Project proposal details

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Project title
Soil microbial ‘bioindicators’ of forest plantation health
Contact name
Bonnie Waring
Project based at
Silwood Park (Imperial)
Project description
Tree planting is an important component of many national and private-sector efforts to draw down atmospheric CO2. However, for ecological co-benefits of such projects to be realized, tree plantations must be designed and managed carefully. Recent work has shown that mixed-species plantations are more resilient to disturbance and can be more productive. Yet the vast majority of the world’s tree plantations are monocultures of non-native species. What impacts does this have on the structure of soil microbial communities, which drive nutrient cycling and belowground carbon sequestration? This question has never been systematically addressed over broad spatial and environmental scales.

The goal of this project is to assess the effects of plantation management on the soil microbiome through a meta-analysis of extant sequence data. By mining bacterial 16S and fungal ITS sequence data from NCBI’s Sequence Read Archive, the student will address:

1) How bacterial and fungal diversity are impacted by plantation location, age, and management
2) The relative importance of tree species identity vs. site parameters for microbial community structure
3) Whether diverse plantations are associated with more diverse soil microbiomes
4) Whether particular microbial guilds are correlated with metrics of forest health

The student will receive one-on-one training in the use of the QIIME bioinformatics pipeline for the analysis of environmental sequence data.
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