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CATHERINE FAHEY

PLANT-SOIL INTERACTIONS IN A CHANGING WORLD

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ABOUT ME

I am a terrestrial ecologist with a particular interest in plant-soil interactions. I study how factors like climate change and plant invasions influence interactions between plants and soil biota.

CURRENT RESEARCH

BIODIVERSITY ECOSYSTEM FUNCTION RELATIONSHIPS

Studies have shown that ecosystems with higher levels of biodiversity higher levels of various ecosystem functions, for example plant communities with higher diversity have higher productivity. 

 

  • What are the mechanisms behind tree diversity-productivity relationships?

  • How does stress influence tree diversity-productivity relationships?

  • What role do trophic interactions play in tree diversity-productivity relationships, including soil and leaf microbiomes as well insect and mammal herbivory?

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SOIL MICROBIAL COMMUNITIES

Soil biota are major contributors ecosystem processes such as plant productivity, plant community assembly, decomposition, and nutrient cycling, but we are just beginning to understand how anthropogenic change affects these hidden communities. I use high-throughput sequencing to investigate the impacts of environmental change on soil microbial communities and their role in the response of ecosystem functions.

  • How do soil fungi affect tree diversity-productivity relationships?

  • How does forest disturbance and management affect soil fungal communities?

  • How do soil fungi affect resilience of forests to climate change?

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MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI

Mycorrhizae are mutualistic associations between plant roots and fungi that can increase plant access to resources and improve plant growth and resilience to stress. Some of the questions I am interested in are:

  • How does mycorrhizal diversity affect plant performance?

  • How can we improve the efficacy and safety of mycorrhizal inoculants in agriculture?

  • How does the genetic diversity of mycorrhizal strains affect plant growth under different resource availability?

  • How do interactions between mycorrhizal types impact host and non-host plants?

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INVASIVE SPECIES

Invasive species are a major ecological problem but also provide an interesting test of ecological and biogeographic theory which can guide practical applications for management. Invasive plants encounter novel microbes in the introduced range and I address the ecological impacts of these interactions in my research program.

  • How do soil microbes influence plant invasions and how do invasive plants influence native species interactions with soil microbes?

  • Can native microbial pathogens be used to manage invasive plants?

  • How will climate change impact the resilience of ecosystems to invasive species?

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‘Sam Gamgee planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust from Galadriel in the soil at the root of each. The little silver nut he planted in the Party Field where the tree had once been; and he wondered what would come of it. All through the winter he remained as patient as he could, and tried to restrain himself from going round constantly to see if anything was happening. Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.’

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

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