News: Big Impact, Research, WA

Biodiversity Roots

The kwongan eco-region in Western Australia’s southwest is exceptionally biodiverse bushland existing on some of the most infertile soils in the world. In a recent study in Nature Plants, researcher Dr Graham Zemunik and colleagues at the University of Western Australia (UWA) describe what they have discovered: plants use an amazing variety of root strategies to obtain nutrients from these poor soils.

Almost all plants growing in infertile land produce very tough leaves that survive for several years. Surprisingly however, their roots can use completely different strategies that all appear to be successful. Some plants’ roots form mutually beneficial relations with fungi or bacteria, while others capture and digest insects for the nutrients they contain. Another broad group of species exude organic compounds that increase nutrient availability. Light microscopy in the AMMRF at UWA enabled the researchers to demonstrate the diverse mechanisms of fungal colonisation of roots.

This research helps us to understand how these systems work, enabling us to protect our biodiversity more effectively. The findings, like the kwongan as a whole, are of global importance.