Sophie van Rijssel

Sophie van Rijssel MSc

PhD Student


Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

+31 (0) 317 47 34 00

The Netherlands



I am a plant and soil ecologist with a passion for data analysis. I really enjoy to work with complex multivariate datasets of biodiversity data to understand community composition and find links to ecosystem functioning.


Currently I am working on my PhD research that is part of the NWO-Green project: “Vital soils for sustainable intensification of agriculture”.

For vital soils it is crucial to have a soil community that is providing nutrients at the right time, and controlling emerging diseases. Yet, we still have a poor understanding of soil community composition and functioning in agro-ecosystems. We will perform lab, greenhouse and field experiments in which we study how soil communities are affected by management and how they affect ecosystem functions. With this research we provide a basis for developing management practices which can steer soil communities towards favouring both high crop yields and minimal environmental impacts.




PhD Student


BSc and MSc in Forest and Nature Conservation


Belangrijkste publicaties

  • Plant and Soil

    Plant functional group drives the community structure of saprophytic fungi in a grassland biodiversity experiment

    Davide Francioli, Sophie Q van Rijssel, Jasper van Ruijven, Aad J Termorshuizen, TE Cotton, Alex J Dumbrell, Jos M Raaijmakers,
    Aims Saprophytic fungi are important agents of soil mineralization and carbon cycling. Their community structure is known to be affected by soil conditions such as organic matter and pH. However, the effect of plant species, whose roots provide the litter input into the soil, on the saprophytic fungal community is largely unknown. Methods We examined the saprophytic fungi in a grassland biodiversity experiment with eight plant species belonging to two functional groups (grasses and forbs), combining DNA extraction from plant roots, next-generation sequencing and literature research. Results We found that saprophyte richness increased with plant species richness, but plant functional group richness was the best predictor. Plant functional group was also the main factor driving fungal saprophytic community structure. This effect was correlated with differences in root lignin content and C:N ratio between grasses and forbs. In monocultures, root traits and plant functional group type explained 16% of the variation in community structure. The saprophyte taxa detected in mixed plant communities were to a large extent subsets of those found in monocultures. Conclusions Our work shows that the richness and community structure of the root-associated saprophytic fungi can largely be predicted by plant functional groups and their associated root traits. This means that the effects of plant diversity on ecosystem functions such as litter decomposition may also be predictable using information on plant functional groups in grasslands.
  • New Phytologist

    Lost in diversity: the interactions between soil‐borne fungi, biodiversity and plant productivity

    Liesje Mommer, TE Anne Cotton, Jos M Raaijmakers, Aad J Termorshuizen, Jasper van Ruijven, Marloes Hendriks, Sophia Q van Rijsse
    There is consensus that plant species richness enhances plant productivity within natural grasslands, but the underlying drivers remain debated. Recently, differential accumulation of soil-borne fungal pathogens across the plant diversity gradient has been proposed as a cause of this pattern. However, the below-ground environment has generally been treated as a ‘black box’ in biodiversity experiments, leaving these fungi unidentified. Using next generation sequencing and pathogenicity assays, we analysed the community composition of root-associated fungi from a biodiversity experiment to examine if evidence exists for host specificity and negative density dependence in the interplay between soil-borne fungi, plant diversity and productivity. Plant species were colonised by distinct (pathogenic) fungal communities and isolated fungal species showed negative, species-specific effects on plant growth. Moreover, 57% of the pathogenic fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) recorded in plant monocultures were not detected in eight plant species plots, suggesting a loss of pathogenic OTUs with plant diversity. Our work provides strong evidence for host specificity and negative density-dependent effects of root-associated fungi on plant species in grasslands. Our work substantiates the hypothesis that fungal root pathogens are an important driver of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships.
  • Journal of Vegetation Science

    Depth‐based differentiation in nitrogen uptake between graminoids and shrubs in an Arctic tundra plant community

    Peng Wang, Juul Limpens, Ake Nauta, Corine van Huissteden, Sophie Quirina van Rijssel, Liesje Mommer, Hans de Kroon, Trofim C Ma
    Questions The rapid climate warming in tundra ecosystems can increase nutrient availability in the soil, which may initiate shifts in vegetation composition. The direction in which the vegetation shifts will co-determine whether Arctic warming is mitigated or accelerated, making the understanding of successional trajectories urgent. One of the key factors influencing the competitive relationships between plant species is their access to nutrients, depending on the depth where they take up most nutrients. However, nutrient uptake at different soil depths by tundra plant species that differ in rooting depth is unclear. Location Kytalyk Nature Reserve, northeast Siberia, Russia. Methods We injected 15N to 5 cm, 15 cm and the thaw front of the soil in a moist tussock tundra. The absorption of 15N by grasses, sedges, deciduous shrubs and evergreen shrubs from the three depths was compared. Results The results clearly show a vertical differentiation of N uptake by these plant functional types, corresponding to their rooting strategy. Shallow-rooting dwarf shrubs were more capable of absorbing nutrients from the upper soil than from deeper soil. Deep-rooting grasses and sedges were more capable of absorbing nutrients from deeper soil than the dwarf shrubs. The natural 15N abundances in control plants also indicate that graminoids can absorb more nutrients from the deeper soil than dwarf shrubs. Conclusions Our results show that graminoids and shrubs in the Arctic differ in their N uptake strategies, with graminoids profiting from nutrients released at the thaw front, while shrubs mainly forage in upper soil layers. Our results suggest that tundra vegetation will become graminoid-dominated as permafrost thaw progresses and nutrient availability increases in the deep soil.

Projecten & samenwerkingen


  • Vital soils for sustainable intensification of agriculture

    Project 2016–2021
    A key challenge for sustainable intensification of agriculture is to produce increasing amounts of food for a growing world population, with minimal loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. In order to facilitate ecological intensification of agriculture, the underlying principles need to be understood and validated in farmers’ fields