My most important recent discoveries are that
1. Some grasses can fix as much or more nitrogen as members of the bean family (legumes)
2. Grazing by animals can actually improve soil by increasing its organic matter.
3. Organisms perform more poorly at higher temperature, not because their enzymes fall apart, but because they can’t move biochemical reaction products away from the sites where they are formed fast enough to keep up with the faster rate at which enzymes bump into the molecules they help transform, which causes reactions to slow down.
My most important recent discovery is that different lineages of plant that partner with bacteria do it in slightly different ways, by using different parts of genetic machinery used for older plant partnerships with fungi.
I had to think about a question about discovering things. At first I was thinking of an object, and my work is seldom about finding objects.
And I have described and found some unique soils in unexpected places, but still do not really consider that discovering something, even though I may have been the first to realize that soil was in that place.
But I have been involved in “discovering” changes in precipitation and evaporation patterns in the western USA Great Plains in the last 60 to 100 years – the precipitation data is available for much longer than the lake evaporation data. Another colleague has worked on temperature pattern changes.
These changes show that temperatures are increasing, evaporation is increasing, and precipitation is decreasing in a rather large area of the western Wheat Belt. The changes are not uniform, and the conditions are becoming harsher in the Texas Panhandle at a faster rate than in West Texas (Odessa to El Paso). These changes will make it much more difficult for farmers to grow crops, and will require more irrigation, which will make greater demands on a depleting, confined aquifer. When that water is gone, it will be gone. In many places in the Great Plains/Ogallala Aquifer, there is no recharge.