A study examines the importance of soil microbes to the growth and survival of pinyon pines over a two-decade period that included normal and drought conditions. Different plants of the same species are often associated with different soil fungi. However, the consequences of growth in the presence of different fungal communities remain unclear. Catherine Gehring and colleagues examined whether variability in plant genetics and ectomycorrhizal fungal communities (EMF)--mutualistic fungi associated with plant roots--can explain drought tolerance in pinyon pine (Pinus edulis), a dominant tree in the southwestern United States. The study combined greenhouse studies, garden experiments, and two decades of field data. The authors found that parent and offspring trees tended to have similar fungal communities, suggesting that parent tree genetics influences the species of EMF that colonize P. edulisseedling roots. Furthermore, the species of EMF differed between drought-tolerant and drought-intolerant trees, suggesting that the fungal communities influence drought tolerance. Certain beneficial fungus-host combinations were found to promote drought tolerance. According to the authors, certain mutualistic fungi associated with plant roots could influence the survival of pines during record droughts and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Article #17-04022: "Tree genetics defines fungal partner communities that may confer drought tolerance," by Catherine A. Gehring, Christopher Sthultz, Lluvia Flores-Rentería, Amy V. Whipple, and Thomas G. Whitham.