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Distribution modelling and the management and conservation of European ectomycorrhizal communities

Project Description

In this project, the student will develop cutting-edge distributional models of dominant ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal species across Europe and establish vital practice and policy recommendations for the monitoring, management and conservation of these ecologically critical organisms. ECM fungi play a key role in tree nutrient uptake, C and N cycling, and below-ground food webs and processes, yet there is a widely acknowledged gap in our understanding of their distributions and responses to environmental change. Given the known sensitivity of ECM fungi to temperature and nitrogen pollution and the likely profound functional consequences at the ecosystem level of changes to fungal distributions, it is therefore urgent to establish the potential responses of dominant fungi to major components of global change. We will first develop distribution models using an existing recent European distribution dataset built using DNA identification of plant-associated fungi, developed through NERC grants to the supervisors. The dataset also includes morphological analysis of fungal samples and long-term environmental data from intensive in-situ monitoring of our sample sites from the International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests (ICP Forests,, CASE partner 1). The dataset and models are a major advance over existing fungal distribution models both in the spatial scale and intensity of sampling and in the use of below-ground active hyphal tissue to identify species rather than the limited observation of fruiting bodies. We will adopt a range of species distribution modelling techniques, including single species and recently developed joint distribution models to account for host-plant specificity and other forms of biotic interaction. These models will be used to explore the composition and possible resilience of ECM communities. We will model the role of a wide range of possible drivers of fungal distributions, including historical patterns and current levels of climatic variables and rates of chemical deposition. We will then use these models to predict how future climatic patterns and changes in deposition are likely to alter spatial patterns of fungal-plant associations. In the UK, our modelling will be informed by datasets managed at the CEH, including the National Biodiversity Network, the 2015 Land Cover Map and the UK Climate, Hydrology and Ecology research Support System. In collaboration with both the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC, (CASE partner 2), and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, we will develop a strategy for converting our research findings into appropriate and achievable practice and policy recommendations for the monitoring, management and conservation of ectomycorrhizal communities. Example policy relevant outputs could include fine-scale maps of the functional diversity of ectomycorrhizal communities and predictions of loss in functional diversity under different climatic and land management scenarios.

This research includes the following disciplines, supported by project partner expertise: fundamental biodiversity research (Imperial College, CEH, RBG Kew), environmental monitoring and modelling of the forest community, hydrology, soil and biogeochemistry across our sample sites (ICP Forests, Forest Research, CEH), and the monitoring and management of natural capital (JNCC, Forest Research).

Supervisors: Martin Bidartondo, Imperial College London & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; David Orme, Imperial College London; Gary Powney, CEH; Walter Seidling, Thunen Institute of Forest Ecosystems; Paul Woodcock, Joint Nature Conservation Committee; Carolina Tovar, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Laura Martinez-Suz, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sietse van der Linde, Forest Research

Funding Notes

Contact Martin Bidartondo for application details.


van der Linde, S., Suz, L.M., Orme, C.D.L., Cox, F., Andreae, H., Asi, E., Atkinson, B., Benham, S., Carroll, C., Cools, N., De Vos, B., Dietrich, H.-P., Eichhorn, J., Germann, J., Grebenc, T., Gweon, H.S., Hansen, K., Jacob, F., Kristöfel, F., Lech, P., Manninger, M., Martin, J., Meesenburg, H., Merilä, P., Nicolas, M., Pavlenda, P., Rautio, P., Schaub, M., Schröck, H.W., Seidling, W., Srámek, V., Thimonier, A., Thomsen, I.M., Titeux, H., Vanguelova, E., Verstraeten, A., Vesterdal, L., Waldner, P., Wijk, S., Zhang, Y., Zlindra, D., Bidartondo, M.I., "Environment and host as large-scale controls of ectomycorrhizal fungi" Nature 558, (2018), 243-248.

Bidartondo, M.I., Ellis, C., Kauserud, H., Kennedy, P.G., Lilleskov, E.A., Suz, L.M., Andrew, C., "Climate change: Fungal responses and effects" in "State of the World's Fungi" (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) 2018.

Field, K.J., Pressel, S., Duckett, J.G., Rimington, W.R., Bidartondo, M.I., "Symbiotic options for the conquest of land" Trends in Ecology and Evolution 30, (2015) 477-486.

How good is research at Imperial College London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 99.55

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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