Environmental Plant Interactions

Plant population and community modelling

The objective of plant population and community modelling in the Agroecology group is to understand, and where necessary anticipate, the effects on arable vegetation of technical innovations and global change, and thereby to understand the role of the vegetation in the sustainability of the arable system as a whole.  System-level responses, such as primary production, nutrient retention and biodiversity, emerge over time, often unpredictably, from complex ecological and evolutionary processes. By developing models of plant populations and communities, we are able to assess the response of arable vegetation in a way that can't be addressed by experiment or observation alone.

Our current focus is the influence of the genetic and functional characteristics (life-history traits or their physiological determinants) of plants on system-level properties. A common thread is the definition of populations and communities in terms of the genetic and functional variation of individuals. Using the individual enables intra- and inter-specific variation to be presented on a common scale and both ecological and evolutionary processes to be combined in a single model framework.

Sustainable Systems

The biological mechanisms that drive primary production and other ecological functions should not be compromised: a balance must be kept between what is removed from the field for subsistence and profit and what is left to support the system’s essential life forms. We are attempting to define the bounds and conditions in which these life forms can operate so as to ensure the system’s long term health and resilience.   

.. a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature ..

Cicero, MT. De Inventione

Trait characterisation in crops

Photograph of growing-tubes in SCRI glasshousesCrop productivity has increased dramatically in recent decades through a combination of improved arable management and breeding of higher yielding crop genotypes.

Further increases in productivity are needed to cope with growing demands for food. The price, availability and high energy costs (carbon footprint) of inorganic fertiliser mean that food production will need to be achieved with fewer chemical inputs and with greater emphasis on a sustainable approach to arable cropping. 

New crop genotypes that require less chemical fertiliser and pesticide for a given level of yield could be developed by characterising plant traits associated with reduced nutrient requirements and high pest tolerance.

Contact: Alison Karley

Multi-Trophic Interactions

Photograph of a beetle on chicory flowerMulti-trophic Interactions is a new major research topic in Agroecology that combines existing lines of study at both SCRI and the University of Dundee. Trophic (or feeding) interactions drive the cycling of energy and nutrients in farmland. Insects and other invertebrates feed on plants and in turn are fed on by other insects, spiders, various symbionts, pathogens and vertebrates. A very small proportion of the total species in trophic interactions are pests of agriculture. Most mediate processes that are essential to the cropping cycle, such as the breakdown of dead organisms (crops, weeds, wood, animals), the regulation of pests and the pollination of flowers. These trophic interactions are exceedingly complex and are studied using advanced concepts and methods in organism biology, molecular biology and mathematical modelling.  Through gaining basic knowledge, the topic aims to provide a scientific basis for future management of invertebrate populations in farmland.

GMO ERA Project

Picture of cotton being pickedIn  agricultural and natural environments, GM crops and their transgene products will come into contact with hundreds of non-target species that have important ecological functions.

The GMO ERA Project is a pioneering initiative driven by public sector scientists from many countries to develop tools to support environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The aim is to give decision makers the tools and training to help them decide what information and data are most important and appropriate for an ERA that is tailored to the GM crop and agricultural system in their country and region.

To date the project has examined case studies on Bt maize in Kenya, Bt cotton in Brazil and Bt cotton in Vietnam. The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IOBC Global, national ministries and several other funders. A steering committee for Phase I and II of the project were responsible for making key decisions.

Plants and plant communities

Photograph of happy field workers sampling plantsResearch in Plants and Plant Communities aims to define those properties of crops and arable plants that would maintain yield and the purity of yield while reducing the environmental footprint of cropping. The work includes basic studies of plant processes such as germination, flowering and nutrition, genetic and physiological variation in model crops and arable plants, the ecology of plant (seedbank) communities, plants as the base of the arable food web and models of geneflow, selection and evolution. The practical output will be combinations of plant traits that can be targeted in crop improvement or encouraged by agronomy. Disciplines and methods include plant physiology, genetics, statistics, modelling, microscopy and field survey.

Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)

Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) is a technique used for the quantification of chemical elements.

Laboratory Techniques

Read more about our Laboratory Techniques.

MYCOREMED radiocaesium

Radiocaesium (Cs) pollution of agricultural, semi-natural and natural areas is a worldwide problem that has arisen from human activities.

Nutritional Genomics Group

Optimisation of mineral fertilisers in crop production

One objective of our group is to optimise the use of mineral fertilisers in crop production and, thereby, reduce fertiliser inputs and pollution. In recent years, this work has focused on improving the mineral nutrition of crops and has included the development of molecular diagnostics for P-starvation, the identification of P efficient varieties, and the trialling of sustainable P-fertilisers. Collaborative projects related to this area of research include the following.

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