Fotograaf: Jan van Arkel

mw. dr. W.E. (Elly) Morriën

  • Faculteit der Natuurwetenschappen, Wiskunde en Informatica
  • Bezoekadres
    Science Park A
    Science Park 904  Amsterdam
  • Postadres:
    Postbus  94248
    1090 GE  Amsterdam

Research interest

My general research interest lies in the interactions between plants and their root associated community, the belowground soil food web. I am mainly interested in how soil communities shape plant communities and vice versa. Until now I have looked at the effects of soil community change in a successional gradient on carbon flows through the soil food web with the use of stable isotopes. I could relate these functional data to a large scale field sampling campaign in the same successional gradient, which made it possible to correlate field abundances and biomass to carbon turnover in a wide range of soil biota (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, collembola, enchytraeids, earthworms and spiders)

Soil cores labeled with 13C




2011-   Wageningen University/Netherlands Institute of Ecology - Terrestrial Ecology

            Title of thesis: Climate induced range-expanding plants: above- and belowground interactions

Master’s degree

2005-   Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – Ecology

Bachelor’s degree

2003-   Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – Biology


Research experience

Research projects

  • Post-doctoral research, November 2015 – present

At the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), Earth Surface Science (ESS) research group. Topic: Finding mechanisms that drive secondary succession in plant and soil communities. Advisor: Prof. dr. P.C. de Ruiter.

  • Post-doctoral research, October 2011 – October 2015

At the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), department of Terrestrial Ecology within European project EcoFINDERS. Topic: Linking soil community structure and nutrient cycling in a chronosequence of abandoned agricultural fields. Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ir. W.H. van der Putten.

  • PhD research, September 2005 – September 2011

At the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), department of Terrestrial Ecology. Topic: Climate induced range-expanding plants: above- and belowground interactions. Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ir. W.H. van der Putten.

  • Researcher Invasion biology, May – July 2005

At the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, department of Animal Ecology. Supervisor: Dr. M.P. Berg

  • Msc research internship, May 2004 – January 2005

At the University of Helsinki, Metapopulation Research Group. Advisors: Dr. S. Gripenberg, Dr. T. Roslin and Prof. Dr. I. Hanski.

  • Msc research internship, March 2003 – February 2004

At the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, department Theoretical Biology. Advisors: Dr. L.D.J. Kuijper, Dr. M.P. Berg, Dr. B.W. Kooi and Prof. Dr. S.A.L.M. Kooijman.

  • Bsc research internship, February – September 2002

At the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, department of Animal Ecology. Advisors: Dr. M.I. Zorn, Dr. M. Vijver, Dr. Ir. C.A.M. van Gestel and Prof. Dr. N.M. van Straalen.



2015-   VENI-NWO grant.

2009-   Best student presentation, British Ecological Society (BES) Specialist Interest Group          ‘Invasive Species’.

2009-   Best paper prize for the Engelkes et al. 2008 paper, Netherlands and Flemish Ecological  Society (Necov) Annual meeting.


Teaching experience

2016 onwards: One day per week I spend on teaching duties at the University of Amsterdam including coaching bachelor and master students from within and outside the university during their internships. I teach within the bachelor Future Planet Studies (BSc-FPS) and the master Earth Sciences, track Environmental Management (MSc-ES). I teach in the following courses: Desertification and Land degradation, Soils and Environment, Soil and Crop Quality Lab and Biogeochemical cycles.

2006 - 2016: Coaching of internship students

  • 10 students from the laboratory school
  • 4 master-students from both Dutch and international universities

2005 & 2006 Guest lectures: Ecosystem theories on landscape fragmentation, CML, Leiden University.

