Current Track-1 RII Project

Microbial Ecology Collaborative (Micro)

Confluence Public Information Page:

Predicting the ecological consequences of microbes in natural and disturbed settings is a grand challenge for microbial ecology. To date, this challenge has been addressed only in case studies or in simple systems with low taxonomic diversity. Characterizing the relationship among microbial genes, traits, and functions will improve predictive understanding of biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem services, and involves significant opportunities for economic development. Determining microbial consequences requires ambitious sampling of -omic and environmental data, followed by analyses of this information through cutting-edge data science, as well as computational education, outreach, and access by groups historically underrepresented in the sciences.

The research builds on vertically integrated collection of ecological data. The work will include sampling and identification of diverse microbial taxa at high spatial and temporal density, and study sites that span environmental gradients for which Wyoming is known. Subsequent determination of microbial function will be achieved through -omic sampling, collection of broad environmental metadata to provide selective context, performance measurements of macroeukaryotic hosts, and quantification of relevant biogeochemical processes. These comprehensive data sets will be used to develop empirical, phenomenological, and mechanistic models of microbial distributions and functions; null models will be contrasted with models of trait-based filters on microbial life. The accuracy of model predictions will be assessed via experimental manipulations and in field sites beyond those used in model development.

Focus Areas:
(1) Test ecological theory by quantifying microbial life along natural and anthropogenic gradients
(2) Measure microbial functional traits in parameterize models of ecological consequences
(3) Build and test mechanistic understanding of microbial ecology with models and experiments
(4) Transform data science capacity in Wyoming through education and outreach with specific applications to microbial ecology

Societal Implications:
The research will apply modern methods in computation, statistics, and modeling, providing integrated training in data science from grade school to grad school to business leaders. The combination of proposed infrastructure development, spatial and temporal mapping of microbial taxa and functions onto Wyoming ecosystems, and computational science training is a concrete basis to enhance jurisdictional research capacity and competitiveness as well as the state’s workforce and economy. Science will be communicated through various outlets, including art exhibits and partnerships with media. This project is truly designed and inspired to reach across the state and two sovereign nations of the Wind River Indian Reservation and engage stakeholders in the world of microbial ecology. 



Wyoming EPSCoR Track-2 Focused Collaborations (RII Track-2 FEC) awards 

Active Awards


2020-2024  RII Track-2 FEC: Highly Predictive, Explanatory Models to Harness the Life Science Data Revolution (Wyoming lead)

Confluence Public information page:

                        Award amount: $6 million.               Wyoming amount: $3.778 million

This collaborative project among three universities in Wyoming, Montana, and Nevada will addresses the pressing need in the life sciences through research and education efforts led by the Modelscape Consortium. This consortium was initiated to address cross-cutting challenges in the analysis and representation of knowledge in the life sciences. In particular, this project will learn about, develop, and share innovative approaches to obtain highly predictive and explanatory models. The broad experience of project leaders in ecology and evolution, and in modeling, will advance process-based understanding in the life sciences.


2018-2022  Genomics Underlying Toxin Tolerance (GUTT):  Identifying Molecular Innovations that Predict Phenotypes of Toxin Tolerance in Wild Vertebrate Herbivores.

                        Award Amount: $6 million                Wyoming amount: $975,000

This project leverages, builds, and integrates research and education strengths across Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming to identify the Genomes Underlying Toxin Tolerance (GUTT) in vertebrate herbivores. The GUTT team integrates a range of expertise to identify how variation in toxin tolerance influences populations of wild mammalian and avian herbivores. The team works with high school teachers and use Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences in introductory biology, chemistry, and math courses to train, inspire, recruit, and retain a diverse workforce capable of applying genetic understanding of toxin tolerance in animals and microbes to conservation, agriculture and human health. The project also connects GUTT participants with local agency and industry partners to diversify career and funding opportunities for faculty and students. The research and educational activities increases the capacity for Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming faculty, students, and community partners to more effectively manage toxic plants and the animals and microbes that interact with these plants.


2018-2022   Insect Cryobiology and Ecophysiology (ICE) Network:         Integrating Genomics, Physiology, and Modeling

                        Award Amount: $6 million                Wyoming amount: $2.3 million

The goal of the Insect Cryobiology and Ecophysiology (ICE) Network is to understand how bees overcome harsh winter conditions to successfully emerge and reproduce in spring. The ICE Network brings together experts in genomics, gene regulation, physiology, and ecological modeling. The ultimate goal of the model will be to predict how each of the three species will respond to changes in temperature. Faculty from land-grant universities will collaborate with scientist from the USDA Agricultural Research Service establishing close connections in three states, North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico. The results will make it possible to predict and manipulate overwintering phenotypes in three agriculturally-relevant bee species, setting the stage for improved management of those species and more accurate forecasting of wild and agricultural bee populations.        


2021-2024      RII Track-2 FEC: From Ecosystems to Evolution: Harnessing Elemental Data to Detect Stoichiometric Control-Points and their Consequences for Organismal Evolution.

                        Award amount: $6 million                Wyoming amount: $1.84 million

This Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 Focused EPSCoR Collaboration award permits researchers from four EPSCoR jurisdictions (AR, NE, VT, and WY) to address how current and changing elemental availability impacts ecosystems at regional and national scales. To do this, researchers combine growing environmental datasets from national efforts with ongoing and historical studies at smaller scales to produce a publicly available database containing information on both the elemental composition of organisms and the elemental composition of those organisms’ environment.


Inactive Awards

2011-2015       Collaborative Research: CI-WATER, Cyberinfrastructure to Advance High  Performance Water Resource Modeling (Wyoming lead)

                        Award Amount: $6 million                Wyoming amount: $2.6 million

A Wyoming and Utah collaboration, CI-WATER increased access to data- and advanced computationally-intensive watershed modeling. CI-WATER high-resolution watershed models offer an in-depth understanding of the interconnectivity of natural and human water resources systems. The computational investments are used by researchers and students in all STEM fields at UW.


2016-2020       Sustainable socio-economic, ecological, and technological scenarios for   achieving global climate stabilization through negative CO2 emission policies

                        Award Amount: $6 million                Wyoming amount: $1.8 million

A collaborative project among three institutions in Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota began in 2017 and focuses on developing a framework of CO2 mitigation scenarios that do not create conflicts with food security and production of clean energy. The 4-year, $6 million project will offer novel experimental insights, modeling tools, and technological solutions for improving the resiliency of food security and ecosystem services to global climate policies.


2016-2021       Collaborative Research and Education on Synergized Transformational Solar Chemical Looping and Photo-Ultrasonic Renewable Biomass Refinery

                        Award Amount: $6 million         Wyoming amount: $1.4 million

A 4-year collaboration project among four institutions (Jackson State University, University of Mississippi, University of Delaware, and the University of Wyoming) in three states will develop methods to convert biomass into energy involving burning in the presence of oxygen (combustion), reaction at high temperature with controlled amount of oxygen and /or steam (gasification), and decomposition at elevated temperature in the absence of oxygen (pyrolysis). This project focuses on biomass pyrolysis to produce fuels and biochar and then chemically modifies biochar for use in applications related to carbon dioxide capture, water purification, and food production.