Will Pesticide Pollution Cost Plants Their Mutualisms with Pollinators and Soil Microbes?

Plant mutualistic interactions with pollinators and soil microbes called rhizobia provide key ecosystem services that support human and planetary health. In these interactions, pollinators mediate plant reproduction in exchange for food (pollen and nectar), and rhizobia transform atmospheric nitrogen into a nutritional form that plants can absorb in exchange for carbon. Together, these mutualisms pollinate and enrich thousands of plant species, including many of our food crops; however, anthropogenic (human-induced) forces can threaten the stability of these important ecological interactions. In particular, pesticide pollution via drift, which occurs when pesticide particles are taken up by the wind and carried to non-target areas, is a modern anthropogenic force that plants and their partners are commonly exposed to and are evolving in response to; yet, we lack information of its long-term consequences from an evolutionary ecology perspective. My research draws from evolutionary theory to address this problem using a combination of field, greenhouse, and laboratory studies with the red clover study system. If you are interested in my work, please feel free to contact me with questions using the information on my Contact & CV page.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) flowers. These are typically visited by a diverse set of pollinating insects, but are especially attractive to bumblebees.

Roots with multiple rhizobia-inhabited nodules. Pink coloration in nodules is associated with nitrogen-fixing activity. Scale bar on bottom right is in millimeters.

Research in Action!