Priming of plant defence by below- and aboveground herbivores (SFB 973: Priming and Memory of Organismic Responses to Stress, funded by DFG)

Plant defence can be systemically induced by both above- and belowground herbivores. Previous herbivory may also “prime” plants to respond more efficiently to subsequent herbivores. However, it is largely unknown whether priming mechanisms link below- and aboveground plant parts to optimise plant defence. Thus we aim to know whether and how belowground herbivory early in the season primes plants to be better defended against subsequent aboveground herbivores and vice versa.


Contact: Caspar Schöning, Dinesh Kafle



Land use intensity and insect root herbivores: from spatial pattern to plant community feedback (DFG Priority Programm 1374: Biodiversity Exploratories, in collaboration with Florian Jeltsch and Hans Pfestdorf, funded by DFG)

Insect root herbivores can have pronounced impact on plant productivity and diversity. By affecting soil heterogeneity and plant diversity, land use intensity may influence the spatial distribution of insect root herbivores, with feedback on the structure and diversity of grassland plant communities and aboveground interactions. We combine empirical field work, controlled greenhouse experiments, and ecological modeling to elucidate how the impact of insect root herbivory on plant communities changes under different land use scenarios.


Contact: Ilja Sonnemann


Resilience of grassland plant communities as influenced by root herbivores under different land use intensities (DFG Priority Programm 1374: Biodiversity Exploratories, in collaboration with Florian Jeltsch, University Potsdam)

Ecosystem resilience is an essential factor underlying the sustained production of natural resources and ecosystem services in complex systems faced with uncertainty and surprise. Root herbivory can have significant impact on grassland productivity and biodiversity under constant conditions. However, knowledge on root herbivore impact under non-equilibrium conditions such as disturbances, short-term stresses or nutrient pulses is lacking. We combine empirical field work, controlled greenhouse experiments, and ecological modeling to determine the role of root herbivory in plant community resilience after various disturbances and stresses under different land use scenarios.

Contact: Ilja Sonnemann


Intraspecific diversity and multitrophic interactions in grasslands (in collaboration with Jana Petermann, funded by DCPS and DAAD)

Soil organisms have been shown to impact plant growth and diversity in many greenhouse experiments. However, how will plant communities of different genetic diversity and aboveground herbivores respond to belowground organisms in the field? In grassland field plots we study effects of below ground organisms on intraspecific diversity of pasture plant species (grasses and legumes) and aboveground organisms. Plant communities of different plant varieties are established and belowground mutualists are manipulated. We are monitoring changes in the plant community (genotypic composition, species invasion, nutrient conditions) as well as in soil parameters and insect food webs in relation to experimental treatments over a number of years.


Contact: Xiaohui Guo



Functional diversity and species invasions (funded by FU Berlin)

Species invasions are generally recognized as a major environmental problem, which can change ecosystem functioning and influence biodiversity on local and global scales. With a combination of field work and controlled greenhouse experiments we investigate if mechanisms such as plant-soil feedback effects facilitate the successful establishment of exotic plant species on disturbed urban fields. Further, we aim to know whether certain plant functional traits (e.g. nutrient uptake strategy, growth form, floral display) within plant communities and functional diversity in general affect community resistance to invasion.


Contact: Conrad Schittko




Understanding the influence of plant-soil microbial associations on crop yield, resistance and quality (in collaboration with Mike Stout, Philip Franken and Matthias Erb, funded by FCT and DCPS)

Root symbiotic fungi have coevolved for millions of years with plants and are functionally important in natural ecosystems. Modern agriculture faces the problem of excessive reliance on agrochemical to promote plant yield, resistance and quality. As a potential alternative, we aim to investigate the role of root fungi in improving crop mineral nutrition, resistance against insects, and accumulation of nutrients which are important for human nutrition. As model plants we focus on rice, the stable food for half of the world population, and on Moringa oleifera, an underutilized crop with unusual nutritive traits.


Contact: Marco Cosme