Research at the Mofettes

Research at the Mofettes (Natural CO2 Springs)

If we want to learn, how to maintain soil health and ecosystem services that this provides to humankind, we have to understand the ecology and function of soil biota. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are a very important and abundant functional group of soil microorganisms in practically all terrestrial ecosystems.

It is still not clear, what structures AM fungal communities in natural environments. There is some evidence that where an extreme environmental stress occurs in soils, there are a small number of AM fungal lineages that are better able to tolerate those conditions, which results in unique, adapted populations. Hypoxia is a common transition property of the soil that appears often in waterlogged and flooded soils. We study evolution, biodiversity, ecology and function of AM fungi in soils with an extreme but localized abiotic stress (high soil CO2 concentration and consequently low O2 availability – hypoxia) to determine how these organisms respond to strong abiotic selection pressures.

For this purpose we use extreme natural ecosystems, mofettes (natural CO2 springs), ambient temperature CO2-exhaling gas vents occurring in regions of tectonic or volcanic activity. These specific environments are characterized by high soil CO2 (up to 99.9%), and reduced soil O2 concentrations, leading to a locally hypoxic environment, a long-term abiotic selection pressure affecting soil biota. Information on AM fungal or other microbial communities from mofette areas or in general, hypoxic environments, is very limited. Nevertheless, the quantification of AM fungi from plant roots sampled in the Stavešinci mofette area (Slovenia), confirmed the presence of apparently unique fungal assemblages across a range of soil CO2 concentrations and currently we are trying to isolate and describe those potentially new AM (and other) fungal species from the mofette environments.


  • 2013-2016  – Response of plant roots and mycorrhizal fungi to soil hypoxia’ (Slovenian Research Agency – basic research project).
    Principal Investigator:  Dr Irena Maček
  • 2011-2013 – ‘Diversity and phylogeography of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in mofette areas’  Royal Society International Joint Project
    Principal Investigator: Dr Thorunn Helgason (University of York, Department of Biology, UK), co-applicant: Dr Irena Maček
  • 2009-2012 – ‘Biodiversity and ecology of extremophilic fungi at natural CO2 springs’ (Slovenian Research Agency – basic research project).
    Principal Investigator:  Dr Irena Maček
  • 2007-2008 – ‘The effects of hypoxia and elevated CO2 concentrations on arbuscular mycorrhiza’ (Slovenian Research Agency – postdoctoral project).
    Principal Investigator:  Dr Irena Maček


University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty
Dr Irena Maček
Dr Nataša Šibanc
Prof. Dominik Vodnik
Dr Klemen Eler
Prof. David Stopar
Dr Polona Zalar
Dr Tjaša Danevčič

Forestry Institute of Slovenia
Dr Hojka Kraigher
Dr Mitja Ferlan
Dr Peter Železnik
Dr Tine Grebenc

University of Primorska, Faculty of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Information Technologies
Dr Elena Bužan

Agricultural Institute of Slovenia
Dr Hans-Josef Schroers

University of York, Department of Biology, York, UK
Dr Thorunn Helgason

University of Essex, School of Biological Sciences, Colchester, UK
Dr Alex J. Dumbrell

Agroscope, Zürich, CH
dr. Fritz Oehl


Other research projects: