Carrying the LTER torch forward

Nick Haddad saw leading the Long-Term Ecological Research projects as a perfect opportunity to continue the research that has defined his career.

January 1, 2019 - Author: James Dau

Nicholas Haddad

Last year, MSU’s W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, or KBS, was looking for someone to lead its Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects.

With over 25 years of experience conducting long-term, large-scale experiments on the relationship between ecology, natural resources and agriculture, Nick Haddad saw a perfect opportunity to continue the research that has defined his career.

“My whole career has been defined by big, long-term studies,” said Haddad. “They’re all at the intersection of basic and applied science, on uncovering the details of ecology and then applying them to help us better manage our landscapes. Leading the KBS LTER projects was a natural extension of the work I’ve done all my life.”

The primary focus of KBS LTER is on testing the effect on ecosystem health of different intensities of land use, from conventional agriculture, with all its tillage and chemical inputs, to unmanaged prairie fields.

The team is set to begin experiments testing conservation strips – parcels of farmland taken out of agricultural production and turned back into prairie. The team hypothesizes that the loss of crop yield would be surpassed by the beneficial impact of the conservation strips on the surrounding landscape.

“We hypothesize [that] conservation strips will improve the farm landscape by providing habitat for beneficial insects, like pollinators and predators of pests, reducing pollination and chemical costs for farmers,” Haddad said. “That’s above and beyond the ecological benefits they provide by supporting native plants and animals that increase the biodiversity of the natural environment.”

Research on the resilience of crops and natural ecosystems to severe droughts, which are becoming increasingly common under a changing climate, is also planned. Using rainout shelters, which are large roofed structures that prevent rainwater from reaching the plants and insects beneath them, researchers can simulate prolonged drought conditions and measure those conditions’ effect on plant growth and recovery time after the drought. Helping farmers obtain the benefits of his research is a key focus for Haddad.

“One of my great interests is taking my findings out of academia and delivering them to our stakeholders,” Haddad said. “The long relationships MSU AgBioResearch has around the state puts us in a position to have those conversations with farmers, industry representatives and Extension educators, showing them what we’ve learned in our research and hearing the challenges they face in the field and how our work might help them.”

Q&A: Nicholas Haddad

Title: Professor in integrative biology and terrestrial ecology, MSU Department of Integrative Biology

Joined MSU: 2017

Education: B.S. Stanford, 1991; Ph.D. University of Georgia, 1997

Hometown: Edina, Minnesota

On my bucket list: Travel to Poppendetta in Papua, New Guinea, to see the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly.

Favorite vacation: Canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

On a Saturday afternoon you’ll likely find me: Doing plumbing or electrical work in my old home, built in 1840.

Best part of my job is: Talking with students.

I went into this field of study because: I wanted to work outside and help conserve nature.

Something most people don’t know about me: I collect things like football cards, coins and stamps.

Books I’d recommend: The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner; Poor Fellow My Country, by Xavier Herbert

Favorite food: Pecan roll

Favorite song/band: Wild Montana Skies/John Denver

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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