Assistant Professor Xiaoli Dong: Pioneering Climate Change Research with Biocrusts

Assistant Professor Xiaoli Dong, a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, has been recognized for her outstanding work in climate change research. She has been awarded UC Davis' prestigious Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation for 2023. This annual award, which includes a $40,000 grant, is funded by anonymous donors and is given to one or two recipients each year.

Professor Dong's research focuses on incorporating the role of biological soil crust, or biocrust, into climate change models. Biocrusts are composed of various living organisms that colonize and stabilize soil surfaces in drylands and semiarid regions. These areas are of global importance, covering around 40% of the Earth's terrestrial surface and being home to approximately 38% of the human population.

By recognizing the significant impact of biocrusts on hydrological, geomorphic, and biogeochemical processes, Professor Dong aims to develop innovative approaches to map biocrusts at a regional scale and construct mathematical models that accurately predict the large-scale climate responses in drylands. Her team will conduct fieldwork, gathering soil and vegetation samples, high-frequency soil moisture data, and ultrahigh-resolution imagery using drones across the Southwest United States. The funding from the award will support data collection, the development of mapping algorithms and mathematical models, and the dissemination of her research through national meetings and open-access journal articles.

Professor Xiaoli Dong's exceptional work and recognition through this award highlight her commitment to advancing climate change research and her innovative contributions to understanding the complexities of dryland ecosystems. Her efforts have the potential to improve our understanding of how these ecosystems respond to climate change and inform future conservation and management strategies.

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