Research interests

My research focuses on soil microbial communities and the role of rare species. The aim is to understand the links between rare and dominant members of the microbial community in order to predict community functioning.

Soil is the foundation of our existence, providing food and feed via processes generally enabled by microorganisms. Optimizing the functioning and use of soil microbial communities is a major prerequisite for moving towards a sustainable bio-based economy. Rare microbes can play an important role in a number of these ecosystem processes and the question is when ecosystem services that are critical for humans become threatened. As part of a NWO project (2006-2008) it was first shown that loss of rare species increased plant productivity, while later during the EU-project SOILSERVICE (2009-2011) it was demonstrated that the role of rare microbes varies in relation to soil origin. In order to predict the effects of rare species loss, we do not only need to know their function, but also their interactions with the other species in the community. Even when rare species do not contribute significantly to ecosystem functioning directly, their loss might be noticed when there are (a)symmetric interactions with dominant species. The Centre for Soil Ecology (NIOO-WUR) enabled me to pursuit this research line.

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