Understanding our environment

Benjamin Sikes

Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Assistant Scientist, Kansas Biological Survey
Primary office:
41C Higuchi Hall

Academic degrees and fellowships
Postdoctoral fellow, Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, New Zealand, 2012-2013
David H. Smith Postdoctoral fellow, University of Texas at Austin, 2010-2012
Ph.D., Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Canada, 2010
B.S., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, 2001

Program affiliation
KU Ecosystems Research Group

Areas of specialization
Soil microbial ecology, community ecology of soil microorganisms, plant-soil interactions

Research interests
The vast world below ground has been referred to as the poor man’s tropical rain forest. Ben studies community ecology of soil microorganisms. Research in the lab explores this diversity and interactions among species there as well as how soil microbial ecology cascades up to aboveground communities and ecosystem processes. He focuses mainly on fungi (and some bacteria) that live in soils, and is interested in understanding the dynamics of microbe-plant symbioses, the role of soil microorganisms in community assembly (above and below ground) and the potential to leverage soil microbes in restoration. The lab uses a combination of study methods in the field, greenhouse and in controlled lab conditions, commonly employing a variety of tools including fungal culturing, next generation DNA sequencing and modeling.

Current projects
Ben's lab was just established at the University of Kansas in late August 2013, so new projects will develop over time. Past and ongoing projects include the role of mycorrhizal fungi in plant succession, pathogen accumulation in non-native plants over time, benefits of fungal additions on ecosystem restoration, and interactive assembly of plant and root endophyte communities. New projects under way:

  • drivers of root endophytes in wetland plants as analogs to early land plants;
  • feedbacks among fire, fungi and plants in determining fire regime.

Past undergraduate projects have explored competition among fungi from different land use types (natural, disturbed, converted to agriculture), the ability of fungi from different land uses to decompose above- and below-ground plant material, and the synergistic benefit to plants from functionally different fungi.

Recent publications

J.R. Powell and B.A. Sikes. 2014. Method or Madness: Does OTU delineation bias our perceptions of fungal ecology? New Phytologist. 202: 1095-1097.

B.A. Sikes, H. Maherali, J.N. Klironomos. 2014. Mycorrhizal fungal growth responds to soil characteristics, but not plant host identity, during a primary lacustrine dune succession. Mycorrhiza. 24(3):219-226.

B.A. Sikes, H. Maherali, J.N. Klironomos. ​2012. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities change among three stages of primary sand dune succession but do not alter plant growth. Oikos. 121:1791-1800.

K.C. Courtney, L.D. Bainard, B.A. Sikes, A.M. Koch, M.M. Hart, H. Maherali, J.N. Klironomos. 2012. Determining a minimum detection threshold in termal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. Journal of Microbiological Methods. 88(1):14-18.

J. Harnden, A.S. MacDougall, B.A. Sikes. 2011. Field-based effects of allelopathy in invaded tallgrass prairie. Botany. 89(4):227-234.

S.A. Schnitzer, J.N. Klironomos, J. HilleRisLambers, L.L. Kinkel, P.B. Reich, K. Xiao, M.C. Rillig, B.A. Sikes, R.M. Callaway. 2011. Soil microbes drive the classic plant diversity-productivity pattern. Ecology. 92(2):296-393. [Selected by Faculty of 1000]