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Comparisons of Mycorrhizal Properties from Two Host Tree Species

In this lab experiment, students learn about ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal properties associated with two host tree species to better under understand symbioses in general and gain experience using soil sampling and mycorrhizal field methods. Students will learn in more depth about terms and concepts related to symbioses (e.g. mutualisms, coevolution, host specificity) and about specific experimental methods. Two labs and 2-4 preceding lectures are required. In the first lab, students make field observations to form a hypothesis about ECM fungal colonization, record images of sporocarps, and extract roots. In the second, students process their roots and describe ECM fungi. They then analyze data, test their hypothesis, and summarize their findings and interpretations of lab content/concept questions in written and oral assessments.
Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
General Biology Core Concepts
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords biodiversity, community ecology, forest ecology, fungal community, mutualism, mycorrhizae, Shannon Diversity Index, soil ecology, species diversity, species interactions, symbiosis
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description The lab is best fit for mycology and fungal ecology courses, and for upper level ecology elective courses (e.g., community or plant ecology), where students should have some basic knowledge of mycorrhizae and familiarity with field and microscopy methods. But it can be adapted for lower level majors courses. Adaptations could employ a number of approaches. One is to remove the entire root-sampling portion to focus on sporocarp identification and counts, but include an augmentation of it by showing colonized root samples retrieved by the instructor in the lab. Links between sporocarps and mycorrhizal roots could then be made to illustrate physical interaction between sporocarps, roots, and mycorrhizal fungi. In addition, a second approach might be to keep both the sporocarp and mycorrhizal description portions, but to remove most quantitative measurements. This would be similar to the first approach, but would allow students to still gain some experience with root sampling, prepping, and morphotyping to describe ECM morphotypes (i.e., unidentified species). Quantification of colonized and uncolonized root tips could be kept to give students at least some familiarity with measuring mycorrhizal colonization. The t-test could be conducted to test for differences in colonization as originally planned, or it too could be omitted. All other quantitative measures including percent colonization by morphotype (needed to construct community composition profiles), total colonization, and Shannon diversity could be omitted completely (or partially at the discretion of the instructor). Such modifications should not greatly alter the key experiment goals, which are to increase student knowledge of mycorrhizal ecology, to authenticate an understanding of symbioses, and give students exposure to ECM and soil ecology methods. Based on these and any other modifications, the homework, lab data analysis, and oral presentation would need modification to accommodate such changes. Instructors should be able to do that. Finally, whether modified or not, access to wooded habitats that are flat and accessible to ALL students is ideal, but any wooded area can be used.
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Department of Biology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA,
Primary Author email
Rights Copyright is held by author.
Date Of Record Submission 2014-06-02

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