Project aims to unearth data to help plants

Clyde volunteer Bill Nagle (centre) takes part in a citizen science project near Clyde....
Clyde volunteer Bill Nagle (centre) takes part in a citizen science project near Clyde. Information from the collaborative project will hopefully boost the survival of native species planted in Central Otago, those taking part in the project say. Photo: Supplied
A citizen science project in Clyde is being described as "groundbreaking" for its potential to aid the survival of native plantings in Central Otago.

The Haehaeata Natural Heritage Trust — which runs the Clyde Railhead  Community Nursery and fosters growth in native plantings in Central Otago — was last year granted about $20,000 for an investigation into native plant-fungi symbiosis.

The project — Woodland Sanctuaries for Lizards and Birds: Investigating native plant-soil fungi symbiosis — is a collaborative one between the Haehaeata trust, the Mokihi Trust  in Cromwell, and the University of Otago’s botany department.

It was one of eight projects funded last year by the Otago Participatory Science Platform, which is in turn funded by the Government’s Curious Minds (Science into Action) programme.

Haehaeata trust volunteer Bill Nagle, of Clyde, said it was a "major achievement" for a community group to win a competitive science funding round, and described the Clyde project as "groundbreaking".

He said the project would "explore and exploit" the possibility of using the relationship between soil fungi and plants to aid establishment and survival of native plantings, and identify species of fungi that might help native plants become established.

"This information will help both the Haehaeata Natural Heritage Trust in its community revegetation work and those people in wider Central Otago who are interested in growing native species."

The project involves soil samples being taken from three sites and then used for standard soil analysis and genetic analysis.

The samples have been sent to the Otago Genomics Facility at the University of Otago for DNA extraction and sequencing. Dr David Orlovich, of the botany department, will oversee the process.

Mr Nagle said the project would provide information about the soil fungi that  were  associated with native plant root systems. Soil fungi could give plants a competitive advantage in harsh conditions by improving water and mineral uptake.

"There is definite evidence from other areas in New Zealand that beneficial fungi in the soil attach to the plant roots, and they can double or quadruple the size of the root system, which makes it easier for the plants to survive."

These types of fungi were arbuscular mycorrhizal, which did not produce mushrooms and were not evident on the surface, Mr Nagle said.

The final fungi sample was taken at Waikeri Downs Station, owned by Earl and Bernie Attfield, last month and it was hoped results from the study would be available early this year, he said.

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