Washington: A professor from Montana State University is searching for ways to use thread-like fungi, which grows in soils at high elevations, for restoring whitebark and limber pine forests in Canada.
Cathy Cripps, who is working with resource managers and visitor relations staff from Waterton Lakes National Park (WLNP), is part of a project that aims to restore fire to the national park, reduce the impact of noxious weeds and restore disturbed sites to native vegetation, including whitebark and limber pine.
The pines have declined from 40 to 60 percent across their range, and when the trees die, the fungi associated with them also die.
"Cathy``s research on fungi and their importance to these pines at various life stages has led us to believe that we may no longer have the necessary fungi in our soils because of the long decline of both pines," said Cyndi Smith, conservation biologist at WLNP.
Both pines are dying from a combination of an introduced disease (white pine blister rust), mountain pine beetle, fire suppression and a warmer climate.
In the study, Cripps will be identifying native mycorrhizal fungi--fungi associated with plant roots.
And she will specifically look for mycorrhizal fungi that associate with whitebark and limber pines.
The fungi are important in the establishment and survival of the trees.
Finding the fungi isn``t easy as some fungi produce mushrooms, while many of the species live entirely underground.
"It`s painstaking work. There is a lot of walking and searching for almost unnoticeable signs," said Cripps.
Cripps has surveyed mycorrhizae from Yellowstone through Waterton Lakes National Park and into Banff, Canada, and has found related fungi associated with these pines throughout the northern Rockies.
These mycorrhizal fungi are specific to five-needled pines, including whitebark and limber pines.
After finding the fungi, she collects them in small plastic boxes to take back to her lab at MSU and grows new fungi from them before adding it to the soil of whitebark pine seedlings in the greenhouse.
The results indicated that the seedlings with fungi in their soil become greener and more robust than the seedlings without the fungi.