• Joy B. Winbourne, Ph.D

    I'm a forest biogeochemist and ecosystem ecologist. My research explores how carbon and nutrients cycle through ecosystems and respond to anthropogenic activities, such as climate change, land use change, and urbanization. Currently, I am a post-doctoral researcher at Boston University in the Department of Earth and Environment, and a member of the Hutyra Lab Group.

  • Research Projects

    I study plant-microbe-soil interactions and ecosystem responses to anthropogenic and natural disturbances in forest ecosystems. I often work across natural environmental gradients to mechanistically understand drivers of ecosystem properties.


    Symbiotic nitrogen fixation in tropical rainforests

    Postdoctoral Research

    Tropical forests have an abundance of canopy trees that are able to form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen (N) fixing bacteria (e.g. Fabaceae family also known as legumes). These bacteria live within specialized root nodules (pictured on left) and provide the plant with an essential nutrient required to perform photosynthesis and thus fix atmospheric carbon. I've been working across the Atlantic Forest Biome of Brazil to investigate the phylogenetic and biogeochemical controls on this key ecosystem process and its implication for carbon storage.


    Collaborators: Stephen Porder, Daniel Piotto, Luiz Martinelli, Silvia Rafaela Lins, John Kress, Ashley Egan, Michelle Wong, Matt Harrison, and Ben Sullivan.

    Nitrogen cycling during secondary succession in the Mata Atlântica

    Postdoctoral research

    Carbon accumulation in tropical secondary forests is substantial, and thought to be limited at least in part by nitrogen availability. Slash and burn agriculture and grazing remove this essential plant nutrient from the system; however, the abundance of symbiotic nitrogen fixing trees (e.g. legumes) in young tropical forests suggests rapid recovery of this element cycle as forests regrow. This hypothesis, however, has rarely been tested. Across a range of different aged secondary forest sites in Bahia, Brazil, we have been investigating how quickly the nitrogen cycle recovers post agricultural abandonment.


    Collaborators: Stephen Porder, Daniel Piotto, Justin Becknell, Lovinia Reynolds (undergraduate mentee), Aida Feng (undergraduate mentee), and Floresta Viva.

    Soil state factor controls on Free-living nitrogen fixation in temperate and tropical forests

    dissertation research

    My dissertation research examine how variation in soil state factor controls (parent material and time since soil development) influence the activity of free-living nitrogen fixing bacteria in soils.


    Collaborators: Benjamin Houlton (UCDavis), Steven Brewer, BFREE, Ya'axché Conservation Trust, and Heath Sawyer (Humboldt University).

  • Publications

    For a complete list of publications please see my current C.V. 

    A new framework for evaluating estimates of symbiotic nitrogen fixation in forests

    Winbourne, J.B., M. Harrison, B. Sullivan, S. Alvarez-Clare, S. R. Lins, L. Martinelli, M. Nasto, D. Piotto, S. Rolim, M. Wong, & S. Porder. (In Review) The American Naturalist.

    Nitrogen cycling during secondary succession in Atlantic Forest of Bahia, Brazil

    Winbourne, J.B., A. Feng, L. Reynolds, D. Piotto, M. Hastings, & S. Porder. (2018)

    Nature Scientific Reports 8: 1377.

    Plant-soil feedbacks on free-living nitrogen fixation over geological time

    J.B. Winbourne and B.Z. Houlton (In review) Ecology

    Iron regulation of biological nitrogen fixation in tropical karst forests

    Winbourne, J.B., S.W. Brewer, and B.Z. Houlton (2017) Ecology 

    Mineralization ratios of nitrogen and phosphorus from decomposing litter in temperate versus tropical forests

    A.R. Marklein, J.B. Winbourne, S.K. Enders, D.J.X. Gonzalez, T.L.van Huysen, J. E. Izquierdo, D.R. Light, D. Liptzin, K.E. Miller, S.L. Morford, R.A. Norton, and B.Z. Houlton. (2015) Global Ecology and Biogeography.

  • Partner Organizations 

    Belize Foundation for Environmental Research and Education 

    Ya'axche Conservation Trust 


    Instituto Floresta Viva


    I am currently working as a post doctoral scholar in the Porder lab.

    I conducted my dissertation research at UC Davis in the Houlton lab.

    University of São Paulo

    Collaborators: Luiz Martinelli &

    Silvia Rafaela Lins

  • Connect

    Please email me or find me on social media