The Lab

Why study roots?

Trees are the woody pillars of many terrestrial ecosystems and serve as a common interest among ecologists and the public. However, most ecologists studying trees focus aboveground on leaves, stems, and reproductive structures (e.g., cones, seeds, flowers, and fruits). Further, the benefits of trees and plants in general are often shared with us from an aboveground perspective, emphasizing what we as humans tend to see or interact with in our everyday lives. As the aboveground world captures our collective attention, belowground lies complex interactions and processes that play an equally pivotal role in shaping our blue-green planet. 

Let us transition from blue and green to brown and dark. When most people think of the belowground world, they think of roots. That's for good reason, as roots play a key role in tree survival and also impact ecosystem-scale processes like water and nutrient cycles. The smallest roots in the root system, called the fine roots, function in water and nutrient uptake. Fine roots also mediate how much water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous plants release back into the soil and atmosphere. Finally, fine roots interact with mycorrhizal fungi and other soil microbes. These interactions drive processes such as decomposition, soil carbon sequestration, and the structuring of soil food webs. To uncover how fine roots grow, interact with mycorrhizal fungi and soil microbes, and influence the world we see aboveground, the Root Biology Lab at The Morton Arboretum uses the following tools: 

The Team

Meet the people responsible for making the lab such a fun and supportive environment.

Also, visit the Root Lab's site here.

Luke McCormack

Principal Investigator

Chopper of wood

Marvin Lo

Lab manager

Keeper of arboretum secrets

Teddy Stoycheva

Research Assistant

Master of cones

Nicholas Medina


Trail mix aficionado

Ryo Nakahata


Murakami stan

Kelsey Patrick

PhD Student

PROVOST winner

Claire Kaliski


Irish stepdancer