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The functional importance of plant-fungal interactions in agri-ecosystems

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  • Full or part time
    Prof D Johnson
    Dr M Semchenko
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Most land plants have evolved symbioses with soil-borne mycorrhizal fungi, which provide nutritional benefits to both partners and are key to their fitness. The functioning of the mycorrhizal symbiosis is rarely considered in agriculture but may provide key benefits to solving the food security challenge. In this exciting project, we will investigate how different land management strategies, such as fertiliser use and reseeding, affect the ability of plants to interact with mycorrhizal fungi. We will test hypotheses concerning reciprocal exchange of nutrients between plants and mycorrhizal fungi, how so-called ‘common mycorrhizal fungal networks’, which connect many individual plants simultaneously, can facilitate plant growth, nutrition and fitness, and how the symbiosis affects interactions with common agricultural pests. The project will use state-of-the-art isotopic analysers and manipulation experiments to quantify nutrient flows and test how fungal mycelium regulates plants performance. The work will be analysed in the context of the need to develop sustainable food security strategies.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in biology/plant science/ecology/soil science. Candidates with experience in plant-soil interactions and agroecosystem ecology are encouraged to apply.

This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


Gilbert L & Johnson D (2015) Plant-mediated ‘apparent effects’ between mycorrhiza and insect herbivores. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 26, 100-105.

Johnson D (2015) Priorities for research on priority effects. New Phytologist 205, 1375-1377.

Johnson D & Gilbert L (2015) Inter-plant signalling through hyphal networks. New Phytologist 205, 1448-1453. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13115

Babikova Z, Johnson D, Bruce TJA, Pickett JA & Gilbert L (2013) Underground allies: how and why do mycelial networks help plants defend themselves? BioEssays 36, 21-26. doi/10.1002/bies.201300092/pdf

Babikova Z, Gilbert L, Bruce TJA, Birkett M, Caulfield JC, Woodcock C, Pickett JA & Johnson D (2013) Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack. Ecology Letters 16, 835-843. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12115.

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