I am an ecologist and evolutionary biologist interested in plant-microbiome relationships. My work combines large-scale observations, mechanistic experiments, and molecular approaches to explore the ways in which plants interact with their associated microbes, how these interactions vary under different conditions, and what impact they have on the ecology and evolution of populations, communities, and ecosystems.
I am currently the Lead Data Scientist at the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN). I was previously a postdoc in the Peay Lab at Stanford University working on the biogeography of fungal symbioses and how they influence plant host distributions, species coexistence, and ecosystem functioning. I completed my PhD in the Schweitzer Lab at the University of Tennessee where I focused on the eco-evolutionary dynamics of plant-soil linkages and their response to global change.
Microbial drivers of diversity and function
Plants assemble, defend themselves from, and form symbioses with highly diverse microbial communities. These relationships affect individual plant performance, influence population dynamics that shape community composition, and help determine the productivity and biogeochemical cycles of entire ecosystems. My research explores the plant-microbe interactions behind patterns of biodiversity and ecosystem function.
Community and ecosystem genetics
Plants alter soil properties and communities through functional traits that can be heritable and evolve along selective gradients. As a result, the ecology of plant-soil interactions can be tied to their evolutionary processes, and vice versa. I study how these types of eco-evolutionary dynamics play out in plant-soil-microbial linkages, and how environmental change will alter the connections between genes, communities, and ecosystems.
Plant-soil linkages and global change
Plants might adapt to increasingly stressful climates, persist via phenotypic plasticity, or shift their distributions to remain within their climatic niche. Under these scenarios, interactions between plants and their microbial communities are likely to mediate fitness responses, the expression of certain phenotypes, and future range limits. One of my primary research goals is to advance understanding of how plant responses to global change are mediated by the diversity and functioning of their microbiome.
M E Van Nuland, P-J Ke, J Wan, & K G Peay (2022) Mycorrhizal nutrient acquisition strategies shape tree species competition and coexistence dynamics. Journal of Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.14040.
L Berrios, M E Van Nuland, J A Manjarrez, J Yeam, G S Clarke, A Clarke, K Alston, & K G Peay (2022) Underground heroes: Plants and microbes partner to shape our world. Frontiers for Young Minds.
M E Van Nuland, I M Ware, C W Schadt, Z K Yang, J A Schweitzer, & J K Bailey (2021) Natural soil microbiome variation affects spring foliar phenology with consequences for plant productivity and climate-driven range shifts. New Phytologist, 232, 762-775.
I M Ware, M E Van Nuland, Z K Yang, C W Schadt, J A Schweitzer, & J K Bailey (2021) Climate-driven divergence in plant-microbiome interactions generates range-wide variation in microbially-mediated bud break phenology. Communications Biology, 4, 1-9.
M E Van Nuland, D P Smith, J M Bhatnagar, A Stefanski, S E Hobbie, P B Reich, & K G Peay (2020) Warming and disturbance alter soil microbiome diversity and function in a northern forest ecotone. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 96, fiaa108.
M E Van Nuland & K G Peay (2020) Symbiotic niche mapping reveals functional specialization by two ectomycorrhizal fungi that expands the host plant niche. Fungal Ecology, 46, 100960.
M E Van Nuland, J B Vincent, I M Ware, L O Mueller, S L J Bayliss, K K Beals, J A Schweitzer, & J K Bailey (2020) Intraspecific trait variation across elevation predicts a widespread tree species’ climate niche and range limits. Ecology and Evolution, DOI:10.1002/ece3.5969.
B S Steidinger, T W Crowther, J Liang, M E Van Nuland, G D A Werner, P B Reich, et al. (2019) Climatic controls of decomposition drive the global biogeography of forest tree symbioses. Nature, 569, 404-408.
M E Van Nuland, M Chen, & B J England (2019) Bringing plants and soils to life through a simple role-playing activity. The American Biology Teacher, 81, 287-290.
I M Ware, M E Van Nuland, J A Schweitzer, et al. (2019) Climate-driven reduction of genetic variation in plant phenology alters soil communities and nutrient pools. Global Change Biology, 25, 1514-1528.
I M Ware, C Fitzpatrick, S Athmanathan, S Bayliss, K Beal, L Mueller, J Summers, R Wooliver, M E Van Nuland, et al. (2019) Feedbacks link ecosystem ecology and evolution: an eco-evolutionary synthesis across terrestrial and aquatic systems. Functional Ecology, 33, 31-42.
M E Van Nuland, I M Ware, J K Bailey, & J A Schweitzer (2018) Ecosystem feedbacks contribute to geographic variation in plant-soil eco-evolutionary dynamics across a fertility gradient. Functional Ecology, 33, 95-106.
R C Wooliver, B M Potts, J K Senior, M E Van Nuland, J K Bailey, & J A Schweitzer (2018) Soil fungi underlie phylogenetic patterns in plant growth responses to nitrogen enrichment. Journal of Ecology, 106, 2161-2175.
J A Schweitzer, M E Van Nuland, & J K Bailey (2018) Intraspecific positive, neutral, and negative feedbacks across gradients link ecology and evolutionary biology. In Aboveground-Belowground Community Ecology, Springer.
M E Van Nuland, J K Bailey, & J A Schweitzer (2017) Divergent plant-soil feedbacks influence range dynamics and ecosystem processes across elevation. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0150.
A A Pfennigwerth, M E Van Nuland, J K Bailey, & J A Schweitzer (2017) Plant-soil feedbacks mediate shrub expansion in declining forests, but only in the right light. Journal of Ecology, 106, 179-194.
M E Van Nuland, R C Wooliver, A A Pfennigwerth, Q D Read, I M Ware, L Mueller, J A Fordyce, J A Schweitzer, & J K Bailey (2016) Plant-soil feedbacks: connecting ecosystem ecology and evolution. Functional Ecology, 30, 1032-1042.
M E Van Nuland & W L Whitlow (2014) Temporal effects on biodiversity and composition of arthropod communities along an urban-rural gradient. Urban Ecosystems, 1-14.
J K Bailey, M A Genung, I Ware, C E Gorman, M E Van Nuland, et al. (2013) Indirect genetic effects: An evolutionary mechanism linking feedbacks, genotypic diversity and coadaptation in a climate change context. Functional Ecology, 28, 87-95.
C E Gorman, Q D Read, M E Van Nuland, J A M Bryant, J N Welch, et al. (2013) Species identity influences belowground arthropod assemblages via functional traits. Annals of Botany Plants, DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/plt049.
M E Van Nuland, E N Haag, J A M Bryant, Q D Read, R N Klein, et al. (2013) Fire promotes pollinator visitation: Implications for ameliorating declines of pollinator services. PLoS ONE, e79853.
Data & Code
M E Van Nuland et al. (2022) Data from: Mycorrhizal nutrient acquisition strategies shape tree competition and coexistence dynamics, Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.7324408.
M E Van Nuland et al. (2021) Data from: Natural soil microbiome variation affects spring foliar phenology with consequences for plant productivity and climate-driven range shifts. Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.5047857.
M E Van Nuland et al. (2020) Data from: Warming and disturbance alter soil microbiome diversity and function in a northern forest ecotone. Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.3873747.
M E Van Nuland et al. (2020) Data from: Symbiotic niche mapping reveals functional specialization by two ectomycorrhizal fungi that expands the host plant niche. Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.3744895.
M E Van Nuland et al. (2020) Data from: Intraspecific trait variation across elevation predicts a widespread tree species’ climate niche and range limits. Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.3571431.
M E Van Nuland, I M Ware, J K Bailey, & J A Schweitzer (2018) Data from: Ecosystem feedbacks contribute to geographic variation in plant-soil eco-evolutionary dynamics across a fertility gradient. Zenodo, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.1608465.
M E Van Nuland, Bailey JK, & Schweitzer JA (2017) Data from: Divergent plant–soil feedbacks could alter future elevation ranges and ecosystem dynamics. Dryad Digital Repository. http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.s5j72
Our latest work showing how plants select soil microbial communities that direct the timing of their spring leaf emergence is now out in New Phytologist and Communications Biology. These two projects provide new details on the role that soil microbiome variation plays in mediating an important plant phenotypic response to climate change, and would not have been possible without the support of many undergraduate researchers helping with thousands of phenology measurements!
I presented in the FEMS Microbiology Ecology Webinar series on our recently published study measuring how forest soil microbial diversity and function respond to experimental warming. This work was done in collaboration with researchers at the Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger experiment (B4WarmED) in northern Minnesota.