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Christopher W. Fernandez

Postdoctoral Associate

Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University

Department of Plant Biology
University of Minnesota
250 Biological Science Center
1445 Gortner Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55108

office: 808 Biological Sciences
lab: 612-625-5438


Research interests

Follow me on twitter for hot takes on fungi and carbon, Cenococcum, the rhizosphere, sport and fermentation.

I am an ecologist who is broadly interested in mycorrhizal fungi and rhizosphere ecology. An underlying theme of my research is focused on exploring the intersection of functional, community, and ecosystem ecology. Below are a few of my current research thrusts.

Current projects

Ectomycorrhizal fungal biomass turnover and contribution to SOM

A large amount of net primary productivity is allocated belowground to ectomycorrhizal fungi (estimates range from ~5-20 %) in forest ecosystems. Thus, the turnover of this biomass represents a large flux of carbon into soils. A major component of my research is  focused on understanding the subsequent decomposition dynamics of ectomycorrhizal fungal necromass and incorporation into SOM, with a particular focus on how species differences (i.e. biochemical, morphological, interaction with soil) may influence stabilization.

Inter-guild fungal interactions and carbon cycling

Through their roles in the breakdown and recycling of organic matter and mediation of plant nutrition via symbioses, soil fungi are important drivers of terrestrial carbon and nutrient cycles. Soil fungi belonging to different guilds (e.g. saptrophic vs. mycorrhizal) compete for resources found in organic matter. These interactions may have significant consequences on how carbon and nutrients are cycled in forest ecosystems. The suppression of OM decomposition processes resulting from negative biotic interactions between saprotrophic and ectomycorrhizal fungi, also known as the Gadgil effect, is an oft-cited yet poorly understood phenomenon. I am interested in examining the underlying mechanisms responsible for the phenomenon by implementing next-generation technologies and methodologies, in order to address and understand context dependency that is found across systems.

Cenococcum geophilum

While I am broadly interested in soil fungi, Cenococcum geophilum is an ectomycorrhizal fungal species (complex) that has always fascinated me like no pale fungus ever could. This fungus has a very unique (and sometimes perplexing) ecology compared to other Basidiomycete and Ascomycete ectomycorrhizal fungi. Cenococcum is known as a ‘jack of all trades’, possessing wide niche breadth, and is quite successful in ectomycorrhizal communities across the globe. One of the most common observations throughout the literature is its ability to tolerate water stress and be relatively abundant in arid systems. With the goal of understanding this success I explored the role of melanin, a cell wall polymer that this fungus produces in large quantities, in ability to tolerate to water stress. I have continued interest in understanding the functional ecology of this very interesting fungus as well as questions that explore the interactions with other microbes and soil fauna, its role in host nutrition, and effects on ecosystem processes.  


Google Scholar Profile

12. Fernandez, C.W., Langley, J.A., Chapman, S.C., McCormack, M.L. , & Koide, R.T. (Accepted In press). The decomposition dynamics of ectomycorrhizal fungal necromass. Soil Biology & Biochemistry

11. Fernandez, C.W. & Kennedy, P.G. (Accepted In press). Revisiting the ‘Gadgil effect’: do inter-guild fungal interactions drive carbon cycling in forest soils? New Phytologist (Invited Tansley Review).

10. McCormack, M.C., Dickie, I.A., Eissenstat, D.M., Fahey, T.J., Fernandez, C.W., Guo, D., Helmisaari, H.S.,  Hobbie, E.A., Iversen, C.M., Jackson, R.B., Leppälammi-Kujansuu, J., Norby, R.J., Phillips, R.P., Pregitzer, K.S., Pritchard, S.G., Rewald, B., Zadworny, M. (In Press). Redefining fine roots improves understanding of root contributions to terrestrial biosphere processes. New Phytologist (Tansley Review).

9. Fernandez, C.W. & Kennedy, P.G. (2015). Moving beyond the black-box: fungal traits, community structure, and carbon sequestration in forest soils. New Phytologist. 205: 1378-1380.

8. Fernandez, C.W. & Koide, R.T. (2014). Initial melanin and nitrogen concentrations control the decomposition of ectomycorrhizal fungal litter. Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 77:150-157.

7. Koide, R.T., Fernandez, C.W., & Malcolm G.M. (2014). Determining place and process: functional traits of ectomycorrhizal fungi that impact both community structure and ecosystem function. New Phytologist. 201: 433–439. DOI: 10.1111/nph.12538

6. Fernandez, C.W. & Koide, R.T. (2013) The function of melanin in the ectomycorrhizal fungus Cenococcum geophilum under water stress. Fungal Ecology. 6:479-486. DOI:10.1016/j.funeco.2013.08.004

5. Fernandez, C.W., McCormack, M.L., Hill, J.M, Pritchard, S.G. & Koide, R.T. (2013). On the turnover of Cenococcum geophilum ectomycorrhizas and its implications for forest carbon and nutrient cycles. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 65:141-143.

4. Fernandez, C.W. & Koide, R.T. (2012). The role of chitin in the decomposition of ectomycorrhizal fungal litter. Ecology. 93: 24-28. DOI: 10.1890/11-1346.1

3. McCormack, M.L. & Fernandez, C.W. (2011). Measuring and modeling roots, the rhizosphere, and microbial processes belowground. New Phytologist. 192: 573-575

2. Koide, R.T., Fernandez, C.W., & Peoples M. (2011). Can ectomycorrhizal colonization of Pinus resinosa roots affect their decomposition? New Phytologist.  191: 508-514. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03694.x

1. Koide, R.T., Fernandez, C.W., & Petrakob K. (2011). General principles in the community ecology of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Annals of Forest Science. 68: 45-55. DOI: 10.1007/s13595-010-0006-6