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Louise Egerton-Warburton

legertonwarburton's picture
Conservation Scientist, Soil and Microbial Ecology
Chicago Botanic Garden

lwarburton at chicagobotanic dot org

I am a soil ecologist.  My research projects focus on examining the ecological links between the above- and below-ground biota, and in particular, the roles of mycorrhizal fungi in ecosystem function.

Most of my research revolves around three themes: documenting the diversity of mycorrhizal communities; developing a mechanistic understanding of how these plant-fungal interactions affect community and ecosystem processes, and examining the consequences of alterations in climate, land-use, and species invasions on this relationship.  To address these themes, I use lab and field experiments and a variety of analytical approaches (e.g. stable isotopes, high throughput sequencing, enzyme activity). 

Current research projects include:

  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal community responses to shifting soil moisture regimes in a dry seasonal tropical forest (Yucatan, Mexico).
  • Mycorrhizal specificity in dolomite prairie plants (IL).
  • Decomposition of fungal necromass and its contribution to soil carbon sequestration (IL).
  • Mycorrhizal diversity and functioning in the Amaryllidaceae: placing mycorrhizas in context in a dominant monocot clade​ (Mexico; FL).

Projects
New solutions for an old problem? Combining biochar, mycorrhizal fungi, and sand to restore the quality and health of soils. (2018)

The concept of restoring or enhancing the quality and health of soil resources has become increasingly popular, but what is soil health and how can it be enhanced? Soil health is the generally defined as the capacity of soil to sustain plant productivity, and maintain or enhance water and air quality. However, translating science into practice can be complicated. Measuring 'soil quality' does...


Saving the last populations of Strawberry Tree (Arbutus andrachne; Ericaceae) in the Republic of Georgia (2018)

Arbutus andrachne L. (Greek strawberry tree) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with a circum-Mediterranean distribution from Tunisia to Morocco along the north of Africa, and from Spain to Turkey along southern Europe. However, the more restricted Euro-Siberian populations, such as those in the Republic of Georgia, are considered endangered. Here, Arbutus andrachne...


Soil development, carbon stocks and dynamics of carbon pools in urban soils (2017)

Urban soils pose a unique challenge for ecosystem restoration: they are highly degraded and lack structure, organic matter, and nutrients, all of which limits plant growth and establishment.  While these soil conditions might inhibit initial plant establishment, we lack a clear understanding of how urban soils develop over time, and the consequences for plant growth. In this study, the REU...


Dendrochemistry: using the analysis of archived and contemporary soil samples to document changes in soil quality in a managed area (2016)

Soil dendrochemistry, or the elemental analysis of dated soil samples, has been used to monitor historical changes in soil and atmospheric chemistry, soil development, and land-use history.  For restoration ecologists, however, this approach also provides a way to detect the long-term changes in environmental quality since variations in soil chemistry typically coincide with changes in plant...


Mycorrhizal symbioses of the Amaryllidaceae (2016)

The Amarylloids are a large and diverse group of perennial plants (59 genera, > 800 species) in the order Asparagales, and are distributed primarily in tropical and subtropical areas.  Many species are cultivated as garden ornamentals or pot plants, including the belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna), daffodil (Narcissus), zephyr lilies (Zephyrastrum), and ‘...


The role of plant-microbe interactions in mediating invasions by daylilies (2016)

Daylilies are a widely planted ornamental that frequently escapes garden confines to establish large and lovely populations in natural systems.  Once established, daylilies rapidly multiply and spread to form dense patches that readily displace native plants. Many empirical studies show that plant–soil interactions (e.g. allelopathy and plant–microbe feedbacks) might explain the success of non...


Mycorrhizal associates of forest trees of the Yucatan Peninsula (2015)

The objective of this project is to identify ecologically important symbiotic and saprotrophic fungi from understudied seasonally dry tropical forests in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula using cutting edge tools. The rapid development of fungal ecology as it has entered the molecular age has highlighted many remaining fundamental knowledge gaps, including the huge number of tropical fungi that have...


Genetic and stable isotope analyses of fungi from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (2014)

The objective of this project is to identify ecologically important symbiotic and saprotrophic fungi from understudied seasonally dry tropical forests in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula using cutting edge tools. The rapid development of fungal ecology as it has entered the molecular age has highlighted many remaining fundamental knowledge gaps, including the huge number of tropical fungi that have...


Impacts of tallgrass prairie restoration on decomposition and microbial communities (2014)

Natural areas are managed using aboveground methods, but these methods have profound influences on belowground processes. Decomposition is an important process that is driven by soil organisms and determines nutrient availability for next year's plant growth. This project investigates how restoration methods influence decomposition and fungal decomposer communities. Leaf litter bags containing...


Soil Fungal Biomass: Its Degradation and Contribution to Soil Organic Matter (2014)

Fungi are ubiquitous in soils. However, it remains virtually unknown how dead fungal mass (fungal necromass) is degraded, and what portion of it contributes to the slow turnover of soil organic matter pools. We are interested in determining the rate of fungal necromass breakdown under a variety of scenarios (field experiments, lab experiments, breakdown by microbes, breakdown by macrofauna,...


Decomposition and fungal diversity in restored tallgrass prairies (2013)

Natural areas are managed using aboveground methods, but these methods have profound influences on belowground processes. Decomposition is an important process that is driven by soil organisms and determines nutrient availability for next year's plant growth. This project investigates how restoration methods influence decomposition and fungal decomposer communities. Leaf litter bags containing...


Morphological and molecular identification of mycorrhizal plants and fungi from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. (2013)

In this project, an REU intern will have the opportunity to explore the community ecology of mycorrhizae (plant-fungal symbioses) in the seasonally dry tropical forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The laboratory component of this project will provide experience identifying fungal spores using microscopy, as well as identifying plants and fungi using the direct sequencing of DNA "barcode...


Organic Matter stabilization in soil aggregates during grassland restorations (2013)

The Chicago Wilderness Society is working a new project called "100 Sites for 100 Years" to record changes across natural areas in the Chicago Region. One aspect of habitat quality we are interested is changes in soil characteristics associated with management.  Soil samples have been collected from 15 prairies around the Chicagoland...


What are the effects of mulching on soil’s microbial community in restored habitats? (2013)

Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is an invasive species which crowds out wildflowers in the forests of the Midwest. There are many different management techniques have been employed to control the plant, however re-invasion is a big issue. Some observation have shown that mulching can provide some resistance to r-einvasion, including using buckthorn chips - which are thought to be allopathic. In...


Above and Belowground Impacts of European Buckthorn Invasion and Restoration (2012)

Invasive species are a persistant focus of restoration and management of natural areas. European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is an exotic shrub that has recently become the most prevalent woody species in the Chicago region. Previous research suggests that there are modified soil nutrients and organisms may drive plant invasion inhibit successful restoration of native plant communities....