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Plant-microbial mutualisms in canopy gap recovery: How do soil microbial symbionts help tropical forests recover from treefall gaps?

Author(s): Lindsay McCulloch1, Jorge Ignacio Mora2

1. Harvard University 2. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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Summary:
This module uses tropical plant-soil microbial interactions in canopy gaps as a lens to better understand species interactions and disturbance ecology, while showing how scientists study these systems and enhancing students’ ability to interpret…

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This module uses tropical plant-soil microbial interactions in canopy gaps as a lens to better understand species interactions and disturbance ecology, while showing how scientists study these systems and enhancing students’ ability to interpret figures.
Contents:

Description

Summary

In this module, students will learn about ecosystem disturbances with a focus on treefall gaps, plant-soil microbial symbionts, and their effect on nutrient cycling and ecosystem function. They will learn about this topic through reading, embedded links to enrich their understanding, videos and activities that explain how scientists measure and study these relationships, and guided questions for reflection and comprehension. This module will give students are greater appreciation for the large impact that soil microbes can have on how ecosystems work. Further, it will help students develop or further refine their ability to interpret scientific figures and understand the scientific process. The module can be accessed here: https://www.learngala.com/cases/treefalls-plant-microbes.  

 

Overview

Plants are ecosystem engineers after disturbance, but rarely act alone as plants often rely on microbial symbionts to acquire essential nutrients for growth. But how do soil microbial symbionts with their plant partners help forests recover when large trees fall? To answer this big question, we first need to understand what is disturbance ecology, how treefalls change an ecosystem, how plants and soil microbes work together, and finally how this alters the ecosystem during recovery. This module will explore the role that mutualism plays between plants, bacteria, and fungi in helping tropical forests recover after naturally occurring disturbances such as canopy gaps. We use data from two publicly available datasets derived from a field-based manipulative study examining how environmental factors (light and soil nutrients) affect seedling investment in nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. We explore ideas about disturbance ecology and the role of humans in changing gap dynamics, while deepening our understanding of how soil microbes influence nutrient and carbon cycling in tropical forests. 

Support was provided by: A grant from the United States National Science Foundation (DBI-RCN-UBE 2120141).

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