"Microbes, mutualism and the nature of soil biodiversity"
Social Sciences 1100.
Abstract: Microbes are a critical component of the diversity and function of ecosystems. Among microbes, fungi are key regulators of decomposition rates, facilitate plant nutrient uptake and have a profound impact on agriculture and industry. Technical breakthroughs in DNA sequencing have revealed incredible fungal diversity, and shown that fungal symbioses are ubiquitous in plants. Despite this, there is still a limited understanding of the ecological and evolutionary forces that structure high diversity fungal communities, and how fungal symbioses influence plant community structure and function. My lab uses a combination of ecological theory, molecular biology techniques, and field and laboratory experiments to study fungal communities in terrestrial soils. In particular, I focus on fungi involved in mycorrhizal symbiosis, the most common form of plant-microbe mutualism. My research is focused on three linked topics: (i) how fungal communities assemble at both local and continental scales, (ii) how the structure of fungal communities influences decomposition and nutrient availability, and (iii) how nutrient uptake through mycorrhizal symbiosis to influences plant growth. By integrating these three topics I hope to build a ‘roots-to-biomes’ understanding of ecological communities and ecosystem function.