The importance of understanding plant-associated microbiomes on a changing planet

 

Extreme events, such as drought and floods, are predicted to increase in both frequency and intensity with the progression of global climate change. In the face of this prediction, food security becomes of paramount concern, as many globally important crops may have to be bred, bioengineered or differently managed to promote their tolerance to an increasingly variable environment. In the ShadeLab, we consider how resilience of plant microbiomes may be leveraged to support plant resilience. Plants have intimate relationships with microorganisms, and a large body of literature strongly suggests that soil-plant-microbe relationships have weighty implications both for global climate change and for plant wellness,  including plant stress responses.

 

In the ShadeLab, we take an ecological approach to understand relationships between plants and their associated microbiota in field, greenhouse and laboratory settings.  Through collaborations within the Plant Resilience Institute and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Center, we investigate microbial community dynamics of phyllosphere (leaf) habitats of bioenergy crops and interactions between core phyllosphere members. With the Plant Resilience Institute Legume Project, we lead a microbiome-centric component to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics of common bean rhizosphere microbiome. We have a USDA award to look at common bean seed microbiome and its transfer during stress, and an NSF award to look at rhizosphere recruitment and assembly during stress.  We also have an ongoing study to understand the dynamics of flower-associated microbial communities of apple, and a collaborative study supported by Project GREEEN to investigate microbiome changes associated with different management practices to prevent apple replant disease.