NSF/OXYEVOL

The aim of this experiment was to examine physiological and morphological plant responses to a high O2:CO2 atmosphere that is thought to have occurred during the Carboniferous period in order to better calibrate the fossil record. This experiment was part of a larger project OXYEVOL whose aim is to examine the role of both atmospheric CO2 and O2 in plant evolutionary innovations and to further strengthen existing CO2 proxies while attempting to uncover possible O2 proxies.

CLOUDFOREST

Climate-vegetation feedbacks have been shown to be key modulating forces in flood-risk predictions. 9% of vascular plants are epiphytic (i.e. they grow on trees for support) and their biomass can exceed that of their host foliage. However, it is still unclear how much they contribute to the global transpiration budget and their capacity to feedback on the hydrological cycle and influence flood risk via transpirational water loss from stomata is unknown. Epiphytes are currently not included in Earth-System-Model parametrisations, making model estimates of future elevated atmospheric [eCO2] on the global water-cycle highly uncertain. Predictions suggest that cloud forests (a hot spot for epiphytes) will be most severely affected by [eCO2]. Moreover, high energy weather events such as hurricanes are expected to increase in severity in these regions. The overarching aims of this project are to investigate; (1) ecophysiological responses of epiphytes to [eCO2], (2) if these responses will mitigate against or worsen the impact of future hurricane induced alteration to the forest/host microclimate and (3) to make recommendation on how the predictive power of models, and hence the prediction of future flood-risk, can be improved from such data. The ‘CloudForest’ project will therefore help to understand tropical cloud forest species responses to and impact on the climate system with an aim to improve future global and regional flood-risk prediction.

FUTU-RYE

Climate change poses a serious threat to the economies of countries like Ireland that are heavily dependent on the agricultural sector. Approximately 50% of Ireland’s total landmass consists of agricultural grasslands, providing forage for the flourishing beef and dairy industries. Perennial rye-grass (Lolium perenne) is the key component of the most productive pastures and the most important forage grass accounting for 95% of all grass seeds sold in the country. Since Irish agriculture is a grass-based industry, the impact of climate change on grass physiology and primary productivity is of particular importance for the country. The few studies that have tried to investigate the responses of rye-grass to climate change focused almost entirely on the responses of the species to rising CO2, thus overlooking predicted changes in future temperature and rainfall patterns that can have a substantial impact on species responses. Furthermore, none of these studies attempted to trace favourable traits under future climatic conditions among different rye-grass genotypes despite the species high intraspecific genetic variation. This highly innovative project is going to address this gap in our knowledge by screening a wide range of perennial/annual rye-grass and festuca genotypes for increased yield under simulated future climatic conditions using a state-of-the-art suite of growth chambers. We will conduct a whole plant phenotypic, physiological and biochemical analysis and identify key traits associated with increased productivity and resilience under high atmospheric CO2, increased temperature and normal/decreased water availability. We anticipate our holistic approach to have a great impact on the field of plant-climate interactions and to put UCD and Teagasc at the forefront of climate change biology research. In the long term, we anticipate our project to form the base of a future collaboration with agricultural biotechnology companies and yield practical benefits for the Irish economy and farmers worldwide

LIFE AND DEATH IN A HIGH CO2 WORLD

The IPCC predicts that COlevels could reach 1000ppm by the year 2100. How will elevated CO2 affect plant Programmed Cell Death (PCD)? Any alteration of PCD sensitivity will affect key plant processes such as resistance to pathogens and senescence – with detrimental impacts on crop systems and yields. To date our work shows that growth in elevated (1900ppm) CO2 alters PCD sensitivity in Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings. Future work will establish at what atmospheric CO2 concentration PCD thresholds are altered.

PCD morphology in a seedling root hair. Bottom right) Schematic showing possible impacts of altering plant PCD thresholds.

CHARACTERISATION OF A NOVEL WHEAT TRANSCRIPTION FACTOR IN DISEASE RESISTANCE

The aim of the UCD project is to characterize a novel wheat transcription factor that is responsive to the economically important Fusarium head blight (FHB) disease and mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON). FHB reduces the yield and contaminates grain with harmful mycotoxins, most commonly deoxynivalenol (DON). In ongoing research we study wheat mutants with altered gene expression in order to determine if the encoded protein alters plant disease resistance.

IDENTIFICATION OF INHERENT GENETIC RESISTANCE TRAITS IN THE OAT-FUSARIUM PATHOSYSTEM

This project focuses on the oat-Fusarium pathosystem, with the objective of better understanding the genetic diversity in UK and Irish heritage oat cultivars and of deciphering if there are genetic traits underpinning oat resistance to F. langesthiae infection and T-2/HT-2 toxin contamination.

This study will facilitate a better understanding of the impact of climate change on oat cultivation and will highlight new gene targets and explore new methodologies for disease control.