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Research Abstracts Online
January - December 2011

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences
Department of Plant Pathology

PI: Kabir G. Peay

Dimensions of Biodiversity: Deconstructing Diversity and Ecosystem Function at Multiple Spatial and Genetic Scales in a Keystone Plant-Microbe Symbiosis

Biologists have traditionally focused on competition between organisms as the driving force behind ecological or evolutionary processes. However, over the last decade a new perspective has begun to emerge that gives equal weight to cooperative, symbiotic interactions in structuring many natural communities. Ectomycorrhizal fungi are among the most common plant fungal symbionts in terrestrial ecosystems. They form a major component of the soil microbial biomass and contribute to the biodiversity, ecology and nutrient cycling of forest ecosystems. Despite the importance of ectomycorrhizal fungi for global nutrient cycles, little is known about large-scale patterns of fungal community structure relative to plants, animals or even bacteria.

The Dimensions of Biodiversity project is an NSF-funded research effort that takes advantage of technical advances in genomic sequencing and functional enzyme assays to begin shedding light on the extent of genetic and functional diversity within and between species of ectomycorrhizal fungi across North America. The study will provide the first continental scale perspective on ectomycorrhizal taxonomic diversity, establish patterns of gene flow and selection for multiple ectomycorrhizal taxa across North America, and measure the full spectrum of functional trait expression on individual mycorrhizal root tips and partition functional diversity across individuals, populations, and species. By doing so, this project will build a bridge between taxonomic and functional diversity across the fungal tree of life and ascertain the links between fungal diversity (taxonomic, genetic and functional) and the health and functioning of forest ecosystems.