Dr. Thorunn Helgason

Senior Lecturer

Research Focus

Arbuscular mycorrhizas, microbial ecology

Scientific Activities

Microbes, (bacteria, archaea, fungi) are key functional groups in ecosystems, acting as a drivers of major transitions in nutrient cycles. Dr. Helgason her research focuses on variation in biodiversity, distribution and function of key microbial groups in field based systems. Recent advances in next generation sequencing technologies allow the microbiome of field systems to be studied in detail, and current research projects use these technologies to understand nutrient cycling in agriculture and in SE Asian tropical forest systems vulnerable to deforestation and fragmentation.

Her research focuses on the structure and function of soil microbial communities, particularly the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi (Phylum Glomeromycota). These symbionts are key conduits of mineral nutrients between plants and soils, and variation in AM fungal communities has the potential to affect large scale ecosystem function. Her research focuses on determining what controls AM biodiversity, including host plant effects, water and oxygen availability, and soil environment, and how these factors affect fungal fitness and evolution. She and her group study this using manipulative field experiments, molecular and bioinformatic approaches.

Dr. Helgason is actively involved in the White Rose Sustainable Agriculture consortium https://www.whiterosesusag.leeds.ac.uk/ Current research projects aim to deliver better understanding of the role microbial communities can play in delivering lower input sustainable agriculture.

Significant Publications

Cotton TEA, Fitter AH, Dumbrell AJ, Miller, MR, Helgason T, (2015) Fungi in the future: inter-annual variation and effects of atmospheric change on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities. New Phytologist. 205:1598-1607

Dumbrell AJ, Ashton PD, Aziz N, Feng G, Nelson M, Dytham C, Fitter AH, Helgason T. (2011) Distinct Seasonal Assemblages of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Revealed by Massively Parallel Pyrosequencing. New Phytologist 190: 794-804.

Helgason T, Fitter AH. (2009) Natural Selection and the evolutionary ecology of the Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi (Phylum Glomeromycota). Journal of Experimental Botany 60: 2465-2480.


Contact information

University of York
YO10 5DD

Email: thorunn.helgason@york.ac.uk