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


Yay Jennifer!

Congratulations to Jennifer Wen for successfully completing her thesis to earn her MS from SEAS! Jennifer started in the lab fall 2020 and managed to complete her thesis despite all the hurdles from pandemic restrictions and supply issues alongside all the usual unexpected issues for environmental research. I feel like there should be a special seal for her diploma. Jennifer's work looked at a specific gene involved in nitrification, amoA, that is the key process for nitrogen cycling where ammonia is eventually converted to nitrate for uptake by other organisms. This process is only done by specific ammonia-oxidizing microbes, so...
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Postdoc Position Available

The Soils Lab is looking to hire a new postdoc to work on an upcoming NSF-funded research project. Please read the following announcement below for requirements and inquiries. Postdoctoral Research Associate Microbial Ecology and Plant Physiology A postdoctoral research position is available immediately to study the contribution of organic N via mycorrhizal fungi on plant growth response to elevated atmospheric CO2 . Work will consist of a series of field experiments and data analyses aimed at providing novel insight into variation in plant N uptake and response to eCO2. Candidates must have a Ph.D. in microbial ecology, soil microbiology, biogeochemistry,...
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Distinguished University Professor Lecture

Don was named as a Distinguished University Professor back in July of 2020, which is a top honor at U of M to recognize faculty that have significant achievements and excellence their their chosen fields. Recently, the University held an event for some of the Distinguished University Professorship honorees to give a lecture on their work. Generally recipients give an inaugural lecture on a topic that spans the course of their career or encompasses highlights during their academic advancements. This event was held in Rachkam Amphiteatre on February 8th, 2022. Don gave a lecture on how he seeks to elucidate...
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Congrats to Jennifer!

Great news for Jennifer Wen, SEAS MS in the Zak lab. She was recently awarded the Peter and Carolyn Mertz Fellowship for her Master's work. This only highlights what we all know - she's pretty exceptional. Congrats to Jen!!
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Will’s paper is out!

Will Argrioff, a PhD in SEAs in the Zak lab, has recently published a paper, titled “Decay by ectomycorrhizal fungi couples soil organic matter to nitrogen availability” in Ecology Letters. In this study, interactions between soil nitrogen, fungal community composition and soil organic matter were examined to determine correlations for fungal communities with changes in N availability and SOM, especially lignin-derived SOM. It can be found here.  
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Paper out in Nature Communications

A new paper from the Zak lab. Peter Pellitier, former PhD from SEAs, has recently published a paper, titled “Ectomycorrhizal access to organic nitrogen mediates CO2 fertilization response in a dominant temperate tree”, in Nature Communications. This work focused on the linking metagenomic data for ECM fungi and modeling data for N-foraging traits for inorganic and SOM-bound N across a natural mineralization gradient and in response to iCO2. It can be found here.
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