Back to top

Laurie Drinkwater

Laurie Drinkwater


147B Plant Science
(607) 255-9408

I have a broad interest in using science to develop sustainable societies that provide for all people while preserving natural resources and biosphere integrity for future generations. Achieving this goal requires an understanding of the fundamental nature of managed ecosystems and the mechanisms that govern human-environmental interactions. The prospect of developing food production systems that enhance ecological processes while contributing to sustainability is a key idea guiding all facets of my work.

Research Focus

My research group conducts studies of soil nutrient cycling processes in agroecosystems at scales ranging from the rhizosphere to farm and watershed scales. We investigate mechanisms within the plant-soil-microbial continuum that control ecosystem processes such as energy flows and nutrient cycling. Current research projects are focused on achieving a better understanding of the biotic and abiotic mechanisms regulating linkages between carbon and nitrogen cycles, with particular emphasis on the following processes: 1) symbiotic biological N-fixation, 2) decomposition and mineralization and 3) microbially-mediated N transformations such as nitrification, denitrification. Our work is also geared toward the development of management practices that improve soil quality while optimizing carbon and nitrogen cycling in intensive horticultural systems. Most of our research involves some degree of interdisciplinary collaboration. We are currently working with colleagues from molecular microbial ecology, resource economics, environmental sociology, biogeochemical modeling and weed ecology.

Outreach and Extension Focus

I place a high value on my interactions with farmers and other practitioners. Over the years, these interactions have had considerable influence on the research that I have undertaken. My lab group carries out extension and outreach activities in conjunction with research through partnerships that entail the active participation of farmers. Currently we are engaged in on-farm research that addresses soil and nutrient management problems. Our educational activities are aimed at farmers who rely on green manures as nitrogen sources or who are interested in using cover crops in their farming system.

Teaching Focus

The graduate and undergraduate courses I teach integrate ecological and agricultural knowledge. My over-arching goal in teaching and mentoring students is to contribute to the development of scientists who will be equipped to address the global challenges we face in agriculture and environmental management. In my classes we engage in participatory, independent and collaborative learning and work to improve key life skills including critical and synthetic thinking, verbal and written communication. Graduate seminars that I have offered include 1) Decomposition, 2) Sustainability: Ethical, socioeconomic and biophysical dimensions, 3) Agroecosystems: Research and design.

Awards and Honors

  • Lifetime Achievement Award in Organic Agriculture (2018) Agronomy Society of America
  • Fulbright Scholar (2017) Kenya and Malawi
  • Frosty Hill Fellowship (2015) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Alianza de Mujeres en Agroecología-Alliance of Women in Agroecology (2013) Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology, Annual Conference
  • Celebrating Women in Science and Engineering (2011) Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute, University of Wisconsin

Selected Publications

Journal Publications

Presentations and Activities

  • Push-pull intercropping in Kenya: A spectacular example of ecological intensification. June 2018. University of California-Santa Cruz. California.
  • How can we optimize the contributions of legumes in sub-Saharan intercopping systems? International Center for Insect Physiology. June 2017. EnviroFlight, USA, Sanergy Ltd., Celanese, et al.. Mbita Point, Kenya.
  • It’s time to get serious about sustainable nitrogen management. Tri-Societies Annual Meetings. November 2016. Phoenix, AZ.
  • Harnessing microbial diversity in agricultural systems. June 2016. The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. Arusha, Tanzania.
  • How can legumes contribute to agricultural sustainability and human well-being? The True Cost of American Food. April 2016. Sustainable Food Trust. San Francisco, CA.
  • Understanding the devious nitrogen cycle. LTER 25th Anniversary Symposium. April 2015. Kellogg Biological Research Station.
  • Realizing resilient food systems from rhizosphere to watershed scales. Ecological Society of America Annual Meetings. August 2013. Ecological Society of America. Minneapolis, MN.
  • Using the mass balance concept to promote sustainable nutrient management. Ecological Society of America Annual Meetings. August 2013. Ecological Society of America. Minneapolis, MN.
  • Linkages between ecology, economics and ethics. Plenary session. Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual Conference. July 2012. Soil and Water Conservation Society. Ft. Worth, TX.
  • Biogeochemistry of a socioecological system: Nitrogen cycling in the Mississippi River Basin. March 2011. Department of Entomology. University of Wisconsin.