Elucidating the impact of carbon dioxide enhancement on fungal and fungal-like plant pathogen dynamics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


General project description (<400 words)
It is well established that fungal communities respond to changes in climate by altering overall abundance and progression through their developmental cycle. Recent research on the effect of long-term elevated CO2 on fungal communities in a controlled grassland ecosystem found significant changes in fungal community structure. In boreal forest soils, increased temperatures also led to changes in mycobiome composition.

In boreal ecosystems, this might be beneficial in the context of fungal communities that contribute to carbon cycling as decomposers of organic matter freeing carbon and other nutrients within ecosystems. At the same it might also lead to the emergence of fungal and fungal-like plant pathogens. For example, oak species dominate the UK's lowland woods and, like many native trees, are under threat from emerging pests and disease, particularly oak processionary moth (OPM) and acute oak decline (AOD). These new pests and diseases act alongside more established environmental stresses that are often associated with climate change. They add to the constant pressure of established/endemic threats such as oak mildew and honey fungus.

This clearly demonstrates the need for an in-depth understanding of CO2-induced changes of the forest mycobiome structure in order to develop strategies to circumvent the potential negative ecological and socioeconomic impacts of fungal and fungal-like plant pathogens.

Therefore, we are proposing this project to elucidate the effect of elevated CO2 in mycobiome structure and diversity in correlation with environmental variables in a forest ecosystem, the University of Birmingham's BIFoR Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) facility (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/bifor/index.aspx). We will employ a combined target candidate and unbiased sequencing approach to 1.) characterise fungal and fungal-like plant pathogen availability, 2.) elucidate the plant response to fungal and fungal-like pathogen attack and 3.) model the long-term impact of CO2 enhancement on fungal and fungal-like plant pathogen availability.

In summary, this proposal will provide essential information on the current health of UK oak woodlands and enable predictions of potential future impacts fungal and fungal-like plant pathogens. This will provide a traffic-light tool kit alerting for potential fungal and fungal-like plant pathogen outbreaks based on high risk environmental conditions. In the long-term, this will enable the development of strategies to mitigate ecological and socioeconomic impacts caused by fungal and fungal-like plant pathogens.

Alignment with core DREAM themes of Big Data, Risk and Mitigation (<400 words),

BIG DATA: Our approach will create large metagenomic data sets from triplicate sampling on a monthly basis for two years, each covering almost 1000 operational taxonomic units, to create networks on a temporal-spatial scale. In combination with extensive routinely collected continuous high-resolution metadata (taken every minute) from over ten distinct data streams from multiple locations (e.g. atmospheric, hydrological, meteorological) we will model the long-term risks of fungal and fungal-like plant disease. This will provide over 100 million unique data points. We will develop methodologies to establish clustering algorithms to ensure scientific relevant data mining outputs. These datasets will also be of great value to the greater research community. We will make all data sets available to the research community for further data mining as soon as feasible.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/M009009/1 04/10/2015 31/12/2022
2072400 Studentship NE/M009009/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2020 Aileen Bryony BAIRD
Description This award enabled data collection related to fungal communities at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) experiment. The overall aims of the FACE experiment are to mimic the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations on forests, with the BIFoR FACE experiment located in a mature oak woodland in Staffordshire. This award enabled a number of sub-projects all investigating fungal communities at BIFoR FACE.
- Soil samples were collected and their DNA sequenced to investigate how soil forest fungal communities are affected by CO2
- Airborne bioaerosols (e.g. fungal spores, pollen) were measured to investigate how airborne fungal communities are affected by CO2
- Forest fungal fruiting body surveys were completed to investigate how CO2 affected fungal reproduction and changes in fungal communities.

The results from these data show that fungal communities can be affected by CO2, however the response varies depending on the species, life stage, and location of the fungi. One paper from this project has been published, 1 has been submitted and is currently undergoing peer review, and an additional 2 publications are in late stages of preparation.
with 2 publications in late stages of preparation, and 3 in early stages of preparation. These data provide vital insights into the effects of elevated CO2 on forest fungal communities, which are essential to understand for the overall changes to the forest. The insights from the BIFoR FACE experiment provide essential information for global climate models, and could inform climate mitigation policy.
Exploitation Route All samples taken during the duration of the award are bio-banked at the University of Birmingham, and data curated for long term storage. These samples and data are available for future use. Two publications have already been generated from this work, both of which are currently published or pre-printed open-access. A minimum of another two publications are in late stages of preparation, enabling the results of this work to influence future research plans. Throughout the project, researchers have been heavily involved in public engagement, particularly surrounding publications.
Sectors Environment

Description Throughout the project progression, the project findings have been displayed to a wide range of audiences, including the general public (The Conversation article, and radio interviews), school and college students (e.g. invited talks, science fairs, and national projects such as The Brilliant Club and I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here), adult non-specialists (visits to the BIFoR FACE site, UK Fungus Day events, Pint of Science, involvement in local community projects), via social media (Twitter, Facebook etc), to undergraduate students (student projects, volunteers, and British Ecological Society Summer School), and finally to specialist scientific audiences at a variety of conferences (E.g. British Ecological Society Annual Meeting). These public engagement activities have provided both updates on the project, but also the opportunity for a wider range of people to learn about the research findings from the project, and gain new skills. In addition to the wide engagement from a diverse audience through the project, a total of at least four publications are in progress for this project. A review paper describing the importance of fungi in tree planting has been published open-access, and was accompanied by a blog article in The Conversation, which has been read >20,000 times, and generated significant further interest, including radio articles, magazine article pitches, and many members of the public getting in touch directly. An additional publication has been published as a pre-print and is currently in the late stages of peer-review. An additional two publications from data generated in this project are currently in the late stages of preparation. Although primarily aimed at research specialists, these publications will enable dissemination of the results to a wider range of audiences, and we plan to share future work through blog, media, and social media are widely as possible.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Article in The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article published in The Conversation describing and summarising our recent paper on the importance of fungi in the context of UK tree planting. As of March 2022, the article has been read over 20,000 times, shared hundreds of times on social media, and has resulted in further media engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://theconversation.com/fungi-the-missing-link-in-tree-planting-schemes-175008
Description British Ecological Society Undergraduate Summer School 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Around 40 undergraduate students from across the UK participated in the British Ecological Summer School, a normally in-person field course, that was converted into an online event due to covid restrictions. Aileen Baird was responsible for creating mycological content for the summer school, including a lecture, fieldwork activity and presentation session. These activities sparked considerable questions and discussion through the week, and several students reached out separately after the event to discuss career prospects and their involvement in mycology and ecology after the summer school.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Radio interview for Abbey104 / Keep106 / Radio Alfred 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio interview with Jenny Devitt for her radio show "Local World" discussing our recent paper and article in The Conversation regarding the importance of fungi in tree planting. The interview was broadcast five times on various Dorset radio stations including: Abbey 104, KeeP 106, and Radio Alfred.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Society for Applied Microbiology "Microbiologist" Article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Article written summarising the early stages of the project, which was publishing in the online and print versions of the "Microbiologist", magazine of the Society for Applied Microbiology
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://issuu.com/societyforappliedmicrobiology/docs/microbiologist_june18
Description UK Fungus Day Event 
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 Bristol UK Fungus Day was a large local event for the general public aimed at engaging a wider audience in mycology. This project presented up to date findings from the experiment alongside a variety of hands-on activities to explain the BIFoR FACE experiment. Hundreds of visitors attended the event and engaged with the content, and both the wider event and this project specifically were publicised on traditional and social media before the event took place.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.britmycolsoc.org.uk/application/files/8615/8022/9320/UK_Fungus_Day_2019_Bristol_Events_-...