Eva Leifheit (HONORS 2015-16)

Leifheit, Eva

Institut für Biologie

Plant Ecology

Graduate School Plant Sciences

Altensteinstraße 6
14195 Berlin

I studied physical geography (FU Berlin), agricultural sciences (HU Berlin) and soil science (TU Berlin) with a focus on plant nutrition. During my studies I received a scholarship of the Freie Universitaet for a study year at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. For my Diploma thesis I worked in close cooperation with the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops in Großbeeren.


For my PhD I worked under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig in the project ‚Understanding the ecology of soil aggregation. Interrelationships between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and associated microbiota.’.

Context and focus of research


Two thirds of the earth’s carbon (C) is stored in terrestrial ecosystems. Our knowledge of the processes of soil C cycling and potential stabilization of soil C is crucial for understanding and predicting global warming. In this context there is increasing interest in belowground ecosystem processes such as decomposition of plant litter.


I am interested in the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in litter decomposition and soil C cycling, because these fungi might strongly influence these processes. A number of studies have shown that AMF can stimulate decomposition of leaf litter, but I have recently shown that AMF can actually decrease decomposition of woody litter. The diversity of research methods in the literature could explain opposing results but requires further research and understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Therefore, the objective of my proposed research project is to clarify the ambiguous role of AMF in the soil C cycle.


Post-doctoral research (HONORS Fellowship and beyond)


First, the role of AMF in litter decomposition will be examined in different contexts using one comprehensive laboratory pot experiment. Further research would include organic materials labeled with stable isotopes (13C) to study the fate of C in the soil, which would help to further identify the mechanisms responsible for altered litter decomposition in presence of AMF and help to reveal possible soil C storage in the different organic components of the soil.




Rillig M.C., Mardatin N.F., Leifheit E.F.,  Antunes P.M.. (2010). Mycelium of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increases soil water repellency and is sufficient to maintain water-stable soil aggregates. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 42: 1189-1191. 


Leifheit E.F., Veresoglou S.D., Lehmann A., Morris E.K., Rillig M.C.. (2014). Multiple factors influence the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in soil aggregation - a meta-analysis. Plant and Soil 374: 523-537.


Lehmann A., Veresoglou S.D., Leifheit E.F., Rillig M.C.. (2014). Arbuscular mycorrhizal influence on Zinc nutrition in crop plants - a meta-analysis. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 69: 123-131.


Leifheit E.F., Verbruggen E., Rillig M.C.. (2014). Rotation of hyphal in-growth cores has no confounding effects on soil abiotic properties. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 79: 78-80.


Leifheit E.F., Verbruggen E., Rillig M.C.. (2015). Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi reduce decomposition of woody plant litter while increasing soil aggregation. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 81: 323-328.