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Monday, June 3 • 11:00am - 11:25am
Upstairs-Downstairs: How Belowground Microbes Alter Plant Traits and Plant-Insect Interactions Aboveground FILLING

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Prairie soils contain diverse and complex soil microbial communities yet the scale and scope of soil microbial effects on aboveground ecological communities remains relatively unknown. Soil microbes, including mutualistic soil fungi such as mycorrhizae, may improve plant performance by shuttling nutrients belowground into aboveground tissue. Little is known, however, about how mycorrhizal fungi alter prairie plant traits, insect performance, and plant reproduction. Here we present several lines of inquiry that demonstrate that the identity and diversity of soil microbes influence plants traits, insect performance, and plant reproductive strategy. In the first experiment, we test the influence on soil microbes on plant-insect interactions between the prairie forb Solidago altissima, and the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). Through no-choice feeding assays, we show that not only does the presence of mycorrhizal mutualists increase S. frugiperda growth rates (P = 0.002), but also that the presence of mycorrhizae and the history of host-plant herbivory interactively alter S. frugiperda growth rates (P = 0.01). In the second experiment, we show that S. altissima individuals inoculated with diverse mycorrhizae produce on average over 11,000 more seeds than individuals grown without mycorrhizae (P =0.028). Taken together, these results indicate that soil microbes, in particularly mycorrhizae, may have important influences both on higher trophic levels and on plant population dynamics across time. By exploring the role of soil microbiomes  on community and population dynamics, we hope to provide critical missing information to help land managers and restoration practitioners support native plant and insect populations.


Hannah Locke

University of Houston

Monday June 3, 2019 11:00am - 11:25am CDT
Room 1218