Additional Participants

Graduate Student

Carolyn Weber

Technician, Programmer

Chieu Yeung

Project Period

October 2006-September 2007

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



Volcanic activity regularly creates new landforms from deposits of tephra, ash and lava. These initially sterile, pristine deposits undergo a range of physical, chemical and biological transformations that lead in some cases to diverse, complex ecosystems such as Hawaiian rainforests. Recent activity by the Kilauea volcano has created unique opportunities to understand the timing and controls of complex ecosystem development, and to analyze the roles of microbes as pioneering colonists that contribute to plant development and succession. The newly established Kilauea Volcano Microbial Observatory will compare the diversity and activity of carbon monoxide-oxidizing bacteria colonizing two different deposits currently 45 and 55 years old. CO-oxidizing bacteria are important because they contribute to budgets of CO in the atmosphere and participate in major biogeochemical cycles. Novel CO-oxidizing bacteria will be isolated along gradients from unvegetated to vegetated deposits at each of the Kilauea sites. Preliminary results indicate that many new species can be anticipated, including symbiotic microbes that affect plant development. At each of the sites a battery of biogeochemical analyses and molecular ecological analyses will establish a framework for understanding the ecological significance of CO oxidizers and their associations with developing plant communities.

A postdoctoral researcher and two graduate students will receive advanced research training as part of the project. In addition to its research efforts, the Kilauea Volcano Microbial Observatory will support an educational outreach program involving grade 5-8 students at South Bristol Elementary School in Maine, and the Volcano School for Arts and Sciences in Hawai'i. Instructional modules about the geology, biology and ecology of volcanic systems will be prepared and presented to both groups. A web-based format will be used by the two schools to facilitate exchanges on local culture and history. Students from the Volcano School will also participate in field trips to the research sites.

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