Plants live in tight association with microbes, especially belowground where fungi and bacteria live on and inside the roots of plants. The relationship can be beneficial or harmful to the plant. Some microbes cause plant diseases by decomposing roots. Others trade nutrients with the roots in return for sugars produced aboveground by leaves.
We investigate two main aspects of the relationship between plants and microbes in the soil. First, as it pertains to weeds, we want to know if soil microbes can help or hinder plant invasions. Three highly invasive weeds of contrasting life history strategies; cheatgrass, knapweed and leafy spurge, co-occur with remnants of native plant vegetation. This creates a unique opportunity to observe, characterize, and manipulate interactions between plants and belowground microbial communities. We outline a number of short, intermediate and long-term research projects that will significantly enhance our knowledge regarding plant microbe interactions and soil processes, with the overall goal to better understand, predict and counteract plant invasions, and to restore and manage invaded ecosystems.
Second, we seek to understand how the relationship between plants and soil influences the function of ecosystem processes. Soil microbes are responsible for organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling between the atmosphere and the land. On this project we collaborate with the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP). The goal is to map and understand the diversity of microorganisms in habitats around the world. We mapped microbial diversity and function across gradients of weed invasions.
Bee processing and identification for our 2014 bee collections at MPG are nearly complete. Among our bee specimens this year we observed a bilateral gynandromorph species of Halictus farinosus. Gynandromorphy is an infrequent phenomenon where an animal has both male and female characteristics. There have only been 113 recorded cases of gynandromorph bees and only 10 of them exhibited a full bilateral split, with one side composed entirely of male anatomy and the other side female anatomy. Gynandromorphy has been documented in only 3 species within the genus Halictus.
Halictus farinosus Female (Front)
Halictus farinosus Male (Front)
Halictus farinosus Gynandromorph (Front)
In the picture above you can see a distinct split down the middle of the bees’ face. The bee’s left side is male. Its face is hairier and the clypeus (kind of the upper lip of the bee) on that side is yellow. The bee’s left antenna is divided into 13 segments. The legs are yellow and do not have pollen collecting hairs. The bee’s right side is female. It has less hair on the face, the legs and clypeus are dark, it has pollen-collecting hairs on the legs, and there are 12 antennal segments.
Halictus farinosus Male (Back)
Halictus farinosus Female (Back)
Halictus farinosus Gynandromorph (Back)
In the rear view picture of the gynandromorphy bee above, you can again see the leg coloration and hair features as well as a difference in the thickness of hair bands on the abdomen. The female side of the bee (right side of photo) has much thicker hair bands than the bee’s left side with the sparser hair bands of a male H. farinosus.