Soil Microbial Ecology Lab – Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture

Welcome to the Hoagland Soil Microbial Ecology Lab

Sky garden at Eskanazi Hospital in Indianapolis

The primary goal of our of lab is to support the continued growth and long-term sustainability of local specialty crop (e.g. vegetables, herbs, fruit) production systems. Diversifying local agricultural production systems with high value specialty crops and integrating crop production into urban centers can provide new sources of income, improve human health and well-being, and bring broad environmental benefits. However, to achieve these goals, farmers must deal with soils that are degraded and potentially contaminated, keep up with pathogens that are constantly evolving to overcome existing control strategies, improve nutrient-use efficiency, and adapt to changing climates that could bring new challenges such as heavier spring rains and prolonged periods of drought. Farmers also need crop varieties that are best adapted to local production and environmental constraints, and yield produce that is unique, nutritious and safe to compete in the local marketplace.

To help farmers overcome these challenges, our lab studies soil microbial ecology and beneficial plant-microbial relationships. The soil microbial community regulates many key agroecosystems services including nutrient and heavy metal cycling, pathogen dynamics and pollutant detoxification. Moreover, some soil microbes can form intimate associations with plants, helping them acquire nutrients and better withstand assault by pathogens and abiotic stress caused by heavy metals, drought, salt and heat. New genomic tools developed in the last decade have greatly expanded awareness of the abundance and diversity of soil and plant microbiomes, though understanding of how individual taxa evolve and proliferate in soil systems and mechanistically interact with plants to improve their health and performance are in their infancy. This makes our job challenging, though we are confident that the results of our studies will generate new scientific insights into beneficial plant-soil-microbial relationships that will help farmers overcome production challenges and ensure the success of the growing local food sector here in the U.S. and around the world.