Has the process of domestication changed how plants interact with herbivores and their natural enemies?
Humans have fundamentally altered the evolution of agricultural plants through domestication. In some cases this has led to reduced defenses in crops compared to their wild relatives, perhaps as a side-effect of selected breeding and because crops are buffered from natural selection due to cultivation practices (e.g. protection from pests, pathogens, and weeds). We are researching the ecological effects of trait loss in crop plants, and the evolutionary relationships among different defense traits using these diverged populations.
In collaboration with Ian Kaplan & Laura Ingwell (Purdue Entomology) and Xiaohong Li (Nanjing Agricultural University), we have been examining plant attraction of herbivore natural enemies and plant resistance and tolerance of herbivory across a domestication gradient in tomato, using wild relatives, landrace varieties, and commercially available cultivars.
In addition to these effects aboveground, we know that the belowground soil community can impact plant success and has been implicated in plant defense against aboveground herbivores. However, it is unclear how the soil community influences plant-herbivore-parasitoid interactions. We are researching the links among these above- and belowground components, using domesticated tomato and some of its wild relatives. Some of the questions we are considering include:
1) Do plant-soil feedbacks differ among crop plants and their wild relatives?
2) Do plant-soil feedbacks mediate plant volatile attraction of natural enemies?
Xiaohong Li collecting root fragments from wild and domesticated tomatoes