Impacts of climate-driven evolution on plant-soil interactions and ecosystem functioning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Institute of Integrative Biology

Abstract

Globally, we depend on grasslands to support biodiversity, ensure agricultural productivity, offer recreational areas, and provide a wide range of other valuable ecosystem services; e.g. the UK dairy industry depends on grasslands and is worth ~£4.27 billion per annum. At the same time, grasslands are among the most altered and least protected biomes, and will inevitably be subjected to the imminent effects of climate changes: warming, drought, flooding.

Organisms within grasslands may ultimately cope with climate change by adapting; either through evolution, where environmental change selects for individuals whose genes encode advantageous characteristics, or by reversible ("plastic") changes in physiology or growth pattern. Only evolution leads to lasting adaptive change. Thus, evolution has the potential to buffer populations against the adverse effects of climate change. However, the wider effects of evolutionary change, on coexisting species within ecosystems, and on important ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling, remain unresolved. "Grasslands", for instance, may seem to be composed of just plants, but beneath the surface there is a thriving microbial community (bacteria and fungi) that interacts with plants to influence the diversity and productivity of the vegetation, plant nutrition, and even evolution. With their rapid generation times and massive populations, these microbes evolve rapidly under pressures such as climate change. Consequently, to understand climate-driven impacts in grasslands, it is essential to integrate the effects of evolutionary and ecological processes that occur both above-, and belowground.

Our research will address these pressing issues, by placing climate-driven evolutionary change in an appropriate ecological context. For over two decades, we have exposed a natural UK grassland near Buxton to simulated climate change (warming, increased rainfall, and drought). Our published and preliminary research shows that simulate climate change has already altered plant and microbial communities and has driven evolutionary change within plants.

Building on these previous findings, our overarching goal is to use the Buxton climate change experiment to determine how above- and belowground communities co-evolve, and interact with each other during climate change, to shape ecosystem processes. In doing so, we aim to understand changes in the services that grasslands provide, and offer the means to predict and manage these changes.

We have designed a cohesive set of experiments to examine key issues at levels ranging from genes to ecosystem responses, using laboratory microcosms, growth-chamber experiments, and field manipulations. Over three years, we will: i) examine two ecologically important microbe species from the field site to determine how long-term climate change treatments drive evolution; ii) use microcosms that include microbes and plants to understand how microbial adaptation affects plant fitness and ecosystem function; iii) determine how evolutionary change in plants, in turn, alters microbial species in the soil. We will use a wide range of techniques to reach these goals, from genome sequencing, to identify the genetic basis of evolutionary change in soil microbes, to respiration measurements, to understand how evolution changes the way ecosystems "breathe". Our research will provide a unique, evolutionary view of how plants and soil organisms respond together to climate change, and of resulting shifts in ecosystem-level processes.

Planned Impact

Our proposed research will provide an integrated view of evolutionary and ecological responses to climate change. Results from this study will advance our understanding of how plants and soil microbes respond to climate change through evolutionary and ecological mechanisms, and how these responses affect ecosystem function. We will gain novel insights into i) which processes mediate adaptive responses to the climate in soil microbes, ii) what the ecological consequences of these responses may be, and iii) the importance of evolutionary changes in mediating ecological processes, relative to changes in plant and microbial community structure. Our study focuses on calcareous, species-rich grasslands, which support many rare plant species and a rich insect fauna.

Who might benefit from this research? We have identified three key non-academic stakeholder groups:
1: Conservation practitioners, statutory conservation agencies (including Project Partner, Natural England), and other conservation trusts and charities (e.g., the Peak Park Authority, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, the National Trust) and UK policy-makers such as the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
2. Horticultural businesses and others involved in the production and sale of native seed. This market (£3-6 million value in 2011) is dominated by the production and sale of grassland wildflower mixes and is expected to grow strongly, likely doubling by 2020.
3: General public, who demonstrate a keen awareness of climate change issues and conservation of species-rich UK habitats.

