Plant microbiome ecology

Research in the Busby lab focuses on plant-fungal interactions, plant disease, and microbial community ecology. Our current research seeks to characterize communities of non-pathogenic fungi that live in plants – epiphytes and endophytes – and to test how these organisms influence plant disease severity.

The role of fungal leaf endophytes in plant defense

Potential, though not well understood, factors influencing forest pests and pathogens are the microbial communities of fungi and bacteria that live within plants (i.e., the plant microbiome). Our research takes advantage of state-of-the-art genetic tools to characterize these communities and to test their role in plant defense. Much of our current research focuses on fungal leaf endophyte communities of Populus trichocarpa, the black cottonwood of the Pacific Northwest, and its major foliar disease – Melampsora rust.

Geographic variation in plant-endophyte-pathogen interactions

The abiotic and biotic factors influencing the outcome of species interactions vary across space and time. We address how geographic variation in tripartite interactions among fungal leaf endophytes, pathogens, and plants influence patterns in plant disease using both large-scale common garden and greenhouse experiments and observational studies in wild plant populations.

Harnessing plant microbiomes in sustainable agriculture

Plant microbes could potentially be used to reduce plant disease in agricultural systems. Research in the lab seeks to accelerate the integration of microbiome ecology into disease management for a range of crops, including poplar, corn, potato, and soybean. We work closely with the NSF Agricultural Microbiome Research Coordination Network to advance this research goal.