Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Plants adapt their defenses to the local pest community

05.10.2012
Populations of the same plant species produce specific defenses that are effective against the predominant local pest community.
Variation in the local pest community can therefore maintain genetic variation in plants across large geographical scales. Ecologists from the University of Zurich used controlled experiments coupled with observations on natural plant populations and their pests to demonstrate how genetic variation in plant defenses is maintained. The results could be used to develop customized seeds that are more resistant to the local pest community.

Populations of the same plant species produce specific defenses that are effective against the predominant local pest community. Variation in the local pest community can therefore maintain genetic variation in plants across large geographical scales. Ecologists from the University of Zurich used controlled experiments coupled with observations on natural plant populations and their pests to demonstrate how genetic variation in plant defenses is maintained. The results could be used to develop customized seeds that are more resistant to the local pest community.

Test set-up of the selection experiment. Different genotypes of Arabidopsis thaliana were exposed to different aphids in parallel. Each individual Plexiglas box simulates a plant population with a particular composition of aphids.

UZH


Detailed view of the selection experiment. Plant populations are harmed to varying degrees by the different aphid species. From left to right: Population without aphids, mustard aphid, cabbage aphid, aphid mixture, mustard aphid, peach aphid.

Herbivorous insects, such as aphids, damage plants and can substantially reduce yields in agricultural settings; however, they can play a major role in maintaining genetic diversity. Ecologists Tobias Züst and Lindsay Turnbull from the University of Zurich together with colleagues from California and Great Britain demonstrated the importance of variation in herbivore communities using the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as wall cress. According to Züst, the work is one of the first experimental confirmations of a forty-year-old theory that herbivorous insects exert strong selective pressure on their host plants. Moreover, plants were quick to abandon defense mechanisms when pests were absent, confirming the high costs of these defenses.

Like many other plants, Arabidopsis thaliana, or wall cress, defends itself against pests with a sophisticated chemical arsenal. The pests, however, continually evolve mechanisms to tolerate or metabolize particular chemical components. This means that depending on the abundance of different pest species, different compounds will provide optimal protection, and thus the plant needs to produce a carefully tailored cocktail that will be effective against the most likely attackers. The researchers’ first step was to study the distribution of different chemical defenses in natural populations of Arabidopsis thaliana across Europe and compare it to the geographic distribution of two important pest species: the cabbage and the mustard aphid.

Local pest populations as an evolutionary force
The scientists demonstrate that the main chemical compounds produced by Arabidopsis thaliana in South-western Europe differ from those in North-eastern Europe. This pattern correlates directly with a shift in the composition of the aphid communities. In the second step, the researchers studied experimentally whether different aphid species could directly select for these different chemical compounds under controlled conditions. To this end, they exposed mixed populations of Arabidopsis thaliana to the cabbage and mustard aphid populations typical of North-eastern or South-western Europe. After five plant generations, continuous feeding by the different aphid species led to the selection of different chemical profiles, and these were consistent with the patterns seen in nature. “There is natural variation in chemical defenses which is under genetic control”, explains Züst “and this variation is maintained by geographic variation in the composition of aphid communities”. “Genetic variation is the raw material for evolution”, he continues, “so the maintenance of genetic diversity is essential if populations are to respond to future environmental changes such as climate change or environmental degradation”.
The costs of defense
In the control populations with no aphid feeding, some of the successful genotypes from aphid populations were lost. According to Turnbull, this occurred because defense mechanisms are costly for the plant and often come at the expense of growth: “Genetic diversity was only maintained across the different treatments; within each treatment much of the diversity was lost. In the control populations, this meant the loss of defended genotypes, as here investment in costly defenses brings no benefit to the plant”. Today, the genetic diversity of many plant species is being eroded. For example, agricultural plants are selected for rapid growth and maximum yield at the expense of natural defenses, making the use of pesticides inevitable. In future, the new findings could be used to develop customized seeds that are more resistant to specific local pest communities, thus limiting the use of pesticides.
Further reading:
Tobias Züst, Christian Heichinger, Ueli Grossniklaus, Richard Harrington, Daniel J. Kliebenstein, Lindsay Turnbull. Natural enemies drive geographic variation in plant defenses. Science. October 5, 2012, doi: 10.1126/science.1226397.
Contact:
Dr Tobias Züst
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Cornell University
Phone +1 607 319 99 05
e-mail: tobias.zuest@cornell.edu
Dr. Lindsay Turnbull
Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences
University of Zurich
Phone +41 44 635 61 20
e-mail: lindsay.turnbull@ieu.uzh.ch

Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Further information:
http://www.uzh.ch

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water world
20.11.2017 | Washington University in St. Louis

nachricht Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity
20.11.2017 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water world

20.11.2017 | Life Sciences

Less is more to produce top-notch 2D materials

20.11.2017 | Materials Sciences

Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity

20.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>