Amy Burgin

Amy Burgin

  • Contact Information
  • My Story
  • Publications
  • Background
  • Grants
  • Advising

Contact Information

TitleAssociate Scientist
Faculty RankAdjunct Associate Professor
Address Off Campus


Contact Preference


My Story

Amy BurginMy research integrates the fields of microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and aquatic ecosystem ecology. I use tools from analytical chemistry, microbiology and molecular biology to better understand how microbes control ecosystem-level nutrient fluxes. Questions asked in my research program have valuable connections to current environmental concerns including global change, the effects of land-use change on ecosystems and aquatic eutrophication. My research focuses on nitrogen (N) cycling. Excessive N causes many water-quality problems. Much of the N that enters watersheds is removed before reaching the oceans, but how and where the removal occurs is not well understood.


I began teaching Limnology for SNR in spring of 2012. In the past, I have taught classes on global biogeochemical cycles, environmental microbiology and, wetlands and global change.

The field of biogeochemistry appeals to me intellectually because of the inherent connectedness between disciplines. The term denotes an exploration of the ways the physical, chemical and biological realms are related with the goal of understanding the complexity of a fully integrated system. Linking concepts and disciplines together takes away some of the simplicity of how we understand them by themselves, but allows us to grasp a larger view of the world. Learning is also a process that makes connections between two areas that formerly were unrelated, thereby giving the person a deeper understanding of his or her surroundings. My main goal in my teaching is to aid students in making connections between seemingly different disciplines, as well as to connect science into their personal lives. By helping them see the vast array of connectedness in our world, I empower students to acquire knowledge on their own and transition from receivers of information into life-long learners.

Please see my website for more information on my field work and lab, and how students can be involved.


Amy BurginMy training and research encompasses three related themes:

  1. Microbial Coupling of Elemental Cycles (Environmental Microbiology)
    I am interested in how microbial metabolism can link elemental cycles. A well-known example of this is denitrification, a microbial pathway that links the carbon (C) and N cycles. In a less-studied example, microbes replace C with sulphur (S), thus linking the N and S cycles. My dissertation research found N-S coupling is widespread in freshwaters. This connection between the S and N cycles was surprising because S is often considered insignificant in freshwaters. Because of my work on the topic, I was asked to participate on an NSF proposal to investigate C, N and S coupling in a coastal wetland experiencing salt-water intrusion. Understanding potential changes in coupled elemental cycles will be critical for
    predicting how fragile coastal wetlands will respond to sea level rise.
  2. Alternative Pathways of N Cycling in Freshwater Ecosystems (Biogeochemistry)
    Through the discovery of freshwater N and S coupled cycling, I became interested in other understudied N cycling processes, including dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox). Most textbook diagrams of the N cycle do not include DNRA or anammox; this omission maybe because the pathways are insignificant, or may be because we don't yet know when and where they are important. My dissertation found that DNRA is a significant N cycling pathway in wetland ecosystems. Understanding DNRA has profound implications for our knowledge of N cycling because the process converts nitrate to biologically available ammonium, and therefore may further enhance eutrophication problems.
  3. Landscape Controls on N Cycling across Aquatic-Terrestrial Interfaces (Ecosystems)
    Microbial communities perform the N cycling processes described above. Those communities, however, are organized by abiotic factors. I am also interested in how landscape-level variation in key abiotic factors affects biogeochemical cycling. As a postdoc I examined how O2 variation in riparian buffers affected denitrification rates. O2 is rarely measured in soils and is a key regulator of microbial functions, including denitrification. O2 variation is currently missing from terrestrial biogeochemical models that consider soils to be uniformly oxic. This omission represents a gap in our knowledge of the controls on nutrient cycling, particularly for ecosystems that are both terrestrial and aquatic (e.g., wetlands). I am continuing this work by exploring the connections between water table dynamics, soil O2 fluctuations, and greenhouse gas production (CO2, CH4, N2O) in an agricultural field being restored to a wetland. This work is funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NASA's joint program on Carbon Cycle Science.

My research program evaluates the importance of microbial processes in an ecosystem context, bridging the gap between lab-based studies of microbiology and ecosystem flux studies. I pursue mechanistic questions that span the basic-applied spectrum, and bridge my three sub-disciplines. Integrative questions such as these are aligned with the research priorities of NSF (DEB-Ecosystems), the USDA and the EPA.