How might they benefit from this research?
1: Practitioners and policy-makers will benefit through an improved understanding of how adaptive genetic variation enhances ecosystem resilience during climate change. Our results will provide an evidence-base to support policy decisions to optimise landscape management strategies and anticipate threats to ecosystem service provision. Our findngs will also allow more sensitive modelling of both the current and future capacity of landscapes to provide ecosystem services by incorporating the effects of evolutionary change. By engaging these organisations in knowledge exchange throughout the programme of research, we can ensure that our work will be of value in terms of 'real-world' implementation and impact.
2: Horticultural businesses that supply native seed and seed mixes for habitat restoration could benefit from our project through an improved understanding of climatic impacts on seed restoration success. Our results have the potential to provide the knowledge-base for determining optimal approaches to match the microclimate of seed sources to restoration environments. This provides businesses with increased capacity to develop marketable stress-resistant seed mixtures.
3: The general public stand to gain educational and environmental knowledge benefits from our project, through (i) enhanced awareness of potential climatic impacts on biodiversity and the ecological supply chain that provides ecosystem services, and (ii) an improved understanding of the potential for genetic resilience within natural populations and ecosystems. Public engagement through a variety of media will provide many opportunities to promote the research and increase public interest in climate change adaptation. Our planned low-cost outreach centre and educational activities to promote field-based learning about climate change ecology aim to create a legacy that will outlast the project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I and staff on the project have taken part in a number of outreach activities, including The Ness Gardens Earth Sciences Fair and Family Science Fair, and the BBC Gardener's Question Time Summer Party also at Ness Gardens.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description NERC Standard Grant
Amount £795,316 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R011451/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 11/2021
 
Description Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab Steering Committee 
Organisation Lancaster University
Department Lancaster Environment Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I currently chair the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab Steering Committee, which oversees the running and scientific activities at the UK's longest-running scientific experiment, Buxton Cliamte Change Impacts Lab (BCCIL)
Collaborator Contribution Dr Emma Sayer (Lancaster), and Dr Karl Evans (Sheffield) contribute to the project by providing input and advice at steering committee meetings, leading to joint management of the BCCIL site.
Impact We secured further funding from the ECT and from NERC to carry out additional scientific investigation at BCCIL and to keep the climate manipulations at Buxton running for a further four years.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab Steering Committee 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I currently chair the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab Steering Committee, which oversees the running and scientific activities at the UK's longest-running scientific experiment, Buxton Cliamte Change Impacts Lab (BCCIL)
Collaborator Contribution Dr Emma Sayer (Lancaster), and Dr Karl Evans (Sheffield) contribute to the project by providing input and advice at steering committee meetings, leading to joint management of the BCCIL site.
Impact We secured further funding from the ECT and from NERC to carry out additional scientific investigation at BCCIL and to keep the climate manipulations at Buxton running for a further four years.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation Purdue University
Department Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA
Department Agricultural Research Service
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of California, Irvine
Department Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of California, Riverside
Department Department of Botany & Plant Sciences
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Exeter
Department Biosciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Maine
Department School of Biology & Ecology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Massachusetts
Department Department of Environmental Conservation
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of New Hampshire
Department College of Life Sciences and Agriculture
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Picardie Jules Verne
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Seville
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Invasive species and climate change 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Department of Geography and Environment
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration involves: Cascade Sorte (University of California, Irvine) Regan Early (Exeter, UK) Amanda Bates (Southampton, UK) Bethany Bradley (University of Massachusetts) Montserrat Vilà (Seville) Jeffrey Diez (University of California, Riverside) Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue) Dana Blumenthal (USDA ARS Fort Collins) Jenica Allen (University of New Hapmshire) Jonathan Lenoir (Universite de Picardie) Jacquelyn Gill (University of Maine) This large collaboration involves several projects that aim to understand how the spread of invasive species may be enhanced or limited by climate change, and what the impacts of this will be on native ecosystems. My current contribution to one of the projects is in carrying out mixed model meta-analyses (statistical support).
Collaborator Contribution My partners within the meta-analysis project component of this collaboration have done literature searches and data extraction to prepare data for analysis.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2015
 
