Our Lab

The main focus of the research of the Soils lab is the interplay between soil microbial communities and nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. We hope to better understand the link between microbial, both fungal and bacterial, community composition and ecosystem functions, with an interest in how human activities (climate change, nitrogen deposition, etc.) affect this linkage. We combine data and information from microbial ecology, soil science and soil chemistry using methods from all these approaches to examine below-ground dynamics, and in particular as it relates to nutrient cycling.

Donald R. Zak

Alexander H. Smith Distinguished University Professor of Ecology,

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor,

Burton V. Barnes Collegiate Professor of Ecology

University of Michigan
School for Environment and Sustainability


Zak lab paper out!

Brooke Propson, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, whom works in Zac Freedman's lab (former Zak lab post-doc), studied the ecosystem response and recovery after the long-term elevated nitrogen treatment was stopped. There is also a natural gradient of ambient N deposition due to human activity at these sites, as well. The study showed that the C in the organic horizon that has previously accumulated from N-treatment has been lost with added deficits post-termination of the treatment with the exception of the northernmost site (least ambient N), showing a shift in mechanistic microbial activity. The mineral soil C...
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Zak lab paper out!

Sam Schaffer-Morrison, former SEAS student and current PhD in EEB at Michigan, has a review out with Don that argues that functional traits of mycorrhizal fungi should be included for consideration when belowground functional traits are being examined. These are incredibly important symbionts could add key mechanistic factors for plant performance (via nutrient uptake) if included in plant-soil discussions. They propose several key fungal traits that are measurable and ways to incorporate them into future research. This paper is out in Ecosphere here.
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Forest Ecology Out!

A revised 5th edition of Forest Ecology (ISBN 1119476089) is out now! Don is one of the co-authors. It has been 25 years since the previous edition and the authors wanted to retain the overall focus from the previous edition (ecosystem level), but update the text to include information about new ecological concepts and methods, and critical areas interest like sustainability. Don took a lot of care (and an enormous investment in time) to update the text, images and references for all the chapters that he worked on. It's out now and you can get it most book sellers (and...
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Will’s paper is out

Will Argiroff, former PhD student in SEAS, has a new paper out titled "Fungal community composition and genetic potential regulate fine root decay in northern temperate forests" that examined if fine root litter (~50% total litter production in forest ecosystems and fairly recalcitrant) decayed more rapidly when fungal communities have more genes that are known to degrade litter. The study also looked into if you could classify fungi by saprotrophic or ectomycorrhizal functional groups by the genes present. Fine roots were placed in forest sites and the fungal communities were sequenced, which where then compared to available fungal genomes to...
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Welcome Morgan!

Morgan McPherson is jointly joining the Zak lab and Ibanez lab (SEAS) for an NSF-funded post-doc to study arbuscular mycorrhizae in our sites in the Manistee National Forest. She comes to us from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she studied AMF in agroecosystems. Welcome Morgan!!
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Congrats Will!

Congratulations to Will Argiroff for completing his dissertation in SEAS! Will has been in and around the lab for many years, starting as an undergrad working with one of our postdocs (Zac Freedman), then as research technician doing crazy amounts of qPCR and finally as a PhD student. Will's work for his PhD research broadly looked at linking microbial communities to decomposition and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems, but specifically he studied some of the more recalcitrant forms of carbon (lignin and soil organic matter) and the microbes involved in degrading them to make them accessible for other organisms, which...
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