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NAU Study: Fungi Helps Pinyon Pines Survive Drought

Grand Canyon National Park

Climate models predict the pinyon pine could disappear from Arizona this century. New research from Northern Arizona University looks at why some pines survive and others don’t. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The study looked at how certain species of fungi help some trees draw water and nutrients from the soil, making them more drought-tolerant than others.

NAU biologist Catherine Gehring led the study about these beneficial fungi. "The mother trees get them and their offspring get them as well, so it seems to be a sort of inherited propensity to pick up these particular species, and if we look at what makes these trees drought tolerant, it’s these fungi," she explains.

Gehring says these findings could help restore pinyons in areas decimated by drought. But she cautions it might not be enough in the long run, if the climate continues to warm.

The next phase is to compare drought-tolerant pinyons in Arizona and New Mexico.

The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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