Root ecology

plant-roots-of-eastern-gamagrass-PlantAlthough yields have steadily increased since the mid-20th century, additional gains are critically needed to meet projected demands from rising population, diet shifts, and increasing biofuels consumption. Efforts to increase crop yields using limited resources can benefit from a better understanding of 1) how root system adapt to their environment, 2) functional root traits instrumental to maintain nutrient and water acquisition under stress, 3) root traits contribution to ecosystem processes such as nutrient and carbon cycling and 4)  beneficial synergies in the rhizosphere.  In addition, little is known about root systems of crop wild ancestors, yet, promising targets for future genetic improvement lie underground as wild ancestors used to grow in nutrient-variable environments with large interspecific competition. One of our hypothesis is that centuries of domestication and decades of breeding under optimal conditions have selected for root traits decreasing plant fitness in challenging environments.  We study how root traits drive ecosystem processes and take an evolutionary approach to elucidate historical changes in crop morphology, developmental plasticity and yield responsiveness to water and nutrients.

Current Research Activities

  • Uncover the effects of domestication and breeding on maize root eco-physiology, architecture and plasticity (Jennifer Schmidt) 
  • Potential of mycorrhizal symbiosis to mitigate water stress in Almond (ABC, Tamara McClung, Volder Lab)
  • Impact of a novel rhizobacteria from Antartica on crop root architecture and fertilizer use efficiency (Creative BioScience, Joshua Garcia)