Dr Thorunn Helgason




2014 - Senior Lecturer Department of Biology, University of York
2004 - 2014 Lecturer Department of Biology, University of York
2000 - 2005 Lecturer (part-time) The Open University
1996 - 2004 PostDoc (part time) Department of Biology, University of York
1993 - 1996 Researcher Tropical plant taxonomy, Natural History Museum, London
1989 - 1993 PhD Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, University of Edinburgh
1988 - 1989 Researcher Forestry Research Station, Iceland
1988 BSc (Hons) Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Edinburgh   



Microbes, (bacteria, archaea, fungi) are key functional groups in ecosystems, acting as a drivers of major transitions in nutrient cycles. My research focuses on variation in biodiversity, distribution and function of key microbial groups in field based systems. Recent advances in next generation sequencing technologies allow the microbiome of field systems to be studied in detail, and current research projects use these technologies to understand nutrient cycling in agriculture and epidemiology in honeybees.

A major research area in my group is the Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF). These symbionts are key conduits of mineral nutrients between plants and soils, and variation in AMF communities has the potential to affect large scale ecosystem function. My research focuses on determining what controls AM biodiversity, including host plant effects, water and oxygen availability, and soil environment, and how these factors affect fungal fitness and evolution. We study this using manipulative field experiments, molecular and bioinformatic approaches.


SoilBioHedge: harnessing hedgerow soil biodiversity for restoration to arable soil quality and resillience to climatic extremes and land use change
NERC Soil Security Programme

Explaining niche separation in tropical forests: feedbacks between root-fungal symbiosis and soil phosphorus partitioning
NERC Standard grant

MycoRhizaSoil:Combining wheat genotypes with cultivation methods to facilitate mycorrhizosphere organisms improving soil quality and crop resilience

Do realignment sites restore microbial biodiversity-driven nutrient cycling and trace gas fluxes comparable to natural coastal ecosystems
BESS directed research programme

Research group(s)

Research Student  Joanna Banasiak BBSRC Targeted Priority Studentship
Research Student Barbara Morrissey BBSRC-CASE
Research Student Erin Haskell NERC
Research Student Richard Randle-Boggis University of York/FERA studentship
Research Student John Thomas BBSRC-DTP
PDRA Dr Joe Taylor


Research Student Jean-Pascal Miranda


Research Student Phil Brailey White Rose Sustainable Agriculture DTP

Available PhD research projects

Microbes and environmental change: the importance of interactions in maintaining ecosystem function (2015-16)

Applicants can develop projects based on communities of microbes relevant to ecology and ecosystem function. Many ecosystem processes, such as nutrient cycling, productivity and maintenance of biodiversity depend upon interactions with microbial populations. It is increasingly important that we understand the structure and function of microbial communities and how they respond to environmental change. The project will focus on one group of microbes which may include soil prokaryotes (e.g. methanogens) or arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi Using a combination of field sampling, manipulated experiments and advanced molecular ecology/bioinformatic techniques including next generation sequencing, the student will develop hypotheses and tests to further our understanding of these important processes.‌

Helgason Thorunn 218px

Contact details

Dr Thorunn Helgason
Senior Lecturer
Department of Biology
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328614