Pinyon Pine Research

Climate change as an agent of selection that alters fundamental interactions among a foundation tree species and its herbivore, mutualist and competitor communities

Funding: National Science Foundation

Principal Investigators: Catherine Gehring (PI), Amy Whipple, Tom Whitham (Co-PIs),

Key personnel/students: Lluvia Flores-Rentería (post-doc), Adair Patterson, Andrew Krohn, Gabor Kovacs, Zsuzsi Kovacs

Synopsis: While it is recognized that climate change will affect the distributions of foundation plant species, the role of changing climate as an agent of selection that affects fundamental interactions with other community members is less well understood. Interactions with herbivores, mutualists, and other plants could slow or hasten distribution shifts. Few of these interactions have been placed within a genetic framework to help us understand the evolutionary consequences of climate change. We are studying these complex interactions using pinyon pine (Pinus edulis), a recognized barometer of climate change. We are testing the overarching hypothesis that climatechange is an agent of selection that alters fundamental interactions among a foundation tree species and its herbivore, mutualist, and plant communities. We are studying pinyons that are susceptible and resistant to an herbivorous moth that alters the growth, reproduction and architecture of pinyon with cascading effects on its associated communities of microbes, arthropods and vertebrates. Previous work shows that moth resistance is genetically‐based and that resistant trees experience 3X higher mortality than susceptible trees, suggesting that drought is an agent of selection. In addition, moth resistant and susceptible trees show consistent differences in mutualistic ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) communities that are independent of herbivory and associated with variation in seedling growth. We are using field and greenhouse experiments and a common garden to test predictions of our overarching hypothesis. Paternity has been established on a subset of the common garden seedlings using next generation DNA sequencing analysis and we have expanded our studies to include pollination biology, soil bacterial and fungal communities and pinyon phylogenetics. Recent publications from this project include:

Flores-Rentería, L., M.K. Lau, L.J. Lamit, and C.A. Gehring. 2014. An elusive ectomycorrhizal fungus reveals itself: a new species of Geopora (Pyronemataceae) associated with Pinus edulis. MYCOLOGIA 106(3):553-563. 

Gehring, C.A., D. Flores-Rentería, C.M. Sthultz, T.M. Leonard, L. Flores-Rentería, A.V.. Whipple, and T.G. Whitham. 2014. Plant genetics and interspecific competitive interactions determine ectomycorrhizal fungal community responses to climate change. MOLECULAR ECOLOGY 23: 1379-1391. [ResearchGate]