Paper helping to shape trajectory of global plant science research

For immediate release
19 April 2024

Scientists Sarah Addison, Dr Steve Wakelin and Simeon Smaill are among authors who have written an invitation only review article in the scientific journal Trends in Plant Science (TIPS).

This journal is highly respected, with articles prioritising and setting the direction of future research in plant sciences globally.

Scion researcher Sarah Addison.

Their research paper, titled ‘Partner or perish: Tree microbiomes and climate change’, was led by Addison at Scion. The paper is a collaborative publication between researchers from Scion, Wright State University (Ohio) and the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University where Addison is also undertaking a PhD.

“With an invitation only review article, your work must sit at the forefront of scientific knowledge in the discipline,” says Addison. “TIPS requires you to pitch your idea for a review article as well as your scientific CV. All of these factors are taken on board even before you submit an article for consideration via peer review.

“We were ecstatic to get the invitation to submit an article and even more elated when we got the email to say our work would be published. It demonstrates we are at the leading edge of our work in plant-microbiome-environmental interactions.”

Their research paper reviewed the current landscape of the complex relationships between plants, their microbiomes and the environmental changes happening with climate change.

With the long lifecycle of trees, they might not evolve at a pace that matches the rapid environmental changes that climate change brings. But, like humans and our microbiomes, trees have also evolved with microbiomes. These tree-microbiome relationships have developed over millions of years and have endured through previous cycles of environmental change. It’s hoped these relationships will shed light on how trees can survive in a rapidly changing future.

“Climate change has happened before, however the rate of change we are experiencing is unprecedented in recent history,” says Addison.

“As trees live for a long time and can’t easily migrate, the plants established today could be stranded in an unsuitable climate. We need new tools to support trees facing change in the future.”

Microbiome associations that have been successful in helping trees in the past may be a new tool for establishing resilient, future-proof forests. “It’s about relationships. Ensuring the right relationship between the tree, the microbiome, the soil and the climate.”

After reviewing the existing literature surrounding trees and their microbiomes, they identified key gaps that need further research. One of these gaps centres around more research exploring the tree and microbiome as a single entity, or a ‘holobiont’.

“We need to shift our perspective from ‘trees and their microbiomes’ to one of a single, co-evolved entity interacting dynamically within and as part of the environment,” says Addison.

Not only are these biological systems incredibly diverse, but their relationship within the environment and changing climate has layers of complexity. “Predicting outcomes such as climate resilience, aren’t readily predictable from individual behaviours. We need approaches founded in complex systems science to advance this. We have to embrace the complexity, the systems within systems, integrate scalability, and so on.”

Furthermore, the paper explores climate change mitigation with the microbiome altering and evolving to benefit both the tree and the microbiome. This work provides the knowledge to enhance tree adaptability and mitigate adverse impacts of climate change on trees.

The literature and understanding that has been unearthed with this review article is currently being explored in the MBIE-funded Tree-root Microbiome Project lead by Dr Wakelin. The main aim of this large collaborative project is to understand how trees and their microbiomes work together and can be used to counter climate change by using Pinus radiata as a model. This research can then be applied to other tree species to help maintain global tree diversity.