Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are an important beneficial group of plant root symbionts whose ecology and functioning in natural environments in still poorly understood. This proposal will integrate plant community ecology and fungal autoecology in gla sshouse experiments and an intense field survey. We will 1. identify AM fungal community level effects on nutrient transport and photosynthetic activity of coexisting plant hosts, 2. determine the functional traits of AM fungal isolates from above communit ies in symbiosis with different plant hosts, and 3. describe the fine-scale community structure of the characterised fungi in association with plant community. We will use a combination of established techniques that will yield a highly focused analysis of the complex system and will allow linking the taxonomic and functional diversity of AM fungi. Molecular ecology methods (T-RFLP, real-time PCR analysis) will be applied to understand the natural distributions of AM fungi; traditional methods (plant nutrie nt status and soil analysis) to fix the background of the system; microcosm experiments to impose perturbations on the system including changes in plant photosynthetic rates; and comparative gene expression (cDNA-AFLP, RT-PCR) to understand the biology beh ind the observed ecological profiles. The fellowship will provide the applicant with additional research-administrative skills and new competencies in gene expression and physiology research to supplement her expertise in mycorrhizal ecology. The study wil l yield novel and valuable information on associated patterns of plant and fungal communities and the mechanisms creating them, improving understanding in areas from molecular and physiological to ecosystem levels. The results are important and will have a pplication in ecosystem restoration, rare plant conservation and sustainable agriculture. The proposal will develop an extensive long-term collaboration between the research teams involved.
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