Monday, December 19, 2011

Botany researchers find rare plants in the eastern US

During the extensive and productive 2011 field season, Botany Ph.D student Nick Dowie and Prof. Steven Miller were able to locate populations of the non-photosynetheic plant Pterospora andromedea in New York and New Hampshire.
Botany student Nick Dowie collecting samples in summer 2011
This plant, which depends on a symbiotic fungus to provide its carbon and energy (i.e. mycoheterotrophic), is rare and endangered in New England but is thriving in the west. In the east, P. andromedea is solely associated with eastern white pine, but in the west it is associated with many autotrophic tree hosts such as lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir.
The working hypotheses on the decline of Pterospora in the east is that either its disjunct distribution has resulted in a dangerous lack of genetic diversity in a changing environment or that the fungus with which it is associated is genetically depauperate, resulting in an an inefficient symbiosis that cannot sustain the relationship.  
Finding and collecting the rare eastern samples will allow them to test both hypotheses with powerful molecular approaches. Interested in learning more about Dr. Miller's research - visit his lab's website or email him.

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