Environmental Plant Interactions

Above-ground - below-ground trophic interactions

There is now emerging consensus that above-ground and below-ground compartments are intimately linked, with many examples of spatially separated organisms interacting to shape community dynamics via plant-mediated mechanisms. Research at SCRI aims to gain a mechanistic understanding of the genetic and chemical plant-mediated processes which underpin interactions between organisms that exploit different parts of the plant. By understanding these key processes, we aim to exploit natural resistance mechanisms to herbivore attack and manipulate trophic interactions to manage crop pests and maintain system stability.

We work on several systems including barley, raspberry and brassicas, focusing on how soil-dwelling herbivores (predominantly root-feeding insects) affect above-ground herbivores, their antagonists (for example, parasitoids) and plant pathogens. At present our experimental and modelling research is funded by the Scottish Government, the Natural Environmental Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Examples of our current research include the following.Image of aphids

Movement and Persistence of Genes in the Environment

Image of feral oilseed rape growing alongside a new field of oilseed rapeThe movements of genes and organisms over the landscape are natural processes that came to public attention in the assessment of GM crops. Issues on gene and seed movement go beyond the GM debate, and indeed, the major current research here on geneflow uses non-GM markers. The group combines statistical, molecular, genetic, mathematical and ecological skills to investigate the movement of genetic material and its consequences. It maintains large study areas in Tayside and in England in which it tracks the occurrence and persistence of volunteers, ferals and wild relatives.

Research projects

Research has developed in this topic for more than ten years through a series of projects funded from Europe, the UK and Scotland and from the research councils in collaboration with universities. Our contributions over this period include:

Ecological biosafety and gene flow

Image of Laying out field experiment in the Carse of GowrieThe agroecology group at SCRI continues to make major contributions through research and extension to questions on GM crops. We examine their potential roles in cropping systems, their positive and negative environmental effects, the movement of genetic material through pollen and seed and the  means by which GM and other crops might coexist in European agriculture. We combine knowledge of biology, modelling and molecular science to answer some of the most important topical questions in ecological biosafety. All our findings are made public. Members of the group are regularly invited to advise national and international commissions in biosafety and to develop training methods for environmental risk assessment.

Resource Capture

Adequate resources of light, water and mineral nutrients are essential for plants. The Resource Capture Group aims to understand how best to optimise the utilisation of these resources by crops in a changing global environment, by elucidating the genetic control and physiological bases of the traits involved.

We are also interested in how plants compete, as individuals, for these resources and aim to explain this. We have a strong research team that integrates knowledge of plant physiology, particularly of rooting traits, genetics and mathematical modelling. The group is actively involved in the SCRI Living Field educational project.

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