Madaris C. Serrano Perez, Jennifer M. Jones & Sarah Evans
Presented at the All Scientist Meeting and Investigators Field Tour (2021-09-23 to 2021-09-23 )
Because increased drought and rainfall variability are affecting natural environments in the Midwest and across the globe, it is imperative to study how plant interactions with other organisms influence drought tolerance. Microbial organisms, such as fungi and nematodes, can have both symbiotic and pathogenic interactions with plants. Nevertheless, studies have shown there is a gap of information and understanding of how these microbial interactions are beneficial to plants. For this REU project I leveraged a new large-scale rainout shelter experiment with manipulations of fungal and nematode abundance to see 1. how fungicide and nematicide treatments alter plant growth and flowering and 2. how fungi and nematodes alter plant growth during drought and rainfall variability. Also, for this new experiment set up, I wanted to see how existing variation in plant communities differs across treatments. I measured plant growth in control, fungicide and nematicide treatments in irrigated, drought, and variable rainfall shelters on early successional vegetation. I recorded plant height, specific leaf area and leaf dry matter content (LDMC) on Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) . Finally, I measured percent ground cover and percent flower cover for the whole plant community. I found that LDMC for red clover was lower in nematicide subplots than in fungicide subplots( p=0.02). For the community measurements, I found that between the two sample times percent flower cover decreased in fungicide subplots more than nematicide subplots (p=0.04). Finally I found that drought footprints had significantly lower initial ground cover than the other rainfall treatments. I showed that fungi and nematode abundance altered plant phenology and physiology in ways that could influence
plant drought tolerance. With continued sampling, I will be able to test the impact of fungi and nematode abundance on plant drought tolerance.