Collaborative Research: Effects of genetic diversity, epigenetic change, and root-associated fungal colonization on trait variation in the foundation plant Spartina alterniflora
Funding: National Science Foundation
Principal investigators: Christina Richards (University of South Florida PI), Randall Hughes (Northeastern University PI), Kitty Gehring (Northern Arizona University PI)
Synopsis: This collaborative project examines the relationships among plant genetic and epigenetic diversity, root-associated fungi, and plant structural and physiological trait variation (morphology, nutrient content, salt tolerance) across an inundation gradient in the intertidal foundation plant species Spartina alterniflora. Specifically, the project combines genomic approaches with field surveys and experiments in the greenhouse and the field to address the following questions: (1) How are plant genetic and epigenetic variation, root-associated fungi, and plant structural and physiological traits related across an intertidal gradient?; (2) Does the presence and strain of root-associated fungi affect plant structural and physiological trait response to abiotic variables, and is this effect mediated by epigenetic change?; and (3) How are candidate genes or gene networks involved in the structural and physiological response to the biotic and abiotic environment, and are they epigenetically regulated? The work takes advantage of a novel reduced representation DNA sequencing epiGBS protocol with bisulphite treated DNA to measure genetic and epigenetic diversity in S. alterniflora. Additionally, next generation sequencing of fungal isolates will allow for documentation of the role of dark septate endophytes in response of this critical foundation species to its dynamic salt marsh habitat.