Parasitic plants are plants which abstract water and nutrients from their host, reducing host plant growth. Parasites can reduce agricultural yields by up to 100%, and are a significant cause of hardship throughout the world. Despite this, our understanding of the effects of parasitic plants on their host's physiology and biochemistry remains rudimentary.
Legumes are considered to represent the best hosts for parasitic plants, which is generally considered to be linked to legumes ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. However, recent studies have undermined this position somewhat, and the reasons for the high quality of legumes as host plants remains unclear.
I have a current research project investigating the effects of parasitism on legume host growth and photosynthesis. We will use Orobanche minor - a phloem feeding holoparasite - and Phtheirospermum japonicum - a xylem feeding hemiparasite - to impose carbon and nitrogen stresses on nitrogen-fixing red clover plants.
This project aims to explore how parasite induced carbon or nitrogen deficits influence host photosynthetic rate, carbon allocation, growth, and nitrogen fixation rates.