Undergraduate Student Report 2022

Understanding links between mycorrhizal fungi and soil carbon

Brigid Wong, Imperial College London

This project aims to better understand the taxonomic and functional composition of fungal communities in roots and soil, their correlations with environmental variables, and how they vary across different habitats over time.

Using fungi, the team hopes to develop a replicable method to assess belowground carbon content and project fungal biodiversity data to wider landscape scales. In addition to informing policy-making and environmental management, the research also helps characterise the belowground portion of the carbon cycle, recognizing the important role of fungal science in understanding climate change.

Contributing to data collection and processing, I have acquired a variety of skills during my internship, some of them specific to fungal science. For instance, collecting soil samples at Kew’s ‘wild botanic garden’ at Wakehurst in Sussex and The Carbon Community field trial in Glandwr in Wales has allowed me to understand the natural habitat of fungal communities (Fig. 1).

Figure 1Figure 1. Collecting soil and root samples using a soil corer.

I have also gained practical skills in staining roots, microscopically examining arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in roots to estimate colonisation density (Fig. 2), selecting ectomycorrhizas, and estimating fungal biomass by ergosterol.

One of the highlights was data processing using R to identify and test for correlations between soil carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and pH with environmental variables such as season, habitat, and soil depth across different woodland and meadow habitats (Fig. 3). This offered me a glimpse into the breadth and depth of fungal science, and I gained a deeper insight into the intricacies between changes in environmental factors, soil chemistry and the local fungal communities. 



Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3: Boxplots of organic soil carbon stocks at different depths across woodland and meadow habitats in autumn 2021, spring and summer 2022.

Brigid Wong was supervised by Prof Martin Bidartondo (Imperial College London & Kew), Dr Jill Kowal (Kew), and Dr Jim Clarkson (Kew).