Life on leaves: modeling the ecology and evolution of plant-microbe interactions

Funding Details
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Grant type: Discovery Grants Program - Individual
  • Year: 2019/20
  • Total Funding: $33,000
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 what microbes live on leaves, what functions do they carry out, and what is their importance for their plant hosts. The short-term goal of my research program is to use the plant phyllosphere (microbes on leaf surfaces) as a model system to understand how associations between plants and microbes have evolved across the plant tree of life, to identify the sources of microbial communities on leaves and the ecological processes that govern their diversity, and to determine how different communities of microbes may mix together to determine the function of their plant hosts. My lab will take a multi-scale approach that will combine broad-scale surveys and analyses of plant-associated microbial communities to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes responsible for the interaction of plants and their associated microbial communities, along with manipulative experiments in the field to understand the mechanisms of plant-microbial interactions and their importance for the plant host. 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 plant and 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 for the plant host, and will allow improved management and engineering of the plant microbiome to improve plant health and ecosystem function.