Disentangling mechanisms of co-adaptation between trees and soil food webs in response to environmental perturbations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences

Abstract

Trees interact with thousands of tiny animals and microorganisms living in soil beneath them. They do this indirectly and directly. Indirect interactions occur via production of dead litter, especially leaves. When litter is produced, soil animals and microorganisms break it down and recycle nutrients, and the composition of the community doing this breakdown process can be influenced by the nature of the litter itself, such as how much nitrogen it contains or how tough it is. Direct interactions occur because some microorganisms are intimately associated with tree roots and actually form mutually beneficial associations with trees. These organisms rely on trees for their energy in the form of sugars, and their activity fuels many processes essential for tree health and nutrition. A big question in ecology is how these interactions will be affected by components of global climate change, such as drought and elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Our project will tackle this question. A further question concerns whether components of global change will affect these indirect and direct interactions in different ways, and our proposal will also address this issue.

We will tackle these issues by undertaking experiments in the laboratory where we have lots of control of various important factors, but also by using two amazing field-based experiments. These experiments artificially manipulate concentrations of carbon dioxide and the incidence of drought frequency and severity in mature oak forests, where the trees are taller than most houses. The experiments are big, and we are fortunate to have the benefit of multi-million pound investment in infrastructure and support. The laboratory experiments will use state-of-the-art stable isotope tracer experiments, which enable us to trace the fate of carbon atoms from plants to soil to soil organisms.

Our findings will generate new mechanistic insight into the way that plants interact and shape their own biotic environment in soil, and how this is modified by climate change. Understanding these interactions is important because in managing land for food, fuel, fibre, and other ecosystem services, we routinely disconnect co-adapted food webs deliberately or inadvertently. Broader societal impact will be enhanced by using this new knowledge to inform strategies for creating, conserving and managing oak woodland (see Pathways to Impact).

Planned Impact

We aim to engage the general public through educational and KE activities associated with the project (see Pathways to Impact). We think the general public is a crucial group to inform, especially given the general lack of awareness of the key roles fungi play in many processes, and the public interest in how ancient woodlands might respond to climate change.

The work has important implications for a range of stakeholders involved in management of forests and mitigation of effects of climate change. The Forestry Commission will be particularly interested in the role of ectomycorrhizal fungi and their interaction with food webs in affecting biogeochemical cycles. Current environmental policies aim to both maintain and enhance biodiversity and yet reduce losses of carbon and nutrients, and it is possible for these two aims to conflict.

The Forestry Commission will also be further interested in how soil communities co-adapt with plant species. The Forestry Commission also has a key role in maximising soil carbon storage because of the vast area of forests that they manage. Increasing carbon storage is a central part of UK legislation and out data will provide evidence that may help develop effective management strategies that optimise carbon storage. This aim requires a better understanding of the carbon cycle more generally in forests, and a key component of our work quantifies the flux of carbon into soils, and its release as CO2.

Other stakeholders include: Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Natural Resources Wales and Natural England who will be interested because they have a statutory requirement to protect and enhance UK's biodiversity, including fungi. Our results will help demonstrate the key roles ectomycorrhizal biodiversity and its interaction with soil fauna plays in enhancing ecosystem functioning.

Inter-agency Plant Conservation Working Group; this is a multi-agency group based in the UK aiming to develop plant conservation good practice.

Other conservation groups are also increasingly interested in the role ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity and their effects on plants (e.g. Plantlife International, Trees for Life, Woodland Trust). Indeed, there has been a recent move to strengthen the profile of fungi across the UK that has involved groups like Plant Life, British Mycological Society, and the UK Fungal Conservation Forum.

The needs of the UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group (UK BRAG) who highlight the urgent need to understand the link between plant and microbial functional diversity.
 
Description We have set up several experiments in line with our original objects. One of these was in the lab and involved pulse labelling plants and adding isotopically enriched litter to trace carbon flow to soil food webs via contrasting pathways. The experimental systems are currently being analysed.

Additional experiments were set up in the field at BIFOR FACE and O3HP in France.

We have collected a mass of data from field and laboratory experiments showing how carbon flow from trees to soils is affected by eCO2 and drought.
Exploitation Route at the moment the outputs will be academic
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description Chair, Defra Trees and Woodlands Scientific Advisory Group to the England Tree Planting Programme (TaW-SAG)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact TaW-SAG exists to provide the evidence base on which the £500M Defra Nature for Climate Fund delivers afforestation and improved forest management.
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/trees-and-woodlands-scientific-advisory-group
 
Description Evidence submitted to EFRA Committee consultation on England Tree Strategy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://committees.parliament.uk/work/595/tree-planting-and-woodlands/
 
Description FWACWM
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/forestry-and-woodlands-advisory-committees
 
Description NAO report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact The report evaluates whether Defra's management of the Nature for Climate Tree Planting Programme is likely to achieve value for money. Our study examines: how Defra has implemented the Programme (Part One); how likely Defra is to achieve the aims of the Programme by March 2025 (Part Two); and the risks that Defra needs to manage to ensure the Programme achieves and maintains a longer-term increase in woodland coverage from 2025 to 2050 (Part Three).
URL https://www.nao.org.uk/report/planting-trees-in-england/
 
