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MDC awards Alice Tipton grant to study mycorrhizal interactions

June 4, 2013

Alice Tipton

Alice Tipton

Alice Tipton, a graduate student in the Division of Biological Sciences, was awarded a $23,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to study mycorrhizal interactions in Missouri’s tallgrass prairies and dolomite glades.

Tallgrass prairies and glades are home to a vast diversity of native grasses and wildflowers as well as home to an extraordinary variety of birds, insects, and animals. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, over 99% of the over 15 million acres of tallgrass prairies and glades that once covered Missouri have been converted to agricultural land or degraded by fire suppression and invasion of woody species. Recent efforts to restore both ecosystems have met with limited success.

One reason may be due to the loss of diversity in mycorrhizal interactions. A mycorrhiza is a symbiotic relationship between a plant and microscopic fungi living in the soil. Generally, plants supply the fungi with carbon, and the fungi increase the host plant’s ability to uptake nutrients and water from the surrounding soil. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are the most ancient and important of mycorrizae.

“In prairie sites with degraded soil, AMF-enriched soil addition has increased aboveground plant diversity and improved restoration outcomes,” says Tipton.

Tipton will sample for AMF that colonize the roots of wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and randomly selected roots from the plant community. Samples will be collected from twenty sites in Missouri. The sites vary by habitat type (glade versus prairie), soil composition (sandstone versus limestone/dolomite), and restoration stage (newly established versus well-restored). To account for seasonal variation, Tipton will collect samples at three different times during the growing season (May, July, September).

Tipton will use next-generation sequencing technologies to genotype the species of AMF interacting with plant communities. By identifying the dominant mycorrhizal interactions, Tipton hopes to shed light on how current restoration practices affect AMF interactions as well as to design a protocol for restoring AMF communities as part of the MDC’s restoration efforts.

Tipton also will use the data for her doctoral dissertation on plant-fungal relationships and their role in native habitat restorations of dolomite glades. Tipton is carrying out her research under the direction of Professor Candi Galen.

Tipton will be assisted in her research activities by Becky Bentley and Karla Sommer, fourth grade teachers at Mill Creek Elementary School. As part of the NSF-funded Show Me Nature GK-12 Program, Tipton spent the past year in the teachers’ fourth-grade classrooms to enhance her communication and teaching skills. This summer, the teachers will spend time in the lab with Tipton beefing up their science and research skills.


Written by: Melody Kroll

Related research strengths:
Ecology, Evolution, Genetics & Genomics, Plant Biology
Related categories:
Graduate Studies