Root and rhizosphere ecology

We explore the potential of root traits and the rhizosphere to enhance cycling, acquisition and uptake of soil resources

Although 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 and tomato root eco-physiology, rhizosphere processes and resource acquisition strategies (Jennifer Schmidt, Meng Li, Lindsay Dahlen) 
  • Elucidate how management practices shape rhizosphere community and processes (Jennifer Schmidt, Meng Li) 
  • Understand plant control and stability of microbiome recruitment across management and biotic/abiotic stress gradients (Jennifer Schmidt, Meng Li) 
  • Belowground niche complementarily of cover crop stands and feedback to soil ecosystem services (Cynthia Crézé)