Earth, Ecology and Environmental sciences

Prof. Neil Sturchio

Dr Anne-Sophie Sergent

Prof. Beatriz Ofelia Saidman

Prof. Juan César Vilardi

Dr Rock Ouimet

Dr Jean-Paul Vernier

Dr Behzad Ataie-Ashtiani


Promises and challenges in insect–plant interactions


There is tremendous diversity of interactions between plants and other species. These relationships range from antagonism to mutualism. Interactions of plants with members of their ecological community can lead to a profound metabolic reconfiguration of the plants’ physiology. This reconfiguration can favour beneficial organisms and deter antagonists like pathogens or herbivores. Determining the cellular and molecular dialogue between plants, microbes, and insects, and its ecological and evolutionary implications is important for understanding the options for each partner to adopt an adaptive response to its biotic environment. Moving forward, understanding how such ecological interactions are shaped by environmental change and how we potentially mitigate deleterious effects will be increasingly important. The development of integrative multidisciplinary approaches may provide new solutions to the major ecological and societal issues ahead of us. The rapid evolution of technology provides valuable tools and opens up novel ways to test hypotheses that were previously unanswerable, but requires that scientists master these tools, understand potential ethical problems flowing from their implementation, and train new generations of biologists with diverse technical skills. Here, we provide brief perspectives and discuss future promise and challenges for research on insect–plant interactions building on the 16th International Symposium on Insect–Plant interactions (SIP) meeting that was held in Tours, France (2–6 July 2017). Talks, posters, and discussions are distilled into key research areas in insect–plant interactions, highlighting the current state of the field and major challenges, and future directions for both applied and basic research.


Role of microorganisms in the carbon cycling of peatlands


Peatlands are key ecosystems in the global carbon balance due in part to the slow microbial degradation of the organic matter (OM) in peat soils. Role of peatlands as powerful carbon storage systems may be threatened by climate change, leading to a potential huge release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Our knowledge on the mechanisms behind the microbial OM degradation is still incomplete, and it is also essential to develop better management strategies and mitigate global change impacts. In the frame of the present fellowship, the microbial extracellular enzymatic mechanisms of the OM degradation in peat soil and pore water were studied in a French altered peatland, assessing changes in soil depth and warming effect during an annual cycle. Additionally, to the research programme, during the present fellowship a new technique for the host laboratory was implemented (protocol to measure extracellular enzyme activities in pore water and peat soil), the fellow participated in several conferences and seminars, three publication were or are in the process of being published, and a new project with the host laboratory is in developing.


Phytotoxic and microbiological activities of soil-applied microencapsulated peppermint (Mentha x piperita L.) essential oil


During this fellowship I performed several greenhouse and laboratory experiments, aiming at assessing the phytotoxic and microbiological effects of microencapsulated peppermint (Mentha x piperita L.) essential oil (MPO). The different doses of MPO were applied in the pot experiments either into vermiculite or top layer of arable soils. As the acceptor-species, I used four maize cultivars, one cultivar of mustard and a weed– lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.). The microbiological analyses were performed using i) commercial strain of arbuscular fungus Rhizophagus irregularis on maize roots by intersection method, and ii) natural soil-microbiota by FDA biotest. I have found, based on the ED50 analysis, that the phytotoxic effect of MPO is both dose and species as well as soil-medium dependent. The biochemical analyses revealed, that the plants’ response to the application of MPO is typical for the allelopathic stress. The microbiological responses to the MPO applications were not clear enough to conclude and should be continued further.