Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Kathryn Docherty

Second Advisor

Todd Barkman


A large portion of the native tallgrass prairie ecosystem has been wiped out by human activity like agriculture, but restoring these ecosystems back to their pre-disturbance state is important, as they offer ecosystem benefits that will help us mitigate the effects of climate change. Soil microbial communities are a vital component in the process of prairie restoration because native prairie plants rely on associations with these belowground communities for nutrient cycling and ultimately promotion of growth and succession. The interaction between specific plant species and the composition of soil microbial communities is poorly understood, so we developed a pilot study to investigate the difference between soil bacterial communities associated with a late-successional plant species and soil bacterial communities not associated with the plant species. We sampled the rhizosphere of the late-successional legume species white wild indigo (WWI, Baptisia lactea) and soil not associated with the WWI rhizosphere at four sites in southwest Michigan, which consisted of three restored prairies and one remnant prairie. We compared the WWI-associated and non-WWI-associated soil bacterial communities across three different scales: at each individual site, across all four sites, and across only the three remnant sites. We found a significant difference between the WWI-associated and non-WWI-associated bacterial communities at only one restored prairie site. We suggest that late-successional plant species like WWI show stronger selection for specific soil bacterial community composition at disturbed prairies in the process of restoration rather than at undisturbed prairies, as soil pH, level of species establishment, and bacterial nutrient cycling change over time and influence ecosystem stability and the need for bacterial community specialization.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Restricted

Restricted to Campus until