Hidden from our eyes, plant roots are colonized by a fungus called arbuscular mycorrhizae. The roots and fungi form complex underground networks to exchange essential resources. Unlike in human economies, that rely on cognition to make decisions, traders in this underground market bargain, borrow, and cheat – all in the absence of thought. Our aim is to understand how organisms (without brains) evolve different trading strategies. How does a fungus sense local nutrient conditions, and make complex calculations about when and where to trade? How is this information integrated across the network? We develop tools to visual monitor where and when trade takes place across plant-fungal networks.
We use experimental evolution and phylogenic analysis to identify how mutualisms respond to radical changes in their environment. Our aim is to identify the evolutionary selection pressures that shape symbiont communities and ultimately to identify approaches to conserve mutualisms in the face of environmental change.
Mechanisms stabilizing cooperation
Cooperate or defect? We use theory and empirical work to identify factors, such as punishment and reciprocal trade, that help stabilize cooperation among species. Model systems include plant-microbe mutualisms (Global), pollination mutualisms (Japan), and ant-plant mutualisms (Kenya).
We are interested in the accessibility and conservation of plant and microbial genetic resources, and strategies to promote innovation in farming systems. We ask how can evolutionary theory be applied to agricultural systems using a ‘Darwinian Agriculture’ framework.