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Bullard Spotlight: Exploring Harvard Forest's Ectomycorrhizae with Jenny Bhatnagar

April 13, 2023
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Photo shows Jenny Bhatnagar examining mycorrhizael fungi

The growth of trees in Harvard Forest depends heavily on ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi, which colonize the roots of live trees, but there is currently no well-curated database on EM fungal abundance and diversity at the forest. To address this, Bullard Fellow Jenny Bhatnagar is compiling data from different fungal herbaria to create the first longitudinal dataset of fungal incidence and abundance at Harvard Forest.

These datasets will supplement long-term datasets on forest recovery in the face of urbanization and climate change. Based at Boston University, the Bhatnagar Lab of Microbial Ecology is finding that historic, pre-colonial forests in the US were more EM-dominated than today, with N deposition contributing to a shift towards arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) dominance. However, forest plots that were historically more EM are more resistant to this shift, which has implications for the terrestrial carbon cycle as EM forests store more carbon in the soil than AM forests.

Jenny's work at Harvard Forest is particularly special because of the well-characterized land use and climate history, as well as the careful reconstruction of aboveground forest recovery that her research team can match to belowground forest recovery. This project marks the beginning of the Bhatnagar Lab’s research at the Forest, but will serve as a foundation for future studies on forest fungi and their relation to forest biodiversity and biogeochemistry. 

(Photo courtesy of Jenny Bhatnagar)

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