Hot Topics

Digging deep for biodiversity

Hot Topics in Ecology

Digging deep for biodiversity

Synthesis by Dr C Birnbaum, Tulane University, Dr E Egidi, La Trobe University, Prof B Singh, Western Sydney University
Ectomycorrhizal fungi on eucalypt roots. Photo by Ruvinie Withana.

The importance of soil microbes in community and ecosystem processes is widely acknowledged and yet there are few attempts to incorporate microbes into conservation and restoration practice. The oversight hampers efforts to conserve and restore native ecosystems in the face of increased environmental degradation and environmental change.

Native and non-native soil microbes interact with native and non-native plants and these interactions have implications for conservation and restoration. Invasive plants often impede conservation and restoration efforts particularly where soil mutualists co-invade. For example, the invasion of pines across the southern hemisphere has been facilitated by the spread of its ectomycorrhizal fungus, and therefore control of invasive pines may be achieved by controlling its fungus. Similarly, the recent outbreak of myrtle rust in eastern Australia, a fungal plant pathogen of global significance, is a timely reminder of the significant role of research to manage the consequences of invasion by plant pathogens in soil.

Emerging tools offer a whole of microbial community perspective. For example, new tools identified that the native critically-endangered Wollemi pine associates with species-specific fungal communities whose presence is correlated with translocation success. There are efforts too, to understand how plant-soil-microbe interactions might be influenced by other drivers of relevance to conservation and restoration. For example, recent research in temperate grasslands in southern Australia suggests fire can affect soil fungal community composition, possibly through disruption of plant-fungal associations.

New technologies, such as next generation sequencing and genome editing tools to alter gene function, allow exploration and utilisation of soil microbial communities like never before. Coupled with field-based experiments these tools offer a deeper understanding of the contribution of soil microbes to function and biodiversity outcomes of restoration and conservation. 

Hot Topic Lead Author: 
Name: Dr Christina Birnbaum
Phone: +1 5048628940

Name: Dr Eleonora Egidi
Phone: +61 3 9479 2496

Name: Professor Brajesh Singh
Phone: +61 2 4570 1329

Date approved: 
Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 13:54