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Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Trees can better survive changes in climate if their seedlings are inoculated with microbial communities from regions matching that climate, a study published in Science this week has found. Climate change, in particular drought, is predicted to put pressure on forests, but mycorrhizal fungi that form associations with trees may help them adapt to such climate stressors. To test this, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison inoculated seedlings from different tree species with microbial communities taken from areas with different climates before growing them for three years at field sites that differed in temperature and rainfall. They also characterized the composition of the fungal community in the soil and roots using DNA sequencing of the fungal ITS2 gene. Seedlings inoculated with microbes from areas with climates that best matched the type of stress they faced showed enhanced survival. "These results indicate that soil and root microbial communities can provide an alternative pathway to climate tolerance for forests," the authors wrote. "Understanding microbially mediated climate tolerance may enhance our ability to predict and manage the adaptability of forest ecosystems to changing climates."