This project will investigate the role of ericoid mycorrhiza (ErM) as a driver of carbon dynamics in natural ericaceous ecosystems, which has never been done before. The urgent need to address the role of ErM in soil carbon sequestration and decomposition was called for by Read et al. (2004) and therefore this project is timely. A substantial amount of the carbon allocated by plants to the fungi is subsequently incorporated into the soil organic matter when the fungi decompose. In WP I the rate of carbon allocation to ErM will be quantified using mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal seedlings grown on Petri dishes under laboratory conditions. This will test the hypothesis that approximately 10% of net assimilated carbon is transported to the ErM. The effects of global change factors on long-term ecosystem partitioning of carbon to different soil carbon fractions, such as lignins and soluble phenolics, will be investigated in WP IV using a full factorial open top chamber experiment simulating global change factors. This will contribute to an improved understanding of the sensitivity of soil biochemical processes to environmental change. ErM are also strongly believed to have a key role in the decomposition of soil carbon in arctic and boreal ecosystems. In WP II and III it will be determined how ErM colonisation of host roots and temperature interact to affect the decomposition rate of lignin and soluble phenolics both under laboratory and field conditions. It is hypothesised that both increased temperature and higher ErM colonisation will increase decomposition rates with implications for the long-term carbon storage in soil. Altogether this project is designed to produce new and unique results on how ErM affect the main processes involved in carbon dynamics in boreal and arctic ecosystems. This has a potential to greatly improve the mechanistic understanding of carbon cycling in regions that store approximately 30% of the world soil carbon pool.
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