Ahmad Alzahrani

Communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in salt marsh habitats: diversity, structure, and ecosystem function. 

This project is investigating communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi and their role in ecosystem functions/services in salt marsh habitats. The AM fungal association with 75% of terrestrial plant species makes it one of the most common symbioses on earth. Although AM fungi have been shown to be important in nutrient cycling, soil stability and enhancing plant growth, much of the information we have from natural habitats comes from a small sample of woodland and grassland ecosystems. Subsequently, the mechanisms regulating the diversity and community structure of AM fungi remains poorly studied across many other systems. This is particular true for salt marshes, which are a functionally important habitat producing numerous ecosystem services in many countries, including the UK.

Figure: 1.Winter sediment/soil core sampling for plant roots and associated AM fungi in the Essex marsh sites. 10cm diameter soil cores were taken and immediately placed on dry ice for further analysis.

Samples for this study have already been collected from different salt marsh habitats within Essex and Lancashire (UK), using the same locations as other CBESS projects and thus enabling full data integration. Sampling was conducted in both summer and winter seasons (Figure 1) as AM fungal communities are known to exhibit pronounced seasonal dynamics. In total 132 samples were collected for each season using 10cm diameter ×15cm in depth soil/sediment cores. From each core, total organic carbon, NO2, NO3, PO4, salinity and pH (Figure 2) will be measured and all plant roots will be extracted, dried and used for molecular profiling of associated AM fungal communities using next generation sequencing approaches.

Figure: 2 Quantifying physicochemical (total organic carbon, NO2, NO3, PO4, salinity and pH, density and moisture) properties of sediment/soil samples.

This work will examine the community ecology of AM fungi across salt marsh habitats and relate this to local environmental variables and sediment nutrient status. In addition, by linking with other CBESS datasets from the same sites, it will also examine the role of AM fungi in ecosystem functioning.