Description AmazonFACE 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited talk at Amazon FACE Annual General Meeting, Manaus, Brazil, 11th Feb 2020. A.R. MacKenzie. "BIFoR FACE: seasons 0, 1, 2, 3 of 10"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description BBC Radio4 Open Country 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Radio 4 Open Country interview on urban green space: "Birmingham, tree city of the world", first aired 24th April 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hghz
 
Description BBC1 News Shukman FACE visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC One News item on trees and the global carbon cycle by David Shukman, BBC Science Editor, 14th March 2020, supported by online material.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51633560
 
Description BEIS Forests & Carbon team 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An invited webinar to the BEIS Forests, Land Use, & Carbon Markets team, 29/03/2021, entitled "BIFoR FACE - a globally-significant UK contribution to informing responses to the climate emergency".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description BGS (online seminar) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact An Introduction to BIFoR FACE: Invited webinar to West Midlands branch of British Geographical Association, joint with Jerry Pritchard.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description CoP26 essay 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Contribution to University of Birmingham policy briefs "Addressing the Climate Challenge" (a CoP26 essay collection): chapter entitled Not just standing there: the carbon utility of established forest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://blog.bham.ac.uk/publicaffairs/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2021/09/Addressing-the-climate-cha...
 
Description Costing the Earth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A substantial section of the BBC Radio 4 environment documentary programme, Costing the Earth, was given over to an interview with doctoral researcher Anna Gardner and early results from BIFoR FACE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00120wg
 
Description Darwin & diversity 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Essay entitled "A 150-year-old note from Charles Darwin is inspiring a change in the way forests are planted", published 4th November 2021 in the online magazine, The Conversation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/a-150-year-old-note-from-charles-darwin-is-inspiring-a-change-in-the-way...
 
Description Drunken Xmas Trees 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Birmingham Perspective, 16th December 2020: Thirsty and Drunken Xmas Trees. A light-hearted online essay introducing the effects of permafrost thaw on boreal forests to a general audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/drunken-christmas-trees.aspx
 
Description ECT2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited keynote, A.R. MacKenzie, to Joint Ecological Continuity Trust and Plant-Soil Ecology Special Interest group of the British Ecological Society, Buxton, 21 May 2019. "An overview and early results from a temperate deciduous forest free-air carbon enrichment (FACE) facility"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.ecologicalcontinuitytrust.org/events
 
Description FAPESP 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited talk, UoB-FAPESP workshop, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 9th December 2019. A. R. MacKenzie: "The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Gardeners' World 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A significant section of an edition of the popular TV programme Gardeners' World was dedicated to BIFoR FACE. The section was presented by QUINTUS PI Rob MacKenzie and included early results from FACE-related projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0010cm7/gardeners-world-2021-episode-28
 
Description Gardner et al. reporting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The publication of Gardner et al. (2021) caused a great deal of media interest from national newspapers (Daily Mail, Express, Independent), national and regional broadcasters (BBC radio 4, BBC WM, and ITV Central), and international media online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6YTITmxtZ8
 
Description ICF webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sci-fi forest: propelling an English Oak woodland into 2050. Invited webinar, Institute of Chartered Foresters, 11 June 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.charteredforesters.org/event/icf-members-hour-sci-fi-forest-propelling-an-english-oak-wo...
 
Description Inside Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A substantial part of an episode of the BBC Radio 4 science magazine programme, Inside Science, was given over to a discussion of first results from BIFoR FACE, including a long interview with doctoral researcher Anna Gardner.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00108j0
 
Description Landscape Learn 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact ARMK interviewed by landscape architect Jo Gibbons in "Conversations on Urban Forestry", Landscape Learn, 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.landscapefirst.it/rubriche/book-reviews/we-are-forest-conversation-on-urban-forestry/?fb...
 
Description Reasons to be cheerful 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Podcast: Ed Milliband and Geoff Lloyd interview A.R. MacKenzie: "reasons to be cheerful", released 28/7/2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://play.acast.com/s/reasonstobecheerful/9dac8b6b-545d-4c3e-84ab-f2c05db7ca15
 
Description TEDx talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Rob MacKenzie gave a TEDx lecture: Are we making a better future for forests? Part of themed day "Humans: for better or worse?", University of Birmingham, 16/2/2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/30430
 
Description The Air We Breathe 
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 The University of Birmingham has opened a major new public engagement venue called The Exchange. The inaugural exhibition, called "The Air We Breathe", drew on many of the grants being reported here, both for air quality and for forests.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/the-exchange/index.aspx
 
Description UniCamp2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact UoB-UniCamp collaboration Workshop, Campinas, Brazil, 13th Feb 2020. A. R. MacKenzie. "The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description What can trees really do for us? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An essay entitled "Climate crisis: what can trees really do for us?" published in the online magazine, The Conversation, on 12th October 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://theconversation.com/climate-crisis-what-can-trees-really-do-for-us-168779