Tree genetics defines fungal partner communities that may confer drought tolerance

Catherine A. Gehring, Christopher M. Sthultz, Lluvia Flores-Rentería, Amy V. Whipple, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Scopus citations


Plant genetic variation and soil microorganisms are individually known to influence plant responses to climate change, but the interactive effects of these two factors are largely unknown. Using long-term observational studies in the field and common garden and greenhouse experiments of a foundation tree species (Pinus edulis) and its mutualistic ectomycorrhizal fungal (EMF) associates, we show that EMF community composition is under strong plant genetic control. Seedlings acquire the EMF community of their seed source trees (drought tolerant vs. drought intolerant), even when exposed to inoculum from the alternate tree type. Drought-tolerant trees had 25% higher growth and a third the mortality of drought-intolerant trees over the course of 10 y of drought in the wild, traits that were also observed in their seedlings in a common garden. Inoculation experiments show that EMF communities are critical to drought tolerance. Drought-tolerant and drought-intolerant seedlings grew similarly when provided sterile EMF inoculum, but drought-tolerant seedlings grew 25% larger than drought-intolerant seedlings under dry conditions when each seedling type developed its distinct EMF community. This demonstration that particular combinations of plant genotype and mutualistic EMF communities improve the survival and growth of trees with drought is especially important, given the vulnerability of forests around the world to the warming and drying conditions predicted for the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11169-11174
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 17 2017


  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Ectomycorrhizal fungi
  • Host genetics
  • Plant-soil feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Tree genetics defines fungal partner communities that may confer drought tolerance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this