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A close up of fungal mycelia


The establishment of new woodland is a key UK target.

A significant proportion of new woodland is likely to be created through a combination of planting and natural colonisation on low quality agricultural land. There is a growing awareness of significant gaps in our understanding of recovery pathways of woodland soil microbes and particularly those with close associations with trees.

The role of these normally woodland-dwelling fungi may be very important in improving the establishment success and resilience of trees, as well as providing effective decomposition of tree litter in the challenging new conditions found in former agricultural land.

Research objectives

This project, Fungi4Restor, aims to:

  • Explore patterns and mechanisms of ‘recovery’ of soil woodland fungal communities on former agricultural land
  • Understand the importance of these communities for tree establishment by planting and natural colonisation.
  • Investigate interventions that can serve as ‘short-cuts’ to speed up the recovery of soil woodland fungal communities (and particularly ectomycorrhizal fungi) on former agricultural land.

Latest updates

Field surveys

Mycorrhizal communities present on the fine roots of planted and naturally colonising young trees are being studied in former agricultural land along transects at various distances from the nearest woodland edge. Fungal spore traps have also been set up along these transects to assess which fungi are dispersing in the wind and rain and how far they can travel from woodland into former agricultural fields.

The composition of mycorrhiza colonising commercially grown trees is being assessed at various stages of tree growth to understand how the community composition evolves from nursery stages through to establishment on a former agricultural site.

Greenhouse, growth chamber and field experiments

Experimental work is underway to investigate the benefits of:

  1. a number of soil treatments including the application of woodland donor soil as a source of woodland fungal inoculum in former agricultural soils
  2. planting shrub and tree species that typically associate with AMF fungi alongside tree species that associate primarily with EMF fungi.

The AMF-associated tree/shrub species are expected to fare better in former arable settings and may thus, serve as ‘nurse plants’ to EMF-associated tree species.

Our Involvement

Forest Research is leading the Fungi4Restor project with funding support from DEFRA’s Nature for Climate Fund Programme.

The project is a collaboration between scientists at Forest Research (Dr. Nadia Barsoum, Dr. Petra Guy), the University of Reading (Dr. Brian Pickles and PhD student Julija Fediajevaite), Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (Dr. Nicola Kühn) and project partners at the Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission and Natural England.

Background information

What are mycorrhizal fungi, and why are they important for trees?

Mycorrhizal fungi can be split into two types. Ectomycorrhizal fungi that cover plant fine roots but do not penetrate the root cells, and endomycorrhizal fungi that reside within plant root cells and include arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF).

In temperate and boreal zones, ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) are typically associated with tree species, while AMFs are mostly associated with ground vegetation, woody shrubs and a small proportion of tree species (e.g. Prunus, Fraxinus, Acer species).

Mycorrhizal fungi form a mutually beneficial partnership with their host plant species, transferring water and essential nutrients to the plant host in exchange for sugars produced by the plant through the process of carbon capture from sunlight (photosynthesis). Different mycorrhizal species excel in distinct specialist functions that trees depend on.

These functions might include providing an effective physical barrier to protect roots either from root-eating predators (e.g. nematodes), infection from disease-causing micro-organisms, soil toxins, and/or desiccation during periods of drought by improving access to water.

Other specialist functions include the uptake of specific nutrients, or the ability for long-distance exploration through soils.

Funding & partners
  • Logo for the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)Defra - Nature for Climate Fund Programme
  • University of Reading LogoUniversity of Reading
  • Kew Royal Botanic Gardens LogoKew Royal Botanic Gardens
  • Woodland Trust LogoWoodland Trust
  • Forestry Commission (FC) logo.Forestry Commission
  • natural england logoNatural England
Table of Contents
Nadia Barsoum

Senior Forest Ecologist

Petra Guy

Forest molecular ecologist