Dr Thorunn Helgason
Senior Lecturer

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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)

PhD student  Phil Brailey Can soil microbial diversity mitigate water stress and maintain crop yield in agricultural systems?
PhD student Stephen Brignall Understanding the influence of in-field biodiversity conservation on the environmental fate of crop
PhD student Erin Haskell Direct and indirect impacts of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on plant defence and community diversity
PhD student Nicola Burns Genetic and environmental effects on virulence of American Foulbrood, a bacterial pathogen of honeybee
PhD student Pasky (Jean-Pascal) Miranda The role of soil structure and fungi in the degradation of crop protection products
Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Joe Taylor

Explaining niche separation in tropical forests: feedbacks between root-fungal symbioses and soil ph

Research Technician Dr Susannah Bird

SoilBioHedge: harnessing hedgerow soil biodiversity for restoration of arable soil quality and resilience

Research Technician Michaela Nelson MycoRhizaSoil: Combining wheat genotypes with cultivation methods to facilitate mycorrhizosphere

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.‌

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Contact details

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

Tel: 01904 328614