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Host Identity and Climate as Determinants of Ectomycorrhizal Fungal Distribution in Scotland

Oak Forest
The main aim of this project is to determine the ECM species associated with different native host trees and to relate community composition and species distributions to biotic and abiotic factors.

Background

Over 85% of land plants are obligate associated with mycorrhizal fungi illustrating the importance of the symbiosis. Fungi provide water and essential nutrients to their host plants in exchange for carbohydrates derived from photosynthesis. The fungi furthermore play a major role in enabling the host plant to cope with fluctuating environmental conditions such as drought and extreme temperatures. They are also important in enhancing plant resistance to disease.

This study will focus on the ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi associated with the native tree species in Scotland. Existing records show that there are ca. 900 ECM species recorded in Scotland. This is only about one-half of the species recorded in Scandinavia. The reasons for this huge disparity are largely unknown and will be investigated in the current project. Scottish studies on ECM fungi have so far focused on those associated with Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and on mountain shrubs (for example, Betula nana). We know incredibly little about the composition and resilience of ECM fungi in symbiosis with other native hosts and the factors that influence their distributions.

Aim

The main aim of this project is to determine the ECM species associated with different native host trees and to relate community composition and species distributions to biotic (for example, host traits, associated vegetation) and abiotic (for example, climate, nitrogen deposition) factors.

The outcomes of the project

  • Insights into the diversity of symbiotic fungal communities associated with Scottish native host trees.
  • Predictions on the importance of climate in structuring symbiotic fungal communities in Scotland.
  • Insight into the importance of symbiotic fungi for forest managers and woodland expansion policies.
  • Comparison between Scotland and Scandinavia will give new insights on how trees and their associated ECM communities colonised and developed after the last glaciation.

Mushrooms

Methodology

The project will employ a combination of traditional morphological identification of fungal fruit bodies and modern molecular analysis of the fungi directly on the host roots. These data combined give the best assessment of the total diversity at a site. Samples of both will be collected from each host plant at representative sites across Scotland which cover a diverse range of climate and environmental conditions. Environmental site parameters will be collected directly (for example, soil pH) or derived from climate or N deposition models. Multivariate statistical approaches will be used to relate community composition to site parameters.

Staff involved

Peggy Ehrlich, Andy Taylor and Robin Pakeman and David Johnson (University of Aberdeen). Please contact Peggy Ehrlich at the James Hutton Institute for further questions about the research programme.

Funding

This research is being funded by the Macaulay Development Trust and the University of Aberdeen.

Research

Areas of Interest


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.