Claire Willing

Assistant Professor
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
College of the Environment
Claire Willing Faculty page


What is your Research Focus?

Just as studies of gut microbiomes have revolutionized our understanding of human health, belowground, plant roots are centers of plant metabolism where interactions with microbial communities can have critical implications for ecosystem function. At the confluence of microbial ecology, plant community ecology, and plant physiological ecology, my research investigates the impact of climate change on forest microbiomes and the consequences for ecosystem resistance and resilience. To do this, I utilize molecular tools, ecological theory, techniques in plant physiological ecology and stable isotope ecology, and field and manipulative greenhouse experiments. Research in my lab is primarily focused on plant-fungal interactions, especially those between plant roots and root-associated mutualistic fungi known as mycorrhizal fungi.

The first major goal of my research program is to characterize and quantify the impact of climate change on plant-associated microbial communities. Then, taking the information that we learn about the impact of climate change on microbial communities, the second major axis of my research program is to understand how the presence of key microbes mediates dynamics of plant species assembly after disturbances like drought, fire, or range shifts. Using the information gained from testing the role of microbes on vegetation dynamics, the last goal of my research program is to determine the role of microbial communities in the physiological resistance of plants to climate change.

Claire Willing resaerch pic

What opportunities at the UW excite you?

I love collaborating across disciplinary boundaries to address the complex issues associated with climate change, so I am very excited to be joining such a transdisciplinary group of researchers at UW who focus on the many and varied impacts of climate change. I am also very excited to be able to conduct field work in the incredible PNW, especially at some of the amazing field research stations associated with UW.