2020 applicants

Kirsty Matthews Nicholass

School of Life Sciences
Postgraduate Research Student
School of Life Sciences
 Kirsty Matthews Nicholass



Global biodiversity is declining rapidly and there is an urgent need for sustainable management approaches to stem this decline. The paradox of biodiversity and how plant species stably coexist is one of the most enduring questions in ecology. For example, negative density dependent (NDD; Janzen-Cornell) effects in tropical forests, which selects for rare species by elevating mortality when individual tree species occur at high density. The main drivers behind this are believed to be a local build up of foliar pathogens and herbivorous insects. Within temperate grassland communities, these effects primarily occur belowground, where plant species progressively make their local soil environment less suitable for members of the same species. Recent plant-soil-feedback (PSF) experiments, controlling for changes in nutrient status, have identified microbial pathogens as important drivers of negative PSF effects and experiments applying fungicidal treatments have suggested pathogenic fungi may be particularly important. However, the identity and specify of these fungi has not been determined. PSF may be more important in promoting species coexistence than mechanisms based on niche differentiation, as root trait differences between species are not large enough to occupy separate species-specific niches. Similar to Janzen-Cornell effects reported in tropical forests, PSF effects select for local rarity of plant species, and maintain diversity by opposing competitive exclusion from common species. This suggests that the strength of associations between rhizosphere fungi and host plants may be stronger in rarer species, yet this remains largely unexplored. The aim of my work is to characterise the community composition of root associated fungal microbes, identify if these microbes are host specific to plant species, and determine if the strength of this 'host-specific' relationship varies across an aboveground diversity gradient.


  • BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences University of Essex, (2016)


University of Essex

  • Graduate Laboratory Assistant, Biological Sciences, University of Essex (1/10/2016 - 1/10/2020)

Other academic

  • Visiting Student, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana (1/10/2016 - 1/10/2020)

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Plant Biology and Ecosystems (BS111)

  • Research Project in Biomedical Science (BS831)

  • Research Project in Life Sciences (BS832)


Journal articles (3)

Luke, SH., Advento, AD., Aryawan, AAK., Adhy, DN., Ashton-Butt, A., Barclay, H., Dewi, JP., Drewer, J., Dumbrell, AJ., Edi, Eycott, AE., Harianja, MF., Hinsch, JK., Hood, ASC., Kurniawan, C., Kurz, DJ., Mann, DJ., Matthews Nicholass, KJ., Naim, M., Pashkevich, MD., Prescott, GW., Ps, S., Pujianto, Purnomo, D., Purwoko, RR., Putra, S., Rambe, TDS., Soeprapto, Spear, DM., Suhardi, Tan, DJX., Tao, H-H., Tarigan, RS., Wahyuningsih, R., Waters, HS., Widodo, RH., Whendy, Woodham, CR., Caliman, J-P., Slade, EM., Snaddon, JL., Foster, WA. and Turner, EC., Managing Oil Palm Plantations More Sustainably: Large-Scale Experiments Within the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change. 2

Bani, A., Borruso, L., Matthews Nicholass, KJ., Bardelli, T., Polo, A., Pioli, S., Gómez-Brandón, M., Insam, H., Dumbrell, AJ. and Brusetti, L., (2019). Site-Specific Microbial Decomposer Communities Do Not Imply Faster Decomposition: Results from a Litter Transplantation Experiment.. Microorganisms. 7 (9), 349-349

Clark, DR., Ferguson, RMW., Harris, DN., Matthews Nicholass, KJ., Prentice, HJ., Randall, KC., Randell, L., Warren, SL. and Dumbrell, AJ., (2018). Streams of data from drops of water: 21st century molecular microbial ecology. WIREs Water. 5 (4), e1280-e1280




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