If you are going above 20,000 ft, we need you!
Most, if not all, plants in natural ecosystems are symbiotic with filamentous fungi (known as endophytes) that live inside plants and dramatically affect plant metabolism, adaptation and ecology. Some endophytes adapt plants to habitat-specific environmental stresses, allowing plants to colonize complex landscapes. For example, plants growing in geothermal soils are symbiotic with fungal endophytes that confer heat tolerance and coastal plants are symbiotic with endophytes that confer salt tolerance. We have designated this phenomenon as Habitat Adapted Symbiosis (HAB) and demonstrated that without the appropriate fungal endophyte, plants do not survive environmental stress. Therefore, fungal endophytes adapt plants to abiotic stress rather than the plants themselves.
Remarkably, fungal endophytes are able to colonize a variety of plants including agricultural crops and confer stress tolerance as they do in native plants. We hypothesize that fungal endophytes can be used to mitigate impacts of climate change on agricultural and native plants by conferring abiotic stress tolerance.
There is a moss plant that grows at 6480m on Mt Everest and is exposed to extreme temperatures, high ultraviolet radiation, desiccation and high winds. This is possibly the highest growing plant species on earth and it is likely that they have adapted to this high elevation habitat through symbiotic associations with fungal endophytes.
In 2011, ASC connected the Benegas brothers with this project. They obtained moss samples from Mt Everest plants and scientists determined that they are symbiotic with a small number of fungal species. Currently, scientists are identifying the fungi to determine if they are new species and what ecological role they play. If these fungi confer cold tolerance to plants, it may allow for crop cultivation on marginal lands as part of a new symbiotic strategy to sustain agriculture in the 21st century.
We need you to go to Everest, to K2, to any peak that may have this moss growing on it. We need samples of it, and we can't get there without your unique skills.
Watch a video of Damian Benegas Collecting The Highest Known Plant On Earth!