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

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

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.

Funding Notes


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.

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.13

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

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