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The influence of plant evolution on their interactions

The roots of more than 70% of all plant species contain multi-species communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), all members of the subphylum Glomeromycotina. 

Supervisors
Vincent Merckx & Sofia Gomes

Contact
vincent.merckx@naturalis.nl, sofia.fernandesgomes@naturalis.nl

Period & duration
2017-2018; 6 months

Study & level
Biology, MSc.

Background & context
The roots of more than 70% of all plant species contain multi-species communities of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), all members of the subphylum Glomeromycotina. In this obligate mutualistic interaction the fungi help their host plants to obtain nutrients, mainly phosphorous and nitrogen, from the soil. In return, the fungi receive photosynthetically fixed carbon from the plants. This mycorrhizal interaction probably exists since the earliest land plants and may have been instrumental in the colonization of land by plants. Despite the prevalence and evolutionary persistence of the arbuscular mycorrhizal mutualism, it has been estimated that there are only ca. 300 – 1600 AMF taxa, and most have widespread distributions. In addition, AMF taxa are typically able to associate with a large range of plant species and occur in a wide variety of habitats. Nevertheless, the AMF communities in plant roots are not random, and their structure is determined by a combination of several factors, including environmental factors and host plant identity. The influence of each of these factors on the community composition of AMF is a subject of intensive research.

Objectives & goals
In this project we will investigate the influence of evolutionary relationships of plants on their interaction with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. By reconstructing a comprehensive DNA database of plants and their sequenced arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (Glomeromycotina) we will be able to investigate patterns of interactions, specificity, and phylogenetic signal of this ancient, widespread mutualism.

Methods, tasks, and approach
This research project consists of database-mining, modern phylogenetic approaches to reconstruct plant and fungal evolutionary hypotheses, and analyses of complex interaction patterns. The results will be of interest to a broad scientific audience, and may lead to a scientific publication.

Requirements
None