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


New paper from the Zak lab

Peter Pelliter, recent PhD from SEAs, has recently published a paper, titled “Coupled shifts in ectomycorrhizal communities and plant uptake of organic nitrogen along a soil gradient: An isotopic perspective”, which is out online on Ecosystems. The study characterized the ECM communities and various N pools (d15N) in an inorganic N gradient in soil to investigate if there any linkages between ECM community composition, N-SOM acquisition and foliar d15N. It can be found here.
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Wes Bickford’s paper is out!

Wes Bickford, recent PhD from EEB, has recently published a paper, titled “Differences in rhizosphere microbial communities between native and non‐native Phragmites australis may depend on stand density”, which is out online at Ecology and Evolution. The paper compares the rhizosphere soil microbiome, including bacteria, fungi and oomycetes, and the environmental conditions of a native and non-native Phragmites australis to explore the role of these communities and their influence on the invasiveness these plant lineages. It can be found here.
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Welcome Jennifer!

This fall we are welcoming a new student - Jennifer Wen! She recently graduated from UM from Program in the Environment and will be pursuing an MS in the Soils lab. She is interested in interactions between soil, plants and microbes and their influence on ecosystem health, so a super good fit for the lab. Welcome Jennifer!
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Don Zak named a Distinguished University Professor

Don has been named to one of the University of Michigan’s top honors - a Distinguished University Professor, specifically as the Alexander H. Smith Distinguished University Professor of Ecology. In his nomination, Rackham Graduate School Dean Michael Solomon wrote that "Professor Zak is one of the nation's foremost ecologists, and the world leader in the study of soil microbial communities." The Distinguished University Professorships were created to "recognize senior faculty with exceptional scholarly or creative achievements" and each professorship is named by the appointed professor. Read the announcement here. Congratulations Don!
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Congrats Peter!

Congratulations to Peter Pellitier for completing and defending his dissertation, Ectomycorrhizal fungi differentially obtain N derived from soil organic matter: implications for community assembly and forest response to climate change on June 29th. Thanks to his committee for all their support, especially during this time, Don Zak (chair), Deborah Goldberg, Ines Ibáñez and Tim James. Peter has already published several manuscripts from his work here and the other chapters are in review. Peter will be moving (relatively) closer to his native land of Oregon since he has accepted a post-doc position in Kabir Peay's lab at Stanford. We all wish...
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Don Zak named ESA Fellow

Don has been named as a 2020 Ecological Society of America Fellow (announced here). This fellowship recognizes ESA members who have made "outstanding contributions to ... ecological knowledge". They are elected for life come from all fields of science that are connected to ESA. One other UM Faculty was elected this year and two other faculty to the Early Career Fellows (see here). The ESA announcement states that Don was "Elected for his pioneering research and leadership in microbial, ecosystem, and global change ecology that have revolutionized our understanding of how ecosystems acquire and cycle nutrients, and for his outstanding...
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