Identifying mechanisms of plant-plant communication in response to herbivore attack in seagrasses

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Herbivory is a key factor shaping community structure and function by control of plant biomass and productivity. Plants may continuously reduce their quality as food, to lessen herbivory impact. Besides constitutive defence (permanently expressed), herbivore-deterrent compounds are synthesised on-demand following herbivore attack (i.e. induced defences). Chemical signals released by plants during an herbivore attack provide a rich source of information that other plants may use to mediate their production of induced defences, thus reducing their risk of grazing. In terrestrial systems, the induction of anti-herbivore defences in response to feeding is mediated by the emission of volatile cues to the environment and/or by signals that are transported through their vascular system. However, no information is available about this plant-plant communication in vascular marine plants (i.e. seagrasses). Seagrass meadows provide important ecosystem services, which is why a comprehensive understanding on their ecology is required for tailored conservation efforts of these valuable systems. The goal of this project is to explore different mechanisms by which anti-herbivory defences can be induced in the seagrass Zostera marina in response to grazing by an herbivorous isopod that use seagrass as food and habitat. To this aim, induction experiments will be conducted in March- April 2016. In order to come to more general conclusions, we will conduct simultaneous experiments in two geographic areas covering roughly the Atlantic distribution of Z. marina: Germany (Baltic Sea station, GEOMAR) and Portugal (Ramalhete field station, Faro, CCMar). The work in Portugal will be carried out at the Centro de Ciências do Mar (CCMar), located in the University of Algarve, while the work in Germany will carried out at GEOMAR co-supervised by Dr. Florian Weinberger.
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Begoña Martínez-Crego
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Reference Number: RP-34532