Do fungi regulate terrestrial biodiversity?
Plant species coexistence is one of the most enduring questions in ecology, its understanding of mechanisms attracts increasingly popular interest with the need for sustainable ecological management and the increased rates of biodiversity loss we are suffering today. Species coexistence is at the forefront of ecology today, how is it that ecosystems sustain such remarkable plant life diversity?
There are two theories of species coexistence; niche differentiation andthe process of negative Plant Soil Feedback (PSF). This project looks at the importance of pathogenic organisms in promoting coexistence in a process of negative PSF.
Negative plant-soil-feedback (PSF) experiments are thought to be a type of Janzen-Connel effect, where plant species progressively make their local soil environment less suitable for members of the same species. This harbouring of pathogens reduces the competitive ability of plant species, thus highlighting that PSF selects for local rarity of plants. Fungicidal studies highlight microbial pathogens as being a large driver of plant diversity. Within temperate grassland communities, these effects primarily occur belowground. However, the identity and host specificity of these fungal pathogens have not been determined. This also proposes that the strength of interactions between fungal microbes and host plants may be stronger in rarer species, yet this remains largely unexplored.