Saturday, February 27, 2016

SEGA: Progress and updates from a warm winter

With the warm February temperatures we have been experiencing in Northern Arizona, it is starting to feel more and more like May. May? Wow, the thought of Late Spring is alluring: SEGA will be up and running with Blue grama in the field for a second growing season and we will have planted Ponderosa pine for the tree's first growing season out of the glasshouse.

It seems like an appropriate time then, to give a brief update on SEGA. In case your new to our site and some of the work we do, SEGA stands for Southwestern Experimental Garden Array. The Array consists of two parallel elevation gradients: one on basalt derived soils and one on lime and sandstone derived soils. The elevation gradient allows us to manipulate Temperature and Precipitation.  The contrasting soil types allow us to test fascinating questions in regards to plant migration, soil microbes, and local adaptation to edaphic factors. How important is soil type to plants  migrating to new locations? Are soil microbes generalists or specialists to soil conditions and types? Can soil microbes facilitate plant adaptation to new climatic and soil environments?
The weather and irrigation infrastructure at SEGA sure makes for a great platform for cool experimental designs!

Additional work on SEGA is hoping to better understand population genetics and epigenetics of Southwestern White Pine and the genetic mechanisms that promote resistance to drought and White Pine Blister Rust, an introduced fungal pathogen. The hope is that by better understanding some of these traits, land managers would be able to preserve the range of white pine in the face of pathogen encroachment and densification combined with increased drought frequency and severity. This project is led by Dr. Kristen Waring and her current graduate student Jessica DaBell if you want more information. 
I decided to help sow seeds with the White Pine research crew- another 40 down... 10,000+ to go! 

But for now, back to microbes. So far we find consistent evidence that there is high specificity in plants and soil microbes; not any old microbe will do, plants need the microbes from their site origin. This finding supports Nancy Johnson's "no place like home" hypothesis. As we continue our studies, our Ponderosa Pine seedlings are beginning to break bud with the warm weather and lengthening of days. Stay tuned for updates as we launch field season and continue to monitor our plants in the Field! 
Bud burst on a Ponderosa Pine Seedling has
resulted in some stunning fresh growth. This tree is
growing in soil from its home site, but with
a soil organism community from an unique site.  

Root for the home team! That leader is taking off!
This pine is grown with its home team soil organisms
and in its original soil. 

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