Description Plant-soil feedbacks under climatic and edaphic stress 
Organisation Emorsgate Seeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution In this collaboration we wish to investigate the consequences of plant-soil-plant feedbacks for plant fitness and community structure. We are particularly interested in the effects of soil nutrient status and moisture availability on ecological structure. We have successfully applied for a small N8 AgriFood Fund grant to support this work, and have developed links with Emorsgate Seeds to establish an agronomically relevant study system.
Collaborator Contribution Marina Semchenko has led grant applications; Emorsgate Seeds have offered to provide material from possible study species that they hold in seed cultivation.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Plant-soil feedbacks under climatic and edaphic stress 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In this collaboration we wish to investigate the consequences of plant-soil-plant feedbacks for plant fitness and community structure. We are particularly interested in the effects of soil nutrient status and moisture availability on ecological structure. We have successfully applied for a small N8 AgriFood Fund grant to support this work, and have developed links with Emorsgate Seeds to establish an agronomically relevant study system.
Collaborator Contribution Marina Semchenko has led grant applications; Emorsgate Seeds have offered to provide material from possible study species that they hold in seed cultivation.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Prof Honor C Prentice, Lund University, Sweden 
Organisation Lund University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Drafting and contributing to joint grant proposals, commenting on manuscripts, knowledge exchange (methods and concepts).
Collaborator Contribution Drafting and contributing to joint grant proposals, commenting on manuscripts, knowledge exchange (methods and concepts).
Impact I won a British Ecological Society Early Career Project Grant (ECPG4011/4886; "Do geographically separated grassland plant populations share a common genetic response to selection by moisture stress?") to support work in collaboration with Prof Prentice.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Role of genetic diversity in determining grassland community structure under drought 
Organisation French National Institute of Agricultural Research
Department Poitou-Charentes Research Center
Country France 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I have collaborated with Dr Isabelle Litrico to investigate how genetic diversity within species from fertile grasslands alters grassland community structure. My role has been in guiding and carrying out data analyses. Together, we are discussing and refining possible mechanisms through which genetic diversity affects community structure.
Collaborator Contribution My partner at INRA has provided data from some of her experiments that have been run in Lusignan.
Impact No outputs as yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBC Radio 4 Gardeners Question Time 16/09/17 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I and my group gave guided tours of climate change experiments, and led discussion sessions at BBC Radio 4's Gardeners Question Time 16/09/17, at Ness Gardens. Our tours and discussions were focussed on the responses of plant species to climate change. The intended purpose was to raise awareness in the general public, of how climate change impacts on plants, and the importance of plants and biodiversity to humans. The tours were well attended, and there were interesting questions at the end of the discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Earth Sciences Fair, Ness Botanic Gardens 07/10/17 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We manned a stall in the Earth Sciences Fair, Ness Botanic Gardens 07/10/17. Members of the public were engaged with media commicating the amazing ways in which different plants disperse and move. Members of the public took part in a seed dispersal experiment, releasing seeds and seeing how far they could move or fly, and were also engaged with interactive media relating to plant movement. The aim was to increase awareness in the public of the importance of plants to humans, and to reveal the interesting ways in which plants can move. All, particularly children, were highly interested in and engaged with the stall.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Ness Family Science Fair for British Science Week 09/03/19 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Raj Whitlock's Research group ran outreach stalls in the Ness Botanic Gardens visitor centre. We ran make-a-plant and make-a-bug activities, magenetic games relating to molecular ecology and microbiology. We also ran botanical tours of Ness Gardens, led by Raj Whitlock
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Participation in an activity, workshop or similar - Ness Family Science Fair 10/03/18 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact My research group hosted a stall at the Ness Family Science Fair 10/03/18 (Ness Botanic Gardens), where they engaged with the public under the theme of "plants, microbes and climate change". The public were engaged with activities, such as guess the number of bacteria in one millilitre of soil, and other interactive media. They showed lots of interest in the topic and related research work that my group are carrying out, and asked interesting, and sometimes challenging questions. The aim of the stall was to increase awareness of the importance of plants and soil microbes to humans, and and of how they may be impacted by cliamte change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018