Understanding How Soil Bacteria and Fungi Affect Forest Health

Research Issue

Forest Service scientists studying and collecting soil in a forest.Scientists have known for a long time that when soil loses nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, it interferes with tree metabolism and forest health. However, relatively little is known about how soil bacteria and fungi affect nutrient processing in plants. In fact, less than 1% of all microbial species believed to exist have been identified or cultured (allowed to reproduce in a laboratory). This lack of knowledge has become a bigger issue as human-caused stressors such as pollution change the bacterial and fungal composition of forest soils.

Our Research

Northern Research Station scientists are conducting genetic and field research to identify soil microbes and to better understand how deficiencies in forest soil nutrients affect forest health and ecosystem function. Specifically, scientists at the Harvard Forest research area in Massachusetts and at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire are investigating whether acid rain and other factors are changing soil bacterial and fungal diversity, soil nutrients and quality, and forest ecosystem functions such as tree growth rates.

Expected Outcomes

By better understanding specific forest soil microbes and their cellular functions, scientists can help explain and predict changes in soil quality and forest health.

Research Results

Turlapati, Swathi A.; Minocha, Rakesh; Long, Stephanie; Ramsdell, Jordan; Minocha, Subhash C. 2015. Oligotyping reveals stronger relationship of organic soil bacterial community structure with N-amendments and soil chemistry in comparison to that of mineral soil at Harvard Forest, MA, USA. Frontiers in Microbiology. 6: 49.

Turlapati, Swathi A.; Minocha, Rakesh; Bhiravarasa, Premsai S.; Tisa, Louise S.; Thomas, William K.; Minocha, Subhash C. 2013. Chronic N-amended soils exhibit an altered bacterial community structure in Harvard Forest, MA, USA. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. 83: 478-493.

Sridevi, Ganapathi; Minocha, Rakesh; Turlapati, Swathi A.; Goldfarb, Katherine C.; Brodie, Eoin L.; Tisa, Louis S.; Minocha, Subhash C. 2012. Soil bacterial communities of a calcium-supplemented and a reference watershed at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF), New Hampshire, USA. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. 79: 728-740.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Rakesh Minocha, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station, ┬áSenior Supervisory Plant Physiologist

Research Partners

  • Stephanie Long, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station; Durham, NH, Biological Lab Technician
  • Louis Tisa, Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences Department, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, Microbiologist
  • Subhash Minocha, Biological Sciences Department, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, Plant Physiologist
  • Kelley Thomas, Director of Genomics and Bioinformatics, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, Molecular Biologist
  • Eoin Brodie, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Berkeley, CA., Microbial Ecologist
  • Swathi Turlapati, Manchester Community College, Manchester, NH, Adjunct Professor
  • Last modified: September 11, 2018