Can fungi help save our rivers and trees?

Researchers from the University of Melbourne are working to increase the success of stream-side revegetation projects, which sometimes fail even with good plant selection and site management. And they think fungi might hold the key.

“Soil mycorrhizal fungi help seedlings to establish and assist plant growth as they provide plants with nutrients, water, and other benefits in exchange for some of the energy the plant is generating from the sun,” says researcher Ana Bermudez.

Working on a revegetation site on Cardinia Creek, south-east of Melbourne, Ana is studying the mycorrhizal communities on the root tips of plants sourced from a nursery and comparing them to those on plants which grew on the site from seed.

“What we’re expecting is that the nursery-grown plants will have come with their own mycorrhizal community that may be different to fungi at the planting-out site. Therefore, the nursery-sourced communities may be less well adapted to local site conditions, resulting in poor plant establishment or growth.”

The research has a great importance in improving our understanding of plant-soil interactions, particularly for the restoration of riparian vegetation communities.

The trees and other plants next to our waterways play a crucial role water quality, flood mitigation, and are hot-spots for biodiversity. These riparian ecosystems support a wide range of environmental, social, cultural and economic values.

Only 14 per cent of Australian riparian land is well preserved and significant investment is made in the restoration of these ecosystems—through Landcare grants, government investment, community projects, and during urban development.

“We hope this work will help us shed light on whether planting nursery-grown stock, or direct seeding is the most effective strategy to increase the success, and therefore bring down the cost, of these projects,” says Ana.

Ana Bermudez is the winner of the Ecological Society of Australia’s 2018 Applied Forest Ecology Scholarship and will be presenting her work at the ESA Conference in Brisbane on Wednesday 28 November. Ana is second year Masters student in the Faculty of Science’s Office for Environmental Programs at The University of Melbourne.