As a soil ecologist I am fascinated by the underground biodiversity of soil microbes and their role in natural and agro-ecosystem. In my research I explore the mechanisms of plant-microbe interactions, mainly focusing on the understanding of the interactions between host plants and soil borne fungi. Soil fungi can have direct or indirect effect on plant performance ranging from beneficial to pathogenic. There is increased evidence that pathogenic soil borne fungi play a key role in regulating the relationship between plant diversity and productivity and it has been suggested that low-diversity communities may experience a higher selection pressure by accumulating specific soil-borne pathogens compared to high-diversity plant communities. In this context, my primary objective is to unravel the mechanisms of plant-fungal interactions exploring the effect of plant species identity and genetic diversity on the root associated fungal communities in grassland species grown as monoculture. This research will enable us to compare the fungal root communities of different grassland species affiliated to different functional groups, including grasses and forbs, and to understand whether plant phylogeny, or specific plant traits are the major determinants in the root-fungal community assemblage.
Furthermore, I am also expanding my research questions to include ecosystem functions and biodiversity interactions and examine the important relationships between plant diversity and soil microbial community. Specifically, I am interested in how root associated fungal community composition and structure is influenced by plant diversity, plant functional groups and plant/soil history.