Daniel taking care of clonally propagated lima bean plants in South Mexico.
Plants cannot escape when attacked by herbivores and pathogens or exposed to unfavorable abiotic conditions. However, plants are far away from being passive organisms. In the last few decades, research has demonstrated how active plants can up-regulate a wide array of defensive traits when suffering from attack by herbivores or pathogens. The same plasticity holds true for plant responses to environmental factors such as extreme temperatures, soil salinity, reduced water availability, UV light, ozone, and enhanced levels of CO2.
We are interested in the molecular and ecological interplay of biochemical plant traits. In particular, we focus on direct and indirect defenses of plants against herbivores and pathogens. Studies also include endophytic fungi as a large but little explored group with potentially enormous ecological impact in natural systems and consider the effects of globally changing abiotic conditions on the ecosystemic level. Teasing apart factors that lead to variability of biochemical plant traits is an active line of research in the Ballhorn lab and provides an efficient tool for obtaining insights into general mechanisms of functional ecology. Consequently, we combine laboratory and field research in order to assure that phenomena studied under controlled conditions are of relevance in nature.