University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars > The roots of change: global change and mycorrhizal symbiosis through the Phanerozoic

The roots of change: global change and mycorrhizal symbiosis through the Phanerozoic

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Fungi and plants have engaged in intimate symbioses that are now globally widespread and have driven terrestrial biogeochemical processes since plant terrestrialisation >500 Mya. These associations, known as mycorrhizas, are usually considered to be nutritional mutualisms, whereby the plant benefits from greater access to soil nutrients in return for transfer of photosynthetic carbon to their mycorrhizal fungal partners. Enhanced access to soil nutrient pools is likely to have been critical for the success of the earliest plants on land and today forms the basis for the exploitation of soil fungi in sustainable approaches to agriculture.

Fossil evidence from the Rhynie Chert indicates that the earliest land plants, which evolved in a high CO2 atmosphere during the Paleozoic Era, hosted diverse fungal symbionts. It is generally thought that the rise of early non-vascular plants and the later evolution of plant roots and vasculature drove the long-term shift towards a high-oxygen, low-CO2 atmosphere and climate that eventually permitted the evolution of mammals and, ultimately, humans. Such shifts in atmospheric CO2 concentration, together with biotic factors such as plant and fungal identity, have been shown to impact exchanges of carbon for nutrients between plants and their mycorrhizal fungi. Indeed, the effects of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and cultivar on crop-fungal carbon-for-nutrient exchanges remain critical knowledge gaps in the exploitation of mycorrhizas for future sustainable agriculture in a changing climate. We are investigating the impact of climate change-relevant shifts in atmospheric CO2 concentrations in both wild and domesticated plant mycorrhizas. Our research suggests that mycorrhizas can contribute to sustainable crop production as part of a wider sustainable agriculture strategy and that there is substantial potential to improve future crop mycorrhizal receptivity, function and CO2 responsiveness.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars series.

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