The model plant Nicotiana attenuata, a wild tobacco species, belongs to the clade of the Solanaceae. It is an annual desert herb, which is native to the West of North America. In nature, this species usually grows under strong intraspecific competition as its seeds germinate synchronized on young burns due to a smoke-induced germination. N. attenuata is well-studied model plant in the field of molecular ecology, especially with regard to its interactions with herbivores. In response to an herbivore attack, this tobacco species produces a range of secondary metabolites (e.g. nicotine, terpenes, phenolic compounds) and proteins (e.g. protease inhibitors, polyphenol oxidase). The defensive function of many of these traits and how the plant coordinates their induction has been shown in great detail, making this one of the best established wild model species.
The bittersweet nightshade (Solanaceae) is a perennial wine that is commonly distributed all across the northern hemisphere, which allows us to conduct field experiments in Germany. It´s close relatedness to tomato and potato facilitates knowledge transfer from and to these important crop species. S. dulcamaras is a long-lived perennial plant that produces fewer seeds compared to the annual wild tobacco N. attenuata. We use differences in life strategies to address questions about the costs and benefits of anti-herbivore defenses in both species. Together with our collaborators form the Radboud University in Nijmegen we also investigate how the plant modifies its defenses under different abiotic conditions.