Matthew Bowker

Northern Arizona University

Matthew Bowker (Center), and L to R: Kyle Doherty (Ph.D. student), Anita Antoninka (Research Associate), Pete Chuckran (Technician), Matt Bowker (PI), Mike Remke (Ph.D. student), Kristina Young (M.S. student) , Henry Grover (Ph.D. Student), Yunge Zhou (former visiting professor)

Research Interests: Community and ecosystem ecology of soils; restoration ecology; biological crusts and mycorrhizas

Community and Ecosystem Ecology of Soils

I am a soil ecologist largely focused on ecosystem and community ecology of sub-humid and dryer ecosystems (inclusive of forests, woodlands, grasslands, steppes and deserts). My research topics vary from empirical work focused on the advancement of theory in the areas of biodiversity effects on ecosystem function, and species interactions, to applied work focused on modeling the distribution of biological crusts, restoration of biological crusts, understanding erosion processes, and putting soil organisms to work in assisted migration of plants. I am a qualified plant ecologist and mycorrhizal ecologist, but I am best known for my work on biological crusts having authored about 30 papers on this topic, including several specifically on restoration. I maintain an international network of collaborators in Spain, Australia, and the United Kingdom and I am a participant in a truly global scientific network studying global drylands.

My current and future research lines include the following:

1. Ecosystem Multifunctionality: Which soil and plant community properties are the most important influences on ecosystem multifunctionality? Ecosystems are valued not just for particular functions which they perform, but also for their ability to perform multiple functions simultaneously. An example might be a semi-arid woodland which, to be considered multifunctional, must simultaneously serve as a carbon sink, produce forage, and curtail soil erosion, among other functions. My collaborators and I have been investigating the relative influence of community properties such as biodiversity (including richness and evenness), patch size distributions and other spatial patterns, community structure, and overall abundance in determining ecosystem multifunctionality.

2. Soil organism roles in plant migrations: What role will symbiotic soil organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi play in plant migration under climate change? In previous work, we determined that local mycorrhizal fungi assist local plant ecotypes in adapting to their local soil environments. We are applyin this question in an experimental climate change manipulation using the southwest experimental garden array.

3. Biotic controls on soil erosion: Which biota are the “heavy lifters” in terms of stabilizing soil against erosion in various subhumid, semi-arid, and arid ecosystems? I have long been looking at the relative import of plants, biocrusts, and mycorrhizal fungi in creating soil aggregation in systems where vegetation is discontinuous. Recent developments, such as major drought die-off of trees in semi-arid woodlands, will provide a template to extend this research.

4. Biocrust restoration materials: Can biocrust organisms be developed as restoration materials to be applied after disturbances such as forest fires, overgrazing, energy exploration or ORV damage? We are successfully learning how to culture soil mosses and cyanobacteria to assist in recovering ecosystem function.


Research Associate

Anita Antoninka

Graduate Student on the 3D Moss Project

M. Cristina Rengifo Faiffer


B.A., University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 1998
M.S., Northern Arizona University, 2004
Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2006


Contact Information

Office: Building 82 – Room 236
Phone: 928.523.6600


Selected Publications

Publications are listed at Google Scholar.

Curriculum Vita


Other Resources and Endeavors

Geodermatophilia (Biocrust blog)