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.

  • 2018- 2021 D.R. Zak Title: Ectomycorrhizal fungi and the enzymatic liberation of nitrogen from soil organic matter: ecosystem processes and underlying molecular mechanisms. Sponsor: National Science Foundation $898,855.

  • 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: 
  • 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 doi: 10.1111/nph.14598
  • Romanowicz, K.J., and D.R. Zak. 2017. Activity of an introduced earthworm increases under future rates of atmospheric N deposition in a northern temperate forest. Applied Soil Ecology 120: 206-210.
  • Ibáñez, I, D.R. Zak, A.J. Burton and K.S. Pregitzer. 2018. Anthropogenic N deposition ameliorates the decline in tree growth caused by a drier climate. Ecology doi: 10.1002/ecy.2095.
  • Entwistle, E.E., D.R. Zak, and W. Argiroff. 2018. Anthropogenic N deposition increases soil C storage by reducing the relative abundance of lignolytic fungi. Ecological
  • Entwistle, E.E., K.J. Romanowicz, W.A. Argiroff, Z. B. Freedman, J. J. Morris. and D.R. Zak 2018. Anthropogenic N deposition alter the composition of expressed class II fungal peroxidases. Applied and Environmental Microbiology doi: 10.1128/AEM.02816-17
  • Gan, H., D.R. Zak, and M.D. Hunter. 2018. Scale dependency of dispersal limitation, environmental filtering and biotic interactions determine the diversity and composition of oribatid mite communities. Pedobiologia in press.
  • Zak, D.R., W.A. Argiroff, Z.B. Freedman, R.A. Upchurch and E.M. Entwistle. 2018. Fungal gene expression underlies an increasing soil carbon sink in the Northern Hemisphere. Nature Climate Change in revision.
  • Walker, W.P., M.G. De Kauwe, B. E. Medlyn, S. Zaehle, C. Iversen, S. Asao, B. Guenet, P.J. Hanson, A. Harper, T. Hickler, B. Hungate, A. Jain, Y. Luo, C. Lu, M. Lu, K. Luus, H. McCarthy, P. Megonigal, R. Oren, W.J. Parton, S. Shu, A. Talhelm, Y. Wang, J.M. Warren, C. Werner, J. Xia, D.R. Zak, R.J. Norby. 2018. A decade of atmospheric CO2 enrichment increases biomass carbon-sequestration across multiple forests. Nature Communications in revision.
Read more publications here.


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