Current research topics and projects

We carry out a number of projects, most of which are externally funded. Most projects are themed broadly around biodiversity, and the functions and ecology of soil fungi.

For specific information on the ERC Advanced Grant see separate site here.

Fungal ecology in agricultural systems

There are currently a number of projects underway themed around the biodiversity and ecology of fungi in agricultural systems. These are funded by the BMBF initiative BonaRes  (the projects are Soil3 and INPLAMINT), and by others.

Ecological synthesis and analysis

There are a number of projects in which different lab members engage in re-analysis and synthesis of existing ecological data in order to gain new insights. One commonly used set of techniques are meta-analyses. We also work in the development of concepts, for example community coalescence.

Trait-based approaches in fungal ecology

We are interested in applying trait-based approaches to the ecology of fungi, and have engaged in a number of conceptual exercises. We are using a culture collection consisting of 30 isolates to establish a suitable model system with which to test some of these ideas.

DFG German Biodiversity Exploratories

The lab is part of the DFG-funded German Biodiversity Exploratories program (speaker: Prof. M. Fischer); in the last phase, having started in 2011, the lab participated with three contributed projects, which deal with diversity of arbusculary mycorrhizal fungi (Hempel and Rillig), soil aggregation (Rillig) and plant-soil feedback (Prof. Jasmin Joshi at University of Potsdam and Rillig). In the current phase (start 2014), the lab contributes one project on Sebacinales (Hempel). The Exploratories are large-scale laboratories in three locations in the north, middle and south of Germany in which replicated plots are located. The goal is to uncover interrelationships among biodiversity, land use and ecosystem processes.

Ecuador: tropical mountain forest

Our lab contributes a project on arbuscular mycorrhiza to the DFG-funded research platform (previously research unit 816) in southern Ecuador, a global hotspot of biodiversity. The current project is to test hypotheses regarding the response of mycorrhizas to fertilization in tropical montane rainforest.

Soil biota and soil aggregation

We have several projects related to the process of soil aggregation, i.e. the formation of soil structure. We are most interested in the role of soil biota in this process, for example mycorrhizal fungi and saprobic fungi.

Communities of AM fungi and other soil fungi

We engage in a number of projects in which we seek to understand what controls the structure of AM fungal communities or communities of other fungi. This typically involves applying molecular ecology methods, high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics.

Root-colonzing fungi, including pathogenic fungi

Soil pathogenic fungi in natural ecosystems are quite underrepresented in soil and plant ecology. We are isolating and testing root-colonizing fungi, including pathogenic fungi and try to learn more about how they control plant communities in local grasslands.


Biochar additions to soil, following the example of the Amazon Dark Earths, are being discussed as a means of soil carbon storage. We are particularly interested in the effects of biochar on soil biota.

Riparian systems

We participate in the SMART program, a collaboration between Italy, Great Britain and Germany, to study aspects of riparian ecology, with a below-ground focus.

Priming and memory

We are a member of the collaborative research center (Sonderforschungsbereich) on Priming and memory; our project deals with thermo-priming in fungi (both saprobic fungi and mycorrhizal fungi), in other words, how fungi remember past stress events and how this affects renewed exposure to stress. It is our most physiologically oriented project in the lab.

Novel soil contaminants

We scan for potential future issues that could affect soils. Currently, we look at potential effects of microplastic on soil biota. But we’re always interested in new ideas…

Global change biology

Several projects address elements of global change, which includes land use change (see Biodiversity Exploratories), nutrient enrichment (Ecuador project). An ERC Advanced Grant examines various factors of global change, including warming.