Research explores fungi’s effect on rangeland

U of S researcher Jonathon Bennett and his research partners are getting soil samples from native grasslands in Saskatchewan and Alberta, ensuring they take from both normal grasslands and saline grasslands. | File photo

U of S scientist wants to know if inoculating forage crops with mycorrhizal fungi can increase growth and salinity tolerance

University of Saskatchewan researcher Jonathon Bennett is researching fungi, forage grasslands and the relationship between the two.

The research is looking specifically at mycorrhizal fungi.

“And basically, what these fungi do is they trade nutrients from the soil to the plant in exchange for carbon that the plant fixes during photosynthesis,” Bennett said. “So they can increase drought tolerance, salinity tolerance, disease resistance, things like this.”

Bennett said his research led him to determine that inoculating commercial forages such as alfalfa with mycorrhizal fungi had no effects, which is what prompted him to decide to test native forages.

“And for most of the alfalfa varieties we tested, there were no effects of inoculation, and if there were effects they were negative,” Bennett said.

However, he still hasn’t given up on alfalfa.

“So ultimately, what we’ll be doing with these fungi, once they’re cultured and we’re confident that we’ve got enough of it, is we’re using a salt-tolerant alfalfa and some tall wheatgrass and barley to see whether or not we can increase growth and salinity tolerance of those in the greenhouse.”

Bennett and his research partners are getting soil samples from native grasslands in Saskatchewan and Alberta, ensuring they take from both normal grasslands and saline grasslands. On top of that, he is also acquiring plant species associated with the mycorrhizal fungi.

“The idea there is we’re going to use these particles for those fungi, and then we’re ultimately testing to see whether or not once we extract the fungi from the soils and isolate them, if we can use them to enhance growth and salinity tolerance of a few different forage species.”

Bennett eventually wants to move his research out into fields.

“A lot of the producers I talked to, one of the real challenges that they’re facing in terms of forage production, even in pretty productive operations, are the salty areas on their land,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to really develop another tool for them….”

This research started in May. Bennett expecting it will take two or three more years to have reportable results.

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