Are soil organisms the key to assisted plant migrations in response to climate change?

Because of climate change, plants will either have to tolerate new climate conditions, or migrate. Our research group hopes to determine the role that soil organisms play in helping plants adapt to emerging new environments, and helping plants survive when humans assist their migration. Our working hypothesis, already supported by early greenhouse results, is that because plants and soil organisms such as beneficial fungi have co-evolved closely, when plants are confronted with challenging new climates they will survive better if they are growing in the presence of co-adapted soil organisms. Beginning in 2014, we will use the SEGA gradient to transplant individuals of a key range grass (blue grama), and a key regional forest species (ponderosa pine) both downslope (to simulate future warming conditions ) and upslope (to simulate assisted migration in advance of climate change). These plants will be transplanted with and without their "home team", co-adapted soil organisms. Over time, we will track their survival and growth rates.

Principal Investigator: 
Dr. Matthew A. Bowke & Michael Remke