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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Facilitation in plant communities: understanding processes and consequences from mountain tops to crop fields Event

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9 May 2018
Nuffield Theatre, Building 6, room 1081

For more information regarding this event, please telephone Selina Barry on 023 80 594794 or email .

Event details

Biological Sciences Invited Speaker Programme 2017-18

Over the past twenty years, the study of plant facilitation – those beneficial interactions that occur between two plants, often neighbouring – is a topic that has moved from the periphery to the mainstream of plant ecology. During this time the focus of my own research has also shifted from arctic and alpine environments to more recent studies of crop systems. This geographic shift has been accompanied by a shift from trying to understand fundamental ecological principles - how plants fit together and function in communities - to studying key applied issues, including food security and sustainable crop production.

This presentation will follow this path from the mountain tops down to the crop fields. Starting with a brief history of the concept of facilitation, and some basic definitions of the concept, it will then consider facilitation in arctic and alpine environments. It will look in particular at a number of major studies in these systems which focussed on exploring the generality of facilitative interactions and their role, relative to other major biogeographic processes, in regulating global patterns of alpine biodiversity. It will then consider in more detail the concept of the Stress Gradient Hypothesis, a conceptual model linking the severity of the environment to the dominant types of plant-plant interactions that are occurring in plant communities, including the relationship of this concept to other over-arching plant community ecology frameworks such as Grime’s CSR model.

The presentation will then consider how such conceptual frameworks can be applied to food production. An obvious starting point is intercropping, where the beneficial effects of neighbouring plants are well understood and explored, but might also be enhanced by integration of new ecological knowledge. We’ll then look at how understanding interactions between plants within crop systems can provide us with new fundamental ecological insights, as well as being relevant to addressing some of our major societal and environmental challenges.


Speaker information

Dr Rob Brooker,The James Hutton Institute, Dr Brooker is a plant ecologist with over 16 year's experience of ecological research. He has extensive experience of ecology in a wide range of environments, including arctic, montane, alpine and semi-arid ecosystems, and currently undertakes research at sites across Scotland.

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