The ecosystems out there are much drier. It’s a very different climate which makes for a very different ecosystem.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

I really enjoy working with undergrads in my lab. Having undergrad researchers in the laboratory is a lot of fun because they get excited about what we’re doing. That makes it more fun.

What’s one thing you wish you had known in college?

That you don’t need to have your whole life figured out when you’re 19. It’s okay to kind of figure it out as you go. You don’t have to have everything planned out for your future right away. You can take some time and explore your options.

What’s one thing you recently learned?

I’ve recently been learning more about the benefits of rotational grazing. It’s where livestock are rotated around a pasture so they’re not grazing continuously over the entire pasture. It allows the pasture to have time to regrow. I’ve known for a while that that improves soil quality and enhances plant species diversity and that’s related to more insect diversity aboveground. I recently learned that it also reduces the incidents of animal disease, which I thought was really interesting. It shows how using one sustainable practice can result in a wide variety of benefits.

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

My daughter; she’s one. Having a family to be stuck at home with.

What were you most excited for in 2021?

Getting to spend more time with family and friends and resuming normal life. I also looked forward to teaching in person in the fall. 


Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

What’s your favorite meal? Tacos or crab cakes

What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? I Would Walk 500 Miles by The Proclaimers

What’s one thing you can’t live without? Fresh air, being outside