eNews February 2020

Meet the Researcher Matteo Serena, Research Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Matteo Serena is a Research Assistant Professor in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He is responsible for conducting field experiments for the Turfgrass Research Extension Program. This aspect of his position provides opportunities for him to apply his expertise in conserving water in turfgrass, saline water use, and measuring how moisture sensors are affected by soil salinity.

Serena earned his BS and MS degrees in Agriculture and Agricultural Technology from the University of Padua (UP) in Padova, Italy in 2004 and 2007, respectively. He continued his research at UP in the Department of Vegetable Production and Plant Protection, where he assisted in coursework on forage management, and turfgrass science. After applying to NMSU, Matteo began work as a Research Assistant under the advisement of Dr. Bernd Leinauer. In 2009, he became a Graduate Research Assistant, with special interests in the effects of polymer coating on germination and establishment of turfgrasses, and soils surfactants to improve drought tolerance. While in this position, Serena also supported environmental soil science work and assisted non-native English speakers with their writing. He completed his PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences in 2014 at NMSU. His PhD project, Turfgrass establishment and fertilization under subsurface drip and saline irrigation, was partially funded by the Rio Grande Basin Initiative. Following his graduation, Serena attained his current position as a Research Assistant Professor. Matteo’s research interests include screening chemicals to improve drought tolerance, calibrating soil moisture sensors, studying pre-emergence control for summer and winter annuals (poa annua), and examining irrigation with recycled and/or high saline water and subsequent effects on plant and soil quality.

Matteo and his colleagues are currently working on a project called, Surfactants for water conservation and their impact on soil health. This project involves two turfgrass species, a warm-season (bermudagrass), and a cool-season (Kentucky bluegrass), which receive either normal or reduced amounts of water. The two types are then treated with multiple soil surfactants, including two industry standard formulations (synthetic), and two certified organic products. These are compared to untreated areas, and at the end of the year are evaluated by their soil health characteristics (soil chemical, physical and biological properties). The goal of this project is to investigate whether these soil surfactants (synthetic or organic) increase or decrease soil health, and if they help conserve water in turfgrass.

Serena is also involved with another study entitled, Evaluating plant growth regulators and the soil surfactant Revolution® to alleviate drought stress in bermudagrass. According to Matteo, plant growth regulators (PGR) and soil surfactants are commonly used for golf course maintenance, and his colleagues have documented the combination of the PGR Trinexapac-ethyl and the soil surfactant Revolution® reduces the need for frequent irrigation and keeps turf quality high. Through an accompanying study, he is hoping to test five different PGRs applied separately, or in combination with the soil surfactant Revolution®, at two irrigation levels to identify the most effective treatment to help golf course superintendents save up to 25% of the irrigation water they currently use.

In regards to his research department, Matteo expressed that he would like to recognize the entire turfgrass team at NMSU, in particular Dr. Bernd Leinauer and Dr. Elena Sevostianova, two graduate students, and the undergraduate students that help in their research. Matteo and his team are always thankful for the numerous people supporting their program, and has indicated that he would be interested in partnering with NM WRRI in order to gain more support for the importance of turfgrass, and the economic impacts it has in the state of New Mexico (e.g. golf tourism).

Throughout his career, Serena has been an author on over twenty-five peer-reviewed articles, with his most recent work entitled, Irrigation scheduling technologies reduce water use and maintain turfgrass quality, being accepted for publication later this year for the Agronomy Journal. Since 2016, he has also been an active member of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, and the Southwest Turfgrass Association, which are two national research committees for promoting water conservation in turfgrass.

When asked about future plans, Matteo stressed the importance of handling water properly, and stated that some of his goals were to “promote an intelligent use of our irrigation water, and to have no waste when irrigating the landscape. Every day we see water running down the sidewalk, irrigation occurring after (or during) the occasional rain, or general misuse of water in the landscape. We still need turfgrass in our environment, for the numerous benefits it gives us, and we need to be aware that plants do not waste water, people do.”