This subproject focuses on the mycocoenoses of the soil, their species diversity and functions. Microfungi living in the soil play several crucial roles in ecosystems. They are associated with other micro-organisms, plants, and nematodes in many different ways, eg. as parasites, symbionts, antagonists or plant pathogens. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (Glomeromycota) transport water and nutrients to the plant, thereby increasing the fitness of the plant. Compared with other parts of the world the mycodiversity of the soil in Southern Africa in poorly investigated.
The assessment of mycodiversity on selected biodiversity observatories, which was begun in the pilot phase, is fundamental. To monitor natural dynamics over time, it is necessary to continue the ongoing investigations with morphological and molecular tools and supplement the molecular methods with direct DNA isolation from the soil and sequencing.
For a deeper understanding of important ecological processes in arid and semi-arid ecosystems, investigating the impact of land use on soil fungi and mycorrhiza, as well as field and laboratory experiments is essential. Such experiments are confrontation tests between fungi and plants, and enclosures, to monitor the direct or indirect influence of soil fungi and herbivores on seedling establishment. In addition to the experiments, the dispersal mechanism of arbuscular mycorrhizal spores under arid conditions will be investigated.
Data resulting from these investigations will facilitate decision making for regeneration of sites affected by dryland alteration.