Team Peat!

Team Peat Leaders: OK, it’s not the most recent picture, but I like it. Hangin’ out in a poor fen. Left to right: Dale Vitt (Southern Illinois University), Melanie Vile (West Chester University), Kim Scott (Villanova University), Kel Wieder (Villanova University)

Research Collaborators

Dr. Melanie Vile, West Chester University (email: Since 2005, Melanie has been a co-PI in recent grants from the National Science Foundation, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, and Alberta Environment and Parks as part of the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. Melanie brings a big picture perspective, grounded in evolutionary and ecological principles and theory, to our research team. She has taken a leadership role leadership in areas of peatland responses to drought and the newly revealed critical role of biological N2-fixation in bogs. We have served on numerous thesis committees of many of our respective undergraduate graduate student.

Field work on a lovely mid-October day at McKay Bog, one of our bog monitoring sites to assess ecosystem effects of regionally increasing atmospheric N and S deposition on bogs. Left to right: Cara Albright, now former Research Technician in the Vile lab; Kim Scott, Research Associate; Katy Dynarski, undergraduate research student in the Vile lab, completed her Ph.D. with Ben Houlton at UC Davis in 2018; Hope Fillingim, M.S. from Villanova with Dr. Vile in 2014; Tyler Yim, undergraduate research student; Dr. Vile.

Dr. Dale Vitt, Professor Emeritus, Southern Illinois University (email: Dale and I have been research collaborators ever since he hosted me at the University of Alberta during my sabbatical in 1998-1999. Since then, we have been co-PIs on grants from the National Science Foundation, Shell Oil, Sure Northern Energy, the Cumulative Environmental Management Association, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, and Alberta Environment and Parks as part of the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. Dale brings expertise in bryology and a vast knowledge and understanding of peatlands of boreal continental western Canada. His insights into how peatlands function from bryological, plant community ecological, landscape ecological, and paleological perspectives have complemented my biogeochemical and ecological approaches to the study of peatlands. We have served on numerous thesis/dissertation committees of many of our respective graduate students.

Does this picture even need a caption???


Current Graduate Students

Josh Zalewski, B.S. University of Delaware. Began M.S. degree in August 2020. What a strange time to begin graduate studies! Thesis research: In development. In these times of COVID-19 and travel to Canada not allowed, looks like Josh will be focusing on mosses in Pennsylvania wetlands. Stay tuned.

Josh among mosses at White Clay Creek Delaware. A true moss aficionado.


Former Graduate Students

Julia Stuart, M.S. from Villanova 2016. Thesis: Net and gross nitrogen mineralization in Alberta bogs as a function of time since fire and experimentally elevated atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Currently a Ph.D. student in Michelle Mack’s lab at Northern Arizona University, expecting to graduate in spring 2020! Email:

Masters in boreal Alberta, doctoral in the Alaskan arctic. Not much more north to go, Julia!

Natalie Kashi, M.S. from Villanova in 2014. Thesis: Does elevated nitrogen deposition affect peatland function, as revealed by soil enzyme analysis? Currently a Ph.D. student in Erik Hobbie’s lab at the University of New Hampshire, working in the Arctic LTER fertilization plots. Natalie Email:

Natalie collecting peat for enzyme analysis at Mariana Bog, one of the sites where we conducted a field N fertilization experiment (see Research page).

Jeremy Hartsock, M.S. from Villanova in 2013. Thesis: Nitrogen mineralization in a poor fen and a bog in response to elevated atmospheric nitrogen. Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University with Dr. Dale Vitt in 2020. Dissertation: Developing Criteria for Wetland Reclamation Certification in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region of Alberta, Canada. Jeremy is starting as an Associate Researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Superior working with Nicholas Danz on monitoring on the American side of Lake Superior and parts of Lake Michigan. Congratulations, Jeremy! Email:

Jeremy at Mariana Lake poor fen with some upland islands in the background. Feel the peat!

Avni Malhotra, M.S. from Villanova in 2010. Thesis: Carbon cycling, Sphagnum primary production and hydrology of a poor fen in Alberta, Canada. Ph.D. from McGill University with Dr. Nigel Roulet in 2016. Dissertation: Relating Self-regulation with Ecosystem Structure and Function in Northern Peatlands. Currently a post-doc with Dr. Rob Jackson at Stanford University. Email:

MacCauley corer training from Dale Vitt at Wagon Wheel Bog. Avni – always smiling 😊

Medora Burke-Scoll, M.S. from Villanova in 2008. Thesis: Nitrogen and sulfur input and accumulation in continental ombrotrophic peatland ecosystems in Alberta, Canada. Currently teaching Biology and Physical Science at Eastern Alamance High School, Mebane, North Carolina.

Bin Xu, M.S. from Villanova in 2004. Thesis: Root biomass and production along a post-fire chronosequence in boreal peatlands of continental western Canada. Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University with Dr. Dale Vitt in 2011. Dissertation: Effects of Increasing Nitrogen Deposition on Boreal Bogs: A Three-year Nitrogen Fertilization and Tracer Experiment. Currently NSERC Industrial Research Chair, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Peace River, Alberta. Email:

Bin from his days at Villanova. What a life!

Brian Benscoter, M.S. from Villanova in 2002. Thesis: Pathways of succession following wildfire in peatlands in the discontinuous permafrost zone of western Canada. Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University with Dr. Dale Vitt in 2007. Dissertation: Post-fire Compositional and Functional Recovery of Western Canadian Bogs. Currently Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University serving as a rotator in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental System Science Program. Email:

Brian in his Villanova days. One of his favorite places to be – a bog that has recently burned!

John Navaratnam, M.S. from Villanova in 2002. Thesis: A molecular ecological investigation of the bacterial and fungal diversity in a boreal, continental western Canadian peatland. Ph.D. from West Virginia University with Dr. Mark Walbridge in 2013. Dissertation: Phosphorus Retention and Transformation in Floodplain Forests of the Southeastern United States. Currently Teaching Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Advising, Recruitment, and Retention, Department of Biology, West Virginia University. Email:

John sledging PVC into the peat to collect 1-m peat core. Those were the good old days!

Susan Crow, M.S. from Villanova in 2001. Thesis: The role of roots and root exudation in the carbon cycle of the peat column at Bleak Lake Bog in boreal, continental, western Canada. Ph.D. from Oregon State University with Dr. Kate Lajtha in 2006. Dissertation: Characteristics of Soil Organic Matter in Two Forest Soils. Currently Associate Professor of Soil Ecology and Biogeochemistry, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Email:

Melanie Vile, M.S. from Villanova University in 1995. Thesis: Historical rates of heavy metal deposition throughout the Czech Republic as revealed in Sphagnum peat deposits. Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame with Dr. Scott Bridgham in 2001. Currently Assistant Professor, Department of Health, West Chester University. Beyond academics, Melanie serves her local community as Chair of the West Goshen Township Sustainability Committee. Melanie Email:

Melanie installing a CO2 flux chamber at Perryvale Rich Fin in 2007. Seems like only yesterday…

Martin Novák, M.S. from Villanova University in 1990. Thesis: Speciation of sulfur and vertical δ34S profiles in Sphagnum‑dominated wetland. Ph.D. from the Czech Academy of Sciences with Dr. Tomaš Pačes. Currently Head of the Department of Environmental Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry, Czech Geological Survey, Prague, Czech Republic. Email: