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.
Native reptiles and amphibians help maintain healthy ecosystems across MPG Ranch. Several species control rodent and insect populations. Others help regulate vegetative growth along our floodplain. The majority of juvenile herpetafauna provide quality protein for a variety of higher order predators, while many adults ultimately become a substantive meal for our largest predators. MPG Ranch provides reptile habitat for five native snakes including Bullsnakes, Common Gartersnakes, Wandering Gartersnakes, Eastern Yellow-Bellied Racers, and Northern Rubber Boas as well as one native turtle, the Western Painted Turtle. Surveyed amphibians include Columbia Spotted Frogs, Rocky Mountain Tailed Frogs, Western Toads, the invasive American Bullfrog, and Long-Toed Salamanders. Current research projects focus on the population characteristics of Western Painted Turtles at our Clubhouse Pond, Western Toad migration patterns across the breadth of the ranch, and the large-scale genetic lineages of garter snake species across Western Montana. In addition to these projects, we strive to improve, sustain, and create native habitat by controlling invasive species, enhancing habitat features and building ponds in upland draws.
Jeffrey Pippen's field note shows species of checkerspots, hairstreaks, and skippers.
06-12-15 Field Note
07-03-15 Field Note