Restoration of Soil Microbial Function Following Degradation on Department of Defense Lands: Mediating Biological Invasions in a Global Change Context

Dr. Kristina Stinson | University of Massachusetts - Amherst



The overall objective of this project is to examine the functional diversity of soil fungi in lands degraded by the nonnative invasive species (NIS) garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and to test the feasibility of different eradication measures for recovery of soil biological diversity and function under a range of regional anthropogenic, abiotic stresses. Natural resource managers at Department of Defense (DoD) installations are spending considerable resources on eradication programs for NIS, which, along with regional factors such as nitrogen deposition and climate change, have the capacity to dramatically impact soil ecology. Soil fungi, which help drive carbon and nitrogen cycles through decomposition of organic matter (saprotrophic fungi) and nutrient exchange with primary producers (mycorrhizal fungi), are key elements of the soil biota that are susceptible to a number of environmental stressors. This project will integrate molecular microbiological information (i.e., genomics, transcriptomics) and biogeochemical process data to test whether and how saprotrophic and mycorrhizal fungi can be restored following NIS eradication measures. Taking advantage of DoD locations distributed across regional environmental gradients, as well as existing experimental infrastructure at Harvard Forest, this work will improve the scientific understanding of soil ecology and its role in mediating interactions between native species and NIS in a global change context. The results also will help guide ongoing and future soil restoration efforts on DoD lands.

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Technical Approach

The scientists involved in this project have independently shown that (i) garlic mustard can suppress mycorrhizal fungi, leading to changes in plant productivity and community structure, and (ii) increasing temperature and nitrogen deposition lead to reductions in saprotrophic and mycorrhizal fungal abundance, with concomitant changes in nutrient cycling dynamics. By making use of cutting-edge microbial analyses and leveraging resources and experience to conduct controlled experimental invasions and eradications, the research will provide unique data on the taxonomic structure and downstream ecosystem functions of soil biota, with a focus on soil fungi and their roles in nutrient cycling and native plant performance. The research has two main components: Experiment 1 measures the responses of microbial dynamics, plant communities, and ecosystem function to experimental eradications of garlic mustard across a natural climate/biogeochemical gradient, whereas Experiment 2 strategically leverages the infrastructure from an ongoing long-term global change experiment to examine the impacts of experimental invasion within soil warming and nitrogen fertilization treatments. The resulting datasets will provide unique information on the ecological mechanisms by which forest soil microbes assemble, whether changes in microbial composition and/or functional diversity are reversible, and how fungi in microbial communities contribute to plant-rhizosphere interactions and ecosystem dynamics.

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This work advances the fundamental scientific understanding of forest soil fungi and their roles in ecosystem function. This work also has broad impacts for resource management, outreach, and training. A major outcome will be improved management for the recovery of soil biota in areas affected by garlic mustard. Products, such as guidance pamphlets, briefings, and workshops, will help DoD and other stakeholders decide when and where eradication efforts may be most warranted and understand the feasibility and necessary recovery times for restoration of soil biota. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2018)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Kristina Stinson

University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Phone: 978-756-6184

Fax: 978-724-3595

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency