How can we make microbial ecology more “functional” ?

Coming from a plant ecology background, I have been using trait-based approaches to ask questions about the adaptive drivers of plant community assembly across the landscape (Lajoie and Vellend 2015, 2018). Building on this experience, I have been interested in applying such approaches to ask questions about host-microbe interactions, which have yet relied mostly on taxonomic assessments of community composition. I am currently working on defining contexts in which the conceptual and practical tools developed in plant functional ecology could help push the practice of microbial ecology forward and maximize contributions to knowledge development (Lajoie and Kembel 2019).

Ecological and evolutionary drivers of plant-microbe associations

While taxonomic matching between plant genotypes and species with their microbiome are being more and more largely reported, little is known about the adaptive mechanisms driving these associations. Using metagenomic datasets collected in tree communities of Quebec and Panama, I have investigated which microbial traits (e.g. metabolic pathways, cellular processes) are most strongly associated with which plant trait gradients (e.g. leaf nutrients, leaf physiology) (Lajoie et al. 2020). I have also used these data to ask questions about the influence of host landscape structure, trait composition and evolutionary history on microbial community assembly and trait evolution as part of my doctoral research.

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