Soil Microbes Could Be Cause of Tree Migrations

Soil Microbes Could Be Cause of Tree Migrations Researchers have uncovered new findings that may illuminate what sort of mechanisms trees employ in response to the effects of climate change. The key agent? Soil microbes

Soil contains a rich mix of living entities that aid trees in the process of extracting nutrients and water from the soil. Some are microscopic while others, such as earthworms, are visible with the naked eye. Other living things like protozoa, fungi and bacteria are all invaluable to the soil ecosystem as well.

A recent study reveals a correlation between certain strains of soil fungi and bacteria and the survival of tree seedlings depending on elevation. In the experiment, cottonwood seedlings from lower elevations were transplanted into soils collected at a higher altitude. After observing the seedlings’ progress, researchers found that elevation played a key factor in their ability to thrive. While the soil from the higher elevation appeared to restrain tree growth at lower elevations, the opposite was true for trees planted at higher elevations. In fact, the higher the cottonwood was planted, the more the seedlings flourished.

According to study co-author Jennifer Schweitzer, a professor at University of Tennessee Knoxville, the discoveries of this research may allow us to better understand how trees migrate and adapt in response to climate change.

“Trees vary even within a species, and their microbes vary, and their microbes might help or hinder when the species responds to climate change,” she said in an interview with Scientific American. “These positive and negative interactions with microbes might really change population fragmentation patterns.”

Samantha Chapman, a professor of biology at Villanova University, goes on to elaborate on the significance of the study: “The novelty of their findings are they are looking into areas where plants aren’t yet, but might get to.”

For decades, scientists have presumed that tree migration depends primarily upon climate. These recent discoveries demonstrate that the mechanisms of tree migration are far more complex and nuanced than we previously thought. Within the soil, we can find the microscopic agents that guide trees’ responses to changes in their native climates. It’s a fascinating process that we are only just beginning to understand.