Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Edward Brzostek

Committee Co-Chair

William Peterjohn

Committee Member

Richard Thomas

Committee Member

Ember Morrissey

Committee Member

Zachary Freedman


Our understanding of the mechanisms that control the magnitude of the temperate forest carbon (C) sink and its response to global change remain uncertain. Much of this uncertainty lies in the extent to which differences between tree species in their mycorrhizal symbionts and corresponding nutrient acquisition strategies control the activity of soil microbes that mobilize nutrients and decompose soil organic matter. ECM trees allocate substantial amounts of C to ECM fungi and rhizosphere microbes to mine soil organic matter for nutrients. By contrast, AM trees invest less C belowground and rely on AM fungi to scavenge for nutrients. While these strategies have been shown to lead to differences in microbial function at the plot scale, there has been limited research that has investigated how these strategies shape microbial diversity or how the resulting differences in diversity impact function at the microbial scale. Moreover, the ability of these nutrient acquisition strategies to shape microbial communities likely controls ecosystem responses to global change. Thus, my research questions are: (1) Does microbial diversity drive function and the resulting products of decomposition in temperate forest soils? (2) To what extent do temperate forest trees shift their investment of C above vs. belowground under water stress? (3) How do plant-microbial interactions impact decomposition in temperate forests under water stress? For question 1, I examined the extent to which differences between AM and ECM trees in their nutrient acquisition strategies alter microbial diversity and function in a ~120-year-old forest in Tom’s Run Natural Area, West Virginia. I sampled soils in plots dominated by either AM or ECM trees and assayed microbial diversity and function through quantitative stable isotope probing and metabolomic analysis. I found that AM soils had greater microbial diversity than ECM soils. This difference in diversity led to more flexible decomposition pathways and more products that could form more stable soil C in AM than ECM soils. For question 2, I built a throughfall exclusion experiment at Tom’s Run in AM and ECM dominated plots and measured the effect of water stress on C allocation to above- vs. belowground processes. In response to the treatment, I found that ECM trees maintained root biomass and mycorrhizal colonization, while AM trees increased investment in roots and mycorrhizae. This reflects the ability of ECM trees to leverage their already extensive nutrient acquisition infrastructure to enhance water uptake. By contrast, it was necessary for AM trees to upregulate investment belowground to ensure access to water. For question 3, I measured the response of microbial activity to the water stress treatment at Tom’s Run. I show that the treatment led to declines in soil respiration, nitrogen mineralization and oxidative enzyme activity in AM soil, which may be due to AM trees reducing root C transfers to the soil. In ECM soils, the treatment enhanced soil respiration, as well as rates of N mineralization and peroxidase activity in the rhizosphere soils, suggesting ECM roots provided optimal conditions to prime microbial activity. Collectively, these results provide evidence that differences between AM and ECM nutrient acquisition strategies led to divergent microbial diversity and function that can impact soil C storage and ecosystem responses to global change.