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We study the ecology, evolution, genomics, and conservation of beneficial species interactions at scales ranging from genes to communities.

Mutualisms, positive interactions in which all participants can benefit, are ubiquitous in nature. Microbiomes are also hidden but extremely important features of all ecosystems. These interactions often have meaningful effects on ecological and evolutionary processes (e.g., speciation, succession, and community assembly) as well as the success of conservation and restoration efforts, the availability of ecosystem services, and the production of food for growing human populations.

While our research spans all types of interactions, we are especially interested in understanding plant microbiomes and positive species associations, often working with plant-microbial mutualisms, such as rhizobia, mycorrhizal fungi, and fungal endophytes, as well as whole microbial communities. We aim to understand the mechanisms underlying how mutualisms and microbiomes work and integrate these associations into the broader foundations of ecology and evolution. Towards these goals, we use a diverse tool kit that includes long term field and greenhouse experiments, mathematical modeling, and laboratory-based molecular methods.

A few recent questions asked in our lab:

  • How do microbial landscapes impact plant distributions?
  • Can mutualism cause range expansions into new habitats?
  • How does habitat fragmentation and edge effects impact microbial communities and their consequences for plants?
  • What are the consequences of microbial mutualisms for plant and herbivore community diversity?
  • How do multispecies mutualisms affect fitness, what is the genomic basis of these effects, and what are the consequences for evolution?
  • Does mutualism drive diversification of plant radiations?
  • How does environmental stress impact microbial community stability?
  • How can single-cell transcriptomics inform inter-microbial interaction dynamics?
  • Can we improve sustainable agriculture through use of natural species interactions?
  • What is the role of microbiomes in conservation and restoration of local imperiled habitats, such as the Everglades Tree Islands?

Interested in joining us? Please contact me at michelle.afkhami@miami.edu.

Please see the research page for more details and check out our lab news to see what is going on lately!