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WVU graduate student examines soil microbial community to address a rise in bioenergy crop production, recognized with NAAMLP Scholarship

WVU graduate student Brianna Mayfield stands in a field of switchgrass on reclaimed mine land.

With an increase in bioenergy crop production, the demand for alternative growing land has also risen. One West Virginia University graduate student is helping to address this need by taking a much closer look at an underexamined area in the mine reclamation process – the soil microbial community.


Brianna Mayfield, a master’s student in applied and environmental microbiology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, has been investigating the plant-microbe interactions of bioenergy crops grown on reclaimed mine lands.

“My research highlights the importance of soil microbes when reclaiming disturbed ecosystems, particularly abandoned or closed surface mine sites,” Mayfield explained. “The soil microbial community is largely underexamined during the reclamation process, but they are vital to a healthy and productive ecosystem.”

Brianna Mayfield examining switchgrass


Mayfield’s focus is on probing the soil microbial community to identify key nutrient cycling deficiencies and/or key belowground community networks responsible for the fate of reclamation initiatives.


“Throughout my research, I’ve found that the land reclamation technique can make or break the productivity of the land and the soil microbial community within it,” she said.


Mayfield was recognized by the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs with its 2018 NAAMLP Scholarship, intended to support students who intend to work as scientists, engineers or technicians in the field of mine land reclamation. Each year, only one graduate student is selected.


As part of the award, Mayfield was invited to present her research during the 2018 NAAMLP Annual Conference held in Williamsburg, Virginia, September 9-13. Her conference fee was waived and all travel expenses covered by NAAMLP.


“I was truly honored to receive this scholarship through the NAAMLP,” Mayfield said. “It was incredibly exciting that I had the opportunity to share just how fascinating microbiology is with an entirely new audience, thanks to the scholarship.”


As an undergraduate student, Mayfield focused on creating molecular-based ecotoxicology field bioassays that could be used to monitor waterbodies and land exposed to acid mine drainage.


Now, as a second year graduate student and member of Assistant Professor Zachary Freedman’s research team in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, Mayfield plans to put her experience in ecosystem and reclamation health assessment to use through a career in environmental consulting.





CONTACT: Zachary Freedman; WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 304-293-7897;