Mycorrhizae are intimate symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi — plants provision root-associated fungi with photosynthetic sugars in exchange for important nutrients like phosphorus, which fungi are incredibly efficient at mobilizing from soils. About 90% of all plants on Earth have these types of partnerships with fungi, but not all mycorrhizal partnerships are equally good: some fungi are “cheaters”, and some plants appear to prefer some species of fungi over others — and this preference might change depending on their growing environments.
Because plant-fungal relationships are often intimately tied to how well a plant performs (in terms of growth and flowering), we are curious about the types of fungi that urban milkweeds and other pollinator plants partner with. Understanding how/whether mycorrhizae differ in urban environments will help us understand how to improve pollinator- and monarch-friendly urban habitat, and may help us develop strategies to optimize plant growth by tweaking their root ‘mycobiomes’.
But we need you, intrepid Community Scientists! If you have milkweeds growing in your back garden, we’d love to have you participate in a small sampling program. How we are asking you to participate: You will be sent a sampling package containing a thin plastic pipe, which you will tap into the ground next to your milkweed plant to lift up a soil core, which you will bag up and return to us at the Field Museum. Sampling will have to be performed on a specified date and dropped off at the Museum within 1-2 days of sampling; samples will need to be kept on ice (or in a freezer) in the interim. Please let us know if you can help with this project! Email your name and mailing address using the form below: