Donald R. Zak

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; Burton V. Barnes Collegiate Professor of Ecology


PhD, Michigan State University

MS, University of Idaho

BS, Cum Laude, Ohio State University

(734) 763-4991


Don Zak holds a joint appointment in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and Arts. His research investigates links between the composition and function of soil microbial communities and the influence of microbial activity on ecosystem-level processes. This work draws on ecology, microbiology, and biochemistry and is focused at several scales of understanding, ranging from the molecular to the ecosystem scale. Current research centers on understanding the link between plant and microbial activity within terrestrial ecosystems, and the influence climate change may have on these dynamics. Teaching includes courses in soil ecology and ecosystem ecology.

  • 2013-2016: D.R. Zak Title: Atmospheric N deposition and microbial mechanisms enhancing soil carbon storage. $1,467,520/ DoE Biological and Environmental Research.

  • 2013-2018: D.R. Zak Title: LTREB: Long-term ecosystem response to chronic atmospheric N deposition. $201,284/ NSF Ecosystems Panel.

  • Atmospheric nitrogen deposition and molecular mechanisms enhancing soil carbon storage. Sponsor: DoE Biological and Environmental Research

  • Long-term ecosystem response to chronic atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Sponsor: NSF Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology Program (LTREB)

  • Named Arthur F. Thurnau Professor by U-M Board of Regents in recognition of exceptional contributions to undergraduate education - February 2017
  • Francis Clark Lectureship: Frontiers in Soil Biology – Awarded by the Soil Science Society of America for research excellence in soil microbiology and biochemistry - 2009
  • Students for SNRE Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award – 2006-2007; 2011-2012
  • Best Paper Award, Division S-7, Soil Science Society of America Annual Meeting, 1993, Cincinnati, OH
  • Best Paper Award, Division S-7, Soil Science Society of America Annual Meeting, 1986, New Orleans, LA.
  • Graduate Research Fellowships, Michigan State University, 1984, 1985.

Select publications: 
  • Romanowicz, K.J., Z. Freedman, R. Upchurch and D.R. Zak. 2016. Total and active soil microbial communities in forest soil are shaped by soil water and pH. FEMS Microbial Ecology 92:10
  • Ibáñez, I., D.R. Zak, A.J. Burton and K.S. Pregitzer. 2016. Chronic N deposition alters allometric relationships in Acer saccharum: woody biomass production and ecosystem C storage. Ecological Applications 26: 913-925.
  • Zak, D.R., Z.B. Freedman, R. Upchurch. M. Steffens, and I. Kögel-Knabner. 2016. Anthropogenic N deposition increases soil organic matter accumulation without altering its biochemical composition. Global Change Biology DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13480
  • Freedman, Z., R.A. Upchurch and D.R. Zak. 2016. Microbial potential for ecosystem N loss is increased by experimental N deposition. PLoS One 10: e0164531 
  • Arigiroff, W.A., D.R. Zak, C.M. Lanser, and M.J. Wiley. 2016. Microbial community functional potential and composition are shaped by hydrologic connectivity in riverine floodplain soils. Microbial Ecology doi:10.1007/s00248-016-0883-9
  • Cline, L.C., D.R. Zak, R.A. Upchurch, Z. Freedman and A.R. Peschel. 2017. Soil microbial communities and elk migratory behavior: implications for soil biogeochemical cycling in sagebrush steppe. Ecology Letters 20: 202-211.
  • Norby, R.J., M.G. De Kauwe, A.P. Walker, C. Werner, S. Zaehle, and D.R. Zak. 2017. Comment on: Mycorrhizal association as a primary control of the CO2 fertilization effect. Science 355:358b
  • Pellitier, P.T., and D.R. Zak. 2017. Ectomycorrhizal fungi and the enzymatic liberation of nitrogen from soil organic matter: why evolutionary history matters. New Phytologist in press.

Read more publications here.


Science Advisory Board, Climate Change Program, Oak Ridge National Lab (2009-2011).