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Impact of Agricultural Practices on Belowground Microbial Community Diversity

The Dunfield lab’s first research focus is on understanding the impact that agricultural management practices, such as tillage, cropping regimes, and soil treatments, have on the belowground microbial community. This is important since belowground microorganisms interact with plants, affecting their growth and health, and also interact with soil particles and soil water, mediating nutrient and carbon storage and cycling. Using molecular techniques, we have examined the influence that soil type, cropping regimes and plant variety have on the dynamics of bacterial and mycorrhizal fungal soil communities. 

Some research highlights include:

  • Demonstrating that recombinant DNA rleased from decomposing genetically modified crop residue can be tracked in soil
  • Determining that recombinant DNA from genetically modified crops persists in soil and is associated primarily with larger sizes of aggregates
  • In collaboration with John Klironomos (UBC) and Pedro Antunes (Algoma University), demonstrating that tillage and commercial arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF)  inoculation can influence both the diversity of AMF in soil and roots of plants
  • Examination of the linkage between AMF and bacterial community dynamics in willows, and how these connect to ecosystem functions such as nitrous oxide (N2O) gas flux and soil aggregation
  • Demonstrating that AMF isolate identity determines resistance of plants to pathogen attack
  • Examination of AMF communities in restored mine sites (in collaboration with UBC), or associated with invasive plant species