2024 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Leaf-Associated Microbial Communities Shift Between 2012 and 2021 in an Idaho Common Garden

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Leonora Bittleston


As wildfire intensity and invasive species encroachment increases and land management uses change, more needs to be understood about the foundational plant species in rangeland habitats. In the intermountain west, sagebrush steppe is an important habitat for ranchers and wildlife (Camp 2014, Davies 2022, Longland & Bateman 2002). An understudied aspect of sagebrush health is its leaf-associated microbial community. Leaf associated microbes can have beneficial, neutral, or harmful effects on their hosts. We used samples from a common garden in Idaho where the leaf associated fungal communities had been sequenced. By analyzing the fungal metabarcoding data obtained from 2012 and 2021, we could compare the fungal communities to see if they changed over 9 years. There were significant differences in the abundance of particular fungi. There was a significant increase in Kabatina thujae, a known plant pathogen (Gadgil & Dick, 2001) in 2021 compared to 2012. In contrast, Phaeococcomyces species decrease from 2012 to 2021. The increase of a plant pathogen (Kabatina thujae) coupled with the decrease of a common epiphyte (Phaeococcomyes sp.) could indicate that the epiphytes provide a type of protection for the sagebrush plant (Grabka et al, 2022). Our analyses also showed a significant difference in fungal community composition from 2012 to 2021. More research is needed to untangle these relationships and to use them to aid in conservation and restoration efforts.


Camp, M. J., Rachlow, J. L., Shipley, L. A., Johnson, T. R., & Bockting, K. D. (2014). Grazing in sagebrush rangelands in western North America: implications for habitat quality for a sagebrush specialist, the pygmy rabbit. The Rangeland Journal, 36(2), 151-159.

Davies, K. W., Copeland, S. M., & Bates, J. D. (2022). Grazing effects on shrub-induced resource islands and herbaceous vegetation heterogeneity in sagebrush-steppe communities. Global Ecology and Conservation, 35, e02106.

Gadgil, P. D., & Dick, M. A. (2001). Fungi silvicolae novazelandiae: 3. New Zealand Journal of Forestry Science, 31(2), 196-207.

Grabka, R., d’Entremont, T. W., Adams, S. J., Walker, A. K., Tanney, J. B., Abbasi, P. A., & Ali, S. (2022). Fungal endophytes and their role in agricultural plant protection against pests and pathogens. Plants, 11(3), 384. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants11030384

Longland, W. S., & Bateman, S. L. (2002). the ecological value of shrub islands on disturbed sagebrush rangelands. Rangeland Ecology & Management/Journal of Range Management Archives, 55(6), 571-575.

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