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Explorations in the Turfgrass Phytobiome: Understanding Microbial Associations and Developing Tools for Management

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Co-Principal Investigator/Co-Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Stockbridge School of Agriculture
Project Description: 

Well-maintained, healthy turfgrass provides many environmental and social benefits.  However, multifaceted programs such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are needed to withstand the constant challenges by abiotic and biotic stressors year around. Integrated pest management is a comprehensive approach that brings together various cultural and chemical pest control methods to manage insects, plant diseases (mainly fungi), and weeds. The public desires turfgrass that is well maintained with less chemical inputs, however, these expectations are difficult to reliably meet without a better understanding of the complex interactions between plants and the microbial community. The microbial communities that encompass the turfgrass system are vast and diverse. They include studying interactions between the pathogenic and beneficial microbes that reside on the surface of turfgrass, rhizosphere, rhizoplane, and root interim microbiome. These areas can be further investigated due to the recent technological advances/tools and can facilitate the development of environmentally sustainable management practices and inputs. Three golf courses located on the island of Martha's Vineyard (MA) and two research plots at Joseph Troll Research Center (South Deerfield, MA) will be investigated for this study. The three golf courses represent an organic golf course, conventional and hybrid management regimes. There are less than 10 truly organic golf courses in the United States, thus making this a unique research area. The two research plots at the Joseph Troll Research Center have been maintained at two mowing heights (3.2 cm and 6.4 cm) under organic and conventional management regimes since 2010 and represent turfgrass commonly found on athletic fields. Soil DNA for sequencing analysis of bacterial, fungal and nematodes diversity (five trophic groups) as well as turfgrass diseases, abiotic stresses, and quality ratings will be conducted and will be collected for these research plots. Studying these five locations will help us to identify which management practices and inputs are driving changes in the microbial community and lead to the development of sustainable turfgrass management practices. Biological knowledge and data will be published in scientific and trade journal articles and research results will be presented to target audiences such as golf course and athletic managers at national and regional seminars, symposia, and university field days. Our ultimate goals are to better understand structures and dynamics of beneficial and plant pathogenic microbes (bacteria, fungi, nematodes) on golf courses and athletic fields in order to develop management strategies that promote reduced pesticide usage.

Commercial Horticulture topics: