In a 1-year greenhouse bioassay, the proposed project will examine how soils from subalpine habitats (specifically, those containing whitebark pine (WBP)) and alpine sites (with no WBP) impact seedling growth adaptive traits and symbiotic root-fungal (ectomycorrhizas=ECM) communities. To explore limits of location and population sensitivity, soils from multiple locations and geographically distinct WBP seed populations (south and north interior BC) will be used. Within the context of climate change, we expect study findings will extend our understanding of how WBP may respond to natural or assisted relocation under genetic, soil microbial, and elevation shifts.
Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis Engelm.), a high elevation conifer limited to subalpine to treeline habitats in western North America, is experiencing dramatic declines in many populations across its range. In Canada, efforts are underway to list WBP as a ?species at risk? (J Vinnedge, BC MoE, pers comm). Historically, it has dominated upper subalpine forests (3) where it is considered a ?keystone species?, upon which many other species depend for their survival and persistence (11). Where risk of ecological impacts is high, proactive management in high elevation forests might sustain threatened species and ecosystem function under present and predicted climate change (8).
WBP, a pioneer species, often persists in these landscapes over a long time interval. It is unlikely, therefore, to move rapidly towards adaptive change in response to environmental stress (8). If WBP cannot adapt to local change, it must expand naturally (or by intervention) into present alpine areas, or northward in latitude with climate change. In addition to changing environments, other major threats leading to significant losses in WBP populations include the white pine blister rust and the mountain pine beetle as it spreads eastward and upward, infecting lower elevation lodgepole pine before threatening mature, cone-bearing WBP trees (12,13). Climate shifts leading to seasonal warming and increased moisture, favor both white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle. Under climate warming, WBP may also not be able to out compete more shade-tolerant high elevation species such as subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce that often share these transitional ecosystems (9); seedling recruitment may decrease due to lower seed production, germination and establishment sensitivity to environmental variations. For relocation and seedling establishment to be successful, any new area must be suitable with respect to both soil microbial processes as well as soil abiotic factors. All species in the Pinaceae (including WBP), form obligate root-fungal symbiosis (ECM) that aid seedling establishment and sustainability through improved water uptake, as well as N and P nutrient acquisition (7). In nutrient-poor alpine soils, this may be critical to species establishment.
Overall, studies on WBP microbial and (or) soil growth constraints are greatly lacking. There is almost no understanding of the underlying biology in WBP root-soil interactions that could provide important information for the conservation, protection and transfer of WBP, given the species limited range and migratory potential. In response to growing threats, efforts are underway in BC to collect WBP cones for possible restoration and WBP trials (D Kolotelo, BC MoFR, pers comm), and Parks Canada is involved in trial projects for prescribed fire in high elevation Rocky Mountain parks to improve WBP regeneration. In August 2007, the Forest Genetics Council of BC sponsored a workshop (Whitebark Pine in Western Canada) to address current research and management issues, including climate change, white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle attack.
The proposed study will examine variables of WBP ECM fungal communities as they relate to early seedling growth in soils collected from subalpine mixed-WBP forests and alpine ecosystems (pro ...
Massicotte, Hugues B., Green, D. Scott; Tackaberry, Linda E.. 2009. Underlying biological processes: the role of ectomycorrhizal fungal communities in early growth and relocation success of whitebark pine under climate change. Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program. Forest Investment Account Report. FIA2009MR028
Topic: FLNRORD Research Program
Keywords: Forest, Investment, Account, (FIA), British, Columbia
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