Selected Publications

Smyth, A., Loecke, T., Franz, T., Burgin, A. (2018). Using high-frequency soil oxygen sensors to predict greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 128: 182-192.Online
Franz, T., Loecke, Burgin, Zhou, Y., Le, T., Moscicki (2017). Spatio-temporal predictions of soil properties and states in variably saturated landscapes. Journal of Geophysical Research - Biogeosciences, 122(7), 1576-1596.Online
Loecke, T., Burgin, A., Riveros Iregui, D., Thomas, S., Ward, A., Davis, C., St.Clair, M. (2017). Weather whiplash in agricultural regions drives deterioration of water quality. Biogeochemistry, 133(1), 7-15.Online
Reynolds, K. N., Loecke, T. D., Burgin, A. J., Davis, C. A., Riveros - Iregui, D., Thomas, S., St Clair, M. A., Ward, A. S. 2016. Optimizing sampling strategies for riverine nitrate using high-frequency data in agricultural watersheds. Environmental ScienOnline
Davis, C., Ward, A., Burgin, A., Loecke, T., Riveros Iregui, D., Schnoebelen, D., Just, C., Thomas, S., Weber, L., St.Clair, M. (2014). Antecedent moisture controls on stream nitrate flux in an agricultural watershed, Clear Creek, Iowa. Journal of Environ
Schoepfer, V.A., E.S. Bernhardt, and A.J. Burgin (2014), Iron clad wetlands: Soil iron-sulfur buffering determines coastal wetland response to salt water incursion, J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci., 119: 2209–2219



DegreeMajorInstitutionYear Awarded
Doctorate of PhilosophyZoology and EcologyMichigan State University2007
Bachelor of ArtsBiology and Environmental ScienceCoe College2002


Currently this page only displays grants that were awarded on 1/1/ 2009 to the present. If a grant was awarded prior to 1/1/ 2009 and is still active, it will not be displayed on this page.

Grant TitleCan Improving Predictions of Soil Oxygen Dynamics Increase Understanding of Greenhouse Gas Hotspots and Hot Moments
Starting Date06/01/2015


Ending Date05/31/2018
Funding Level$445,429.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation


Grant TitleChlorophyll Analysis Shonka Ditch
Starting Date06/01/2014


Ending Date10/01/2014
Funding Level$504.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Department of Environmental Quality


Grant TitleThe Effects of Alum and Fish Restoration on Water Quality in the Fremont Lake, NE (additional extension funding)
Starting Date05/01/2014


Ending Date06/30/2015
Funding Level$31,009.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Department of Environmental Quality


Grant TitleFremont Continuation
Starting Date04/01/2014


Ending Date05/31/2015
Funding Level$26,400.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Game and Parks Commission


Grant TitleDo Phosphorus Cycling Time Lags Delay the Response of Lakes to Ecological Restoration
Starting Date01/01/2014


Ending Date12/31/2015
Funding Level$92,452.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Department of Environmental Quality


Grant TitleBiogeochemical Controls on Saline Wetland Plant Establishment in Nebraska's Eastern Saline Wetlands
Starting Date01/01/2014


Ending Date12/31/2015
Funding Level$119,720.00
Funding AgencyNebraska Game and Parks Commission


Grant TitleRAPID: Using Drought-enhanced Nitrate Pulse to Understand Stream N Retention and Processing
Starting Date10/01/2012


Ending Date09/30/2013
Funding Level$198,949.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation


Grant TitleUnderstanding Cyanobacteria Blooms in Willow Creek Reservoir
Starting Date08/01/2012


Ending Date07/31/2014
Funding Level$79,860.00
Funding AgencyLower Elkhorn NRD


Grant TitleCoupled C, N & S Cycling (additional funding)
Starting Date06/15/2012


Ending Date09/30/2013
Funding Level$7,500.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation


Grant TitleFremont Water Quality (additional funding)
Starting Date04/13/2012


Ending Date06/30/2015
Funding Level$23,700.00
Funding AgencyNebraksa Department of Environmental Quality


Grant TitleFremont Water Quality
Starting Date04/06/2012


Ending Date06/30/2014
Funding Level$240,448.00
Funding AgencyNebraksa Department of Environmental Quality


Grant TitleCoupled C, N and S Cycling in Coastal Plain Wetlands: How Will Climate Change and Salt Water Intrusion Alter Ecosystem Dynamics
Starting Date08/14/2011


Ending Date09/30/2013
Funding Level$232,055.00
Funding AgencyNational Science Foundation



Graduate Programs

Master of Applied Science

Master of Science in Natural Resource Sciences
including specializations in

    Doctorate of Philosophy in Natural Resource Sciences
    including specializations in