George & Carol Milne Associate Professor of Biology
Biology Department Chair
Joined Connecticut College: 2004
B.S., Texas A&M University; M.S., Western Washington University;
Ph.D., Oregon State University
Microbial ecology of estuaries and salt marshes
Community ecology and population dynamics of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria
The overall goal of Professor Bernhard's research is to understand the relationships among changes in environmental conditions, microbial communities, and nutrient cycling in coastal ecosystems, particularly salt marshes and estuaries.
Microorganisms with diverse metabolic and environmental requirements are responsible for much of the world's energy flow and material cycling. The importance of understanding nutrient cycles and the microbial populations that control them has been made apparent by an increasing awareness of anthropogenically-driven changes in the earth's air, soil, and water. By studying interactions between microorganisms and their environment, Bernhard hopes to elucidate fundamental ecological principles that drive the organization and activity of microbial populations and their impact on ecosystem functioning. Her current research focus is on the ecology of microorganisms that mediate critical steps in the nitrogen cycle in estuaries and salt marshes. Nitrogen is key to productivity in the biosphere, and its availability is highly dependent on the activities of a diverse assemblage of microorganisms.
Professor Bernhard's research includes both field and laboratory components, including the use of molecular techniques to identify and characterize microorganisms. She also recruits the help of undergraduate researchers, many of whom conduct independent research projects in her laboratory.
Professor Bernhard teaches classes in Ecology, Marine Ecology, Molecular Ecology, and Microbiology. In her classes, she emphasizes skills essential to a scientist: curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and communication. One of the main ways she accomplishes this is by incorporating her own research into classes whenever possible. Her goal is to provide opportunities for every student to experience the thrill of discovery and to take ownership of their scientific development.
Professor Bernhard's work is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the State of Connecticut DEP Long Island Sound Fund. She has authored or co-authored more than a dozen journal articles published in Nature, Environmental Microbiology, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Water Research, FEMS Microbiology Ecology and Estuaries.
"This is an incredible time to be a microbial ecologist. New technologies are being developed that allow us to see microbes like we've never been able to see them before. New microbes with novel metabolisms we never dreamed of are being discovered in almost every habitat we study. I hope to bring this excitement into the classroom and to incorporate my own research into my classes, so students can experience first-hand the thrill of discovery." - Anne Bernhard