The University of Otago
Department of Microbiology & Immunology
CONTACT PI: Sergio Morales [email]
University of Canterbury - Sergio Morales


Our goal is to understand how microbes survive in the environment, and how their presence affects ecosystem processes like primary productivity and nutrient turnover.  By understanding how microorganisms adapt and respond to environmental cues we can harness some of their power, and predict how ecosystems will react to environmental changes. Our lab has two primary research areas: soils and marine environments. Within the marine space the lab collaborates with the Baltar lab to run the MOTS (Munida Microbial Observatory Time-Series) project. This long-term ecological research site focuses on time series analysis of microbial communities within marine communities in the NZ Subtropical Frontal Zone. Our work through MOTS established the importance of marine ecotones as boundaries for microbial communities. In soils, the labs interest center on the role of unaccounted for microbes and pathways in controlling N2O emissions. Currently we are elucidating the ecological rules controlling responses to N deposition in pasture soils.



  • Microbial community structuring
  • Nitrogen cycling and greenhouse gas emissions in soils
  • Munida Microbial Observatory Time Series Project (MOTS)
  • The ro le of microbes in mediating ecosystem services


Staff and Post-docs: Rachel Kaminsky, Emilee Williams
Postgraduate students: Cecilia Wang, Scott Lockwood, Matthew Highton, Sven Tobias, Fenella Deans, Jess Wenley.


Kaminsky R, Morales SE. 2018. Conditionally rare taxa contribute but do not account for changes in soil prokaryotic community structure. Front Microbiol, 809, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.00809.

Kaminsky R, Trouche B, Morales SE. 2017. Soil classification predicts differences in prokaryotic communities across a range of geographically distant soils once pH is accounted for. Sci Rep, 7, 45369, doi:10.1038/srep45369.

Samad MS, Johns C, Richards KG, Lanigan GJ, de Klein CAM, Clough TJ, Morales SE. 2017. Response to nitrogen addition reveals metabolic and ecological strategies of soil bacteria. Mol Ecol26, 5500-5514, doi:10.1111/mec.14275.

Baltar F, Currie K, Stuck E, Roosa S, Morales SE. 2016. Oceanic fronts: transition zones for bacterioplankton community composition. Environ Microbiol Rep, 8, 132-138, doi:10.1111/1758-2229.12362.

Greening C, Biswas A, Carere CR, Jackson CJ, Taylor MC, Stott MB, Cook GM, Morales SE. 2016. Genomic and metagenomic surveys of hydrogenase distribution indicate H2 is a widely utilised energy source for microbial growth and survival. ISME J10, 761-777, doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.153.