Collaborative Research: Testing the drivers and scale-dependency of plant-fungal-bacterial community co-assembly across the Arctic
Arctic vegetation is rapidly changing in response to broad-scale Arctic warming. Researchers argue that only by exploring how plants, soil microbes, and soil fungal communities interact and evolve together can we truly understand how vegetation may change in the future. Using over 3500 soil samples that have been collected across the arctic, along with environmental and plant data at the same sites, the investigators will employ new genetic and statistical techniques to understand the complex plant-microbe-fungal relations. While the work tackles a number of basic ecological questions, it will also provide insights into the controls determining how vegetation may change in the near future. The University of New Mexico is a certified Hispanic Serving Institution and of the 1600 undergraduate Biology majors, over 30% are Hispanic. Taylor and Takacs-Vesbach will provide project related research experience to these and other under-represented students. Taylor and Takacs-Vesbach are currently mentor students through three STEM programs based in the Biology department. A letter of support is provided by the Director of the UNM Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program, which commits him to helping the program recruit MARC Program Scholars for training in microbiome methods. The project includes for the training of a female post-doctoral scientist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The investigators pose a series of hypotheses that focus on the ecological drivers of community assembly (dispersal, environmental filtering, competition, facilitation, niche partitioning, neutral processes) across five Arctic biomes. They will use over 3500 soil samples that have been collected along two latitudinal transects, each of which includes all five Arctic bioclimatic subzones and spans 1700 kilometers north to south. Using their extensive sampling and next-generation-sequencing-derived data on community composition of soil fungi and bacteria that are already in hand, combined with data on plant communities at the same sites (which will be augmented with limited sequencing of plant phylogenetic markers), the investigators seek to examine the fundamental patterns of community assembly in each of the three Kingdoms at hierarchical spatial and ecological scales.