The Multistate Research Fund supports agricultural innovation and sustainability by providing federal funds to collaborative research projects led by State Agricultural Experiment Stations and land-grant universities. These projects bring together scientists, Extension educators, and other university, federal, and industry partners to tackle high-priority regional or national issues in agriculture, a spokesman said.
Under the category, “Researchers studied chemical cues that mediate interactions among plants, pests, and predators,” UC Davis (Karban) is credited with identifying “the sagebrush cues that trigger resistance against chewing herbivores” and also finding that “plant cue effectiveness is affected by the geographic proximity of the source of the cue.”
Under the category, “Researchers used chemical ecology to protect pollinators from pesticides and disease,” UC Davis (Vannette) is credited with identifying “floral chemistry traits and microbial communities that affect the patterns or preferences of hummingbirds, honey bees, and carpenter bees.”
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication, is the author of the landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
Karban is a fellow of Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Michael Pollan featured him in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker: “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants."
Vannette, an assistant professor who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2015 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University's biology department, seeks to unlock the mysteries of flower microbes: how do plants protect against them, and can bees benefit from them?
The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms too). “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil,” according to her website. “We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?).
All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants, Vannette explains. “I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“Much of the work in my lab focuses on how microorganisms affect plant defense against herbivores and plant attraction to pollinators. For example, we are interested in understanding the microbial drivers of soil health, which can influence plant attractiveness to herbivores and the plant's ability to tolerate or defend against damage by herbivores. In addition, we are working to examine how microorganisms modify flower attractiveness to pollinators. This may have relevance in agricultural systems to improve plant and pollinator health.”
Vannette, who holds a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology (2011) from the University of Michigan, was selected a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2018.
Her recent research grants include two from the National Science Federation (NSF). One is a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award, titled “Nectar Chemistry and Ecological and Evolutionary Tradeoffs in Plant Adaptation to Microbes and Pollinators.” The other is a three-year collaborative grant, “The Brood Cell Microbiome of Solitary Bees: Origin, Diversity, Function, and Vulnerability.”
The virtual seminar is set for 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9 and will be hosted by Professor Richard "Rick" Karban of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. To attend, access this form for the direct link.
"As sessile organisms, plants have to adjust their metabolism to ever-changing environmental conditions in order to stay in place and successfully reproduce," Kessler says in his abstract. "Thereby plants orchestrate interactions with other organisms (e.g. other plants, herbivores, pathogens, predators etc.) by providing cues or signals to whoever can read them. The seemingly universal language used to manipulate those interactions is chemical. This presentation reviews some of the Kessler Lab research on the ecological functionality and environmental context-dependency of chemical information transfer in the charismatic Northeastern goldenrod plants, Solidago altissima."
As a chemical ecologist, his research focuses on the mechanisms, ecological consequences and the evolution of plant induced responses to herbivore damage.
"Moreover, we put a particular emphasis on studying the ecological functions and evolution of plant metabolic responses and chemical information transfer in the plants' native habitats. With more recent projects my group tries to apply some of the chemical ecology principles found in native systems to control insect pests in agricultural systems. My research includes a number of different study systems in New York, Utah, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia and Kenya."
Professor Kessler received his master's degree from the University of Würzbug, Germany, where he studied ecology, genetics and geobotany. He earned his doctorate from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and University of Jena, Germany.
Cooperative Extension specialist Ian Grettenberg, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the seminars. For any technical issues, contact Grettenberger at email@example.com.
- Generations of Insect Attacks Drive Plants to 'Talk' Publicly (The Scientist, March 1, 2020)
- Plants Use a Common 'Language' for Emergency Alerts (Cornell Chronicle, Oct. 2, 2019)
Eastern Finland University in Kuopio will be his host institution, where he will work with James Blande of the Chemical Ecology Group, Department of Environmental Sciences. Grof-Tisza met Blande while he was collaborating with Karban--his major professor and now his postdoctoral advisor--on a project involving plant-plant communication and induced resistance within sagebrush.
“The focus of my Curie postdoc will be to continue this research and to investigate community-wide effects of volatile-mediated communication,” Grof-Tisza said. “I will conduct field research in the Eastern Sierra in the spring and summer and will spend the rest of the year in Finland conducting laboratory experiments and analyzing samples collected over the field season.”
Grof-Tisza's dissertation work involved investigating how bottom-up and top-down forces regulated a focal herbivore, the Ranchman's tiger moth (Arctia virginalis; the wooly bear caterpillar that Karban has been studying since 1983) within the Bodega Marine Reserve.
“Through this work, I became interested in plant defenses, both mechanical and chemical – the primary host plant of A. virginalis contains alkaloids, which are known to deter herbivores.” He also has collaborated on several projects with his lab mate, Eric LoPresti, who studies the efficacy of sand-entrapment as a defense in sticky plants.
“I applied to the Marie Currie Fellowship to continue studying plant defenses as well as learn laboratory techniques, including those pertaining to gene expression and mass spectrometry,” said Grof-Tisza who received his bachelor's degree in molecular biology, summa cum laude, at Frostburg (Md.) State University, and then worked as a biochemist in the biotech industry prior to enrolling in graduate school at UC Davis. As a member of the Ecology Graduate Group, he received his doctorate in 2015 from UC Davis, working with advisors Richard Karban and Marcel Holyoak, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy.
“This second postdoc,” Grof-Tisza said, “will allow me to combine the ecological knowledge I have gained as a graduate student with the laboratory skills I learned earlier in my career.”
In his fellowship proposal abstract, Grof-Tisza noted “Plants have evolved an impressive defense system to combat herbivores. These defenses include morphological structures like spines and secondary metabolites that have toxic, repellent, or antinutritional effects on consumers. Many plant defenses are constitutively expressed, but some are induced in response to herbivore damage. Damaged plants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment that may induce defenses in adjacent, undamaged tissue or may be eavesdropped by neighboring plants, enabling them to prime their own resistance response prior to attack.”
“While once controversial, this plant-plant communication resulting in a VOC-induced phenotypic response that reduces damage from attacking herbivores has been demonstrated in over 50 species,” he wrote. “Recently, researchers have found distinguishing VOC blends among sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) referred to as chemotypes. Field experiments demonstrated that communication between A. tridentata plants of the same chemotype resulted in less damage by herbivores compared to that between plants of different chemotypes. Chemotypes were also found to be highly heritable.”
Grof-Tisza wrote that “this is consistent with the hypothesis that volatile communication evolved as a within-plant warning mechanism due to limited vascular signaling. Because emitted volatile cues become available to potential competitors of the same or different species, selection for cues that are more private would likely be of greater benefit to the emitter. At the time of this study, only two A. tridentata chemotypes had been identified. More recent work has found an additional six chemotypes.
“Here we propose to rigorously test the ecological consequences of chemotypic variation and the processes that maintain it. Through synergistic efforts combining my expertise in field ecology and plant-insect interactions and that of the host and collaborators in ecological chemistry and molecular biology, we will forward the field of volatile-mediated plant-plant interactions.”
Grof-Tisza has published his work in a number of journals, including Ecology, Evolution and Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Chemical Ecology, Ecological Entomology, Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Biological Conservation and Oikos. He served as an adjunct professor with the Department of Science and Engineering, American River College, Sacramento, from 2015 to 2016.
Born in Queens, N.Y., but raised in Somerset, Pa., Grof-Tisza has resided in Davis since 2007.