Brilliant biocrusts

Biocrust – or biological soil crust – has hit the cover of New Phytologist. New Phytologist Editor Sasha Reed introduces an ecosystem you may not have heard much about. The photograph shows a dryland landscape on the Colorado Plateau, USA. In the photograph you can see biological soil crust (the dark, bumpy soil in the foreground). Biocrusts are communities of cyanobacteria...
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The loneliest tree in the world

Standing and watching the loneliest tree in the world, my first reaction was one of sadness – that with all of humankind's collective knowledge and ingenuity, we haven’t been able to propagate this plant. Hyophorbe amaricaulis has lived in the Curepipe Botanical Garden in Mauritius for the past 150 years or so. Today, it is enclosed by a kind of cage and supporting platform, a...
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The Gunnera trick

Lofty peaks and a very high rate of succession grace the cover of New Phytologist 223:2, courtesy of Alberto Benavent-González. Below he explains the story behind his research. We are looking at the very front of the Pia Glacier, located at the southern side of the Darwin Range in Tierra del Fuego (Chile). This glacier, as many others in the region, is retreating rapidly an...
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Snow is not always white

In some coastal areas in Antarctica, the snow can look red, orange, green, or a blend of all three. This colour is natural and is actually made up of tiny microscopic living cells called snow-algae. Red snow‐algae bloom on Léonie Island, Ryder Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Courtesy of Matthew Davey. Snow algae are tiny plants that can survive and bloom in the slushy snow du...
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Feeding plants, feeding people – but what about the planet?

The impact of humans on our planet is something which is (quite rightly) receiving increasingly urgent coverage. But what might not be quite so obvious – amongst a sea of stock photos featuring industrial chimneys and car exhausts – is the contribution of agriculture to these damaging processes. The Earth’s human population is currently 7.7 billion people and growing – that...
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Grow your own food security?

There is an increasing recognition in both the scientific literature and amongst the general population of the benefits of 'grow your own' food. Not only does growing your own provide you with fresh and healthy produce straight from your own back yard, there are a myriad of social and environmental benefits as well. Gardening can support a wide range of biodiversity and hel...
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The puzzling puzzle

Sometimes we humans tend to prefer style over substance, as you might observe in any clothes shop. On the other hand, plants are down-to-earth living beings that do not appreciate fashion and aesthetics. Their whole structure has been molded through time by evolution so that the shape of their components mirrors their specific functions (something that is less likely in the clo...
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Climbing up to keep cool  – Climate change effects on mountain ecosystems

There are two things that make trekking in the Alps so good: the thick hot chocolate waiting for you in the refuge, and the variety of landscapes on offer. Along the mountain slope, different ecosystems are stratified one on top of the other, but recently all of them have been greatly affected by climate change, as the temperature in the Alps has increased faster than the glob...
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Better safe than sorry: Soil microbiota puts tomato in a state of alert (+ Italian version)

You can also read this post in Italian – scroll down. You probably know that there are trillions of microorganisms living all over our bodies, especially enjoying our warm and appetising guts. The population of microbes that help our digestion, or simply hang around our bodies, is called the microbiota, and plants have one as well. The plant microbiota is particularly concentr...
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How rice spots its relatives underground: Kin recognition and productivity

minute read. If you think that life in the city is crowded, you have never been a root. The world beneath the soil surface is busier than any metropolis. It is a place in which a root can find anything, from life-long mycorrhizal friendships, to pathogens waiting in dark alleys. Roots also meet other roots, from the same species and from different ones, growing all around, p...
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