2004-   Teaching assistant, Theoretical Biology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


The majority of current theory on plant community ecology has been based on vegetation succession at abandoned arable land. This shows how habitat filtering and competition for limiting resources structures plant community composition. Currently, there is consensus that plant community development is the result of those factors, as well as of interactions with their soil community. Here, we address the question how soil community  structure affect nitrogen and carbon cycling during secondary succession. In 2011, we visited 9 grassland sites, categorized as recent, mid-term, long-term abandoned ex-arable fields. Bacteria and fungi were identified by pyrosequencing, while archaea were identified using TRFLP. The protists, micro-fauna, nematodes, enchytraeids and earthworms were extracted and morphologically identified until high taxonomic levels, often species level. In total, around 15 000 species were identified from the soils. We created a Spearman-rank correlation matrix based on abundance data of species which we visualized in a network as an overview of the soil community present. In 2012, intact soil cores with comparable plant vegetation were collected from the same sampling points. Stable isotope probing of the cores was performed using dual labelled 15N ammonium nitrate (15NH415NO3) and 13C was fed to the plants in the form of 13CO2. The soil food web structure was resolved by identifying the microbes using phospholipid markers and identifying soil fauna by morphology into similar groups as for the network analysis, both combined with isotopic measurements.

We provide evidence that the conversion of soil food web structure appears to be more important than a quantitative change in biodiversity as such. Moreover, we show that structural changes in the food web topology also leads to functional changes in the soil food web which can act as a driving force during land use change after human disturbance. Stable isotope analysis showed that plants in the long-term abandoned soil cores allocated less newly photosynthesized carbon to their roots and took up less nitrogen from the soil. Stable isotope analysis also showed that fungi and their consumers become more important in later successional stages, but that the fungal to bacterial ratio stayed constant over time. We can conclude that during secondary succession the system shifts in terms of function from bacterial dominated to fungal dominated. However, most changes in correlation strength of the network already occur in the early stages of secondary succession, suggesting that succession effects continue on a functional level after most interaction pathways become established in early successional stages.

Next step is to find out not only what kind of community profile changes occur during secondary succession, but also whether we can manipulate the process by introducing later successional soil with microbes and fauna into early successional soil.


Master project I: Enzymatic activities of microbial communities in a land abandonment chronosequence

From an earlier experiment I have soil DNA extracts. In this experiment the soil biodiversity of the microbes was manipulated. I already have a full sequencing profile of the fungal and bacterial community, but I would like to the active functional genes expressed in the fungal community to look at biodiversity -function relationships in a secondary succession context where ex-arable lands are converted into natural grasslands. I am interested in the functional changes in the soil biota related to this land-use transition. Therefore, I would like to test these soils in an hydrolitic enzyme essays where enzymatic activity is tested fo enzymes involved in the C, N and P cycle

Required: Basic lab experience.

Methods used: hydrolitic enzym essay

Starting time: any time is possible but January 2017 is preferred.


Master project II: Speed-up of secondary succession by soil and microbe/fauna transplantation

I look for students that are interested in measuring microbes or fauna, such as nematodes, mites, collembola, spiders or earthwoms, (or even have experience in fauna determination) in an experiment where I want to label living soil cores with stable C and N isotopes. Transplanting of successional stages will be done, whereafter the function of the soil micro- and meso-fauna will be monitored using molecular sequencing techniques for community profiling and community response profile and hydrolitic enzyme activity for function.

Required: Affinity with soil biota, microbiology or soil animals.

Methods used: Oostenbrink elutrator, Tullgren, CRP, hydrolytic enzym essays

Starting time: Preferably from out May 2017.







  • T. Engelkes, W.E. Morriën, K.J.F. Verhoeven, T.M. Bezemer, A. Biere, J.A. Harvey, L.M. McIntyre, W.L.M. Tamis & W.H. van der Putten (2008). Successful range-expanding plantsexperience less above-ground and below-ground enemy impact. Nature, 456, 946-948. doi: 10.1038/nature07474
  • M.I. Zorn, C.A.M. van Gestel, W.E. Morriën, M. Wagenaar & H. Eijsackers (2008). Flooding responses of three earthworm species Allolobophora chlorotica, Aporrectodea caliginosa and Lumbricus rubellus in a laboratory-controlled environment. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 40, 587-593. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2007.06.028
  • S. Gripenberg, O. Ovaskainen, E. Morriën & T. Roslin (2008). Spatial population structure of a specialist leaf-mining moth. Journal of Animal Ecology, 77 (4), 757-767. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01396.x


  • W.E. Morriën (2011, September 20). Climate induced range-expanding plants: above- and belowground interactions. Wageningen University. Supervisor(s): W.H. van der Putten.
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