The team — meet the researchers

Principle Investigator (PI)


Hazel A. Barton, PhD

Dr. Hazel A. Barton is an Associate Professor of Biology and Geosciences at the University of Akron.  Through her interest in undergraduate research, Dr. Barton’s lab has been awarded a top ten AWESOME research lab designation by Popular Science magazine in 2010, 2011 and 2013.  Dr. Barton is also an avid caver, having explored caves on five continents, a Fellow of the National Speleological Society, a Kavli Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award. For more on Dr. Barton visit PI page.



Hannah T. Reynolds, PhD

Hannah has a PhD in mycology from Duke University, specializing in fungal systematics.  She is currently studying the physiology and evolutionary adaptation of Pseudogymnoascus  [=Geomyces ] destructans  (the causative agent of White-nose Syndrome in bats.  Her work aims to understand whether there is an environmental lifestyle for the pathogen and what this means for the epidemiology of WNS.




Ceth Parker (PhD)

Ceth is studying the role that microorganisms play in the formation of caves within the Banded Iron Formations (BIFs) of the Carajás region of Brazil.  His work is geared toward understanding whether microbial activity leads to a mobilization of iron within these deposits, which in turn leads to dissolution and speleogenesis.


Kelsey Njus (MS)

Kelsey is studying the role that commensal fungal populations play in protecting bats from Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the causative agent of White-nose Syndrome.  Kelsey's work aims to understand whether certain bat species are provided some level of protection from the epidemic by their normal microbial flora, which might account for the differences in WNS-associated mortality. 



Michael Barton (Post-doctoral Fellow)

Michael received his PhD in Bioinformatics from the University of Manchester and worked in the lab on the various aspects of microbial genomics and microbial adaptation to cave environments.  Michael's work developed new tools for microbial genomics, as well as demonstrating that microbes acquire alternate phenotypes to enhance competitive fitness within the subsurface. 



MIchael Johnston (MS 2013)

MJ studied the changes within microbial community structure as nutrients become more limiting in the environment.  MJ's work concentrated on Lechuguilla Cave, the deepest cave within the continental US.  His work demonstrate that as conditions become more nutrient-limited, microbial populations shift from a bacterially-dominated to archaeal-dominated ecosystem, profoundly changing our understanding of microbial interactions in the subsurface.




Melissa Wilks (MS 2013)

Melissa's project aimed to understand the role that predation plays in microbial interactions in the subsurface.  Based on the finding that numerous predatory bacteria are present in cave microbial ecosystems, while eukaryal predators are absent, her project aimed to determine whether these bacteria (primarily members of the Ensifer) played a significant role in carbon turn-over in these systems.