Plant-microbial interactions on leaves: linking microbial biodiversity with plant traits, function, and biodiversity

Funding Details
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Grant type: Discovery Grants Program - Individual
  • Years: 2013/14 to 2018/19
  • Total Funding: $162,000
Keywords
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Project Summary

Plant-microbe interactions may have important effects on the ecology and evolution of plants, but our understanding of patterns of plant-microbe associations and the processes responsible for these patterns are still in their infancy due to the recent development of molecular methods to study the biodiversity of microbes in-depth. The long-term objective of my research program is to understand the ecology and evolution of plant-microbe interactions. The short-term goal of my research program is to use the plant phyllosphere (microbes on leaf surfaces) as a model system to assess the relative importance of the diversity of plants versus plant-associated microbes for determining plant growth and fitness, community structure, and ecosystem function. My lab will take a multi-scale approach that will combine broad-scale surveys and analyses of plant and phyllosphere microbial communities in boreal, temperate, and tropical forests to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes responsible for the interaction of plants and their associated microbial communities, along with manipulative experiments in the lab and field to understand the mechanisms of plant-microbial interactions. We will quantify microbial diversity by sequencing microbial DNA directly from leaves using cutting-edge molecular biology and bioinformatics methods. The proposed research will greatly expand our understanding of the mechanisms of plant-microbe interactions and their importance for forest ecosystem function along broad spatial and environmental gradients. In addition to testing fundamental hypotheses about the ecology and evolution of plant-microbe associations, this research program will quantify the importance of plant-associated microbial communities as a plant trait at biogeographic scales, and will allow more accurate forecasting of the impacts of global change scenarios on forest ecosystem biodiversity and function.