How do drought and natural enemy communities affect plants?
‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ Research Centre is collaborating with a multidisciplinary scientific team from different European Universities: Martijn L. Vandegehuchte (Ghent University), Johan A. Stenberg (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Anne Muola (University of Turku) y Marcos Méndez Iglesias (King Juan Carlos University) in a pioneer project called “Effects of drought and enemy community composition on defense trait selection in woodland strawberry along a latitudinal gradient”.
The composition of ecological communities is changing at an unprecedented rate. Changes in the complexity of communities, i.e. the number of species and their abundances, alter the strength of the different types of ecological interactions. In this project, we focus on interactions between woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and its natural enemies.
Woodland strawberry is widely spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, with preference for cooler and moisty areas. It reaches the Mediterranean Region in the South of Europe, taking shelter in cold and humid mountain forests, which is the case at ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park. Due to its ecological requirements, woodland strawberry is likely to be sensitive to climate change variations.
The ability of a plant to efficiently defend itself does not only depend on the set of enemy species, but also on environmental stress. One of the major stressors resulting from climate change is summer drought. Our knowledge about the influence of enemy community complexity on plant defense evolution is limited. We understand even less how the effect of natural enemies on the ability of plants to evolve effective defenses interacts with abiotic stressors such as summer droughts, which are predicted to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change.
To address these knowledge gaps, a large-scale experiment along a latitudinal gradient in Europe has been designed. At five sites from the Mediterranean to the very north of Europe common gardens have been installed, each containing strawberry plants belonging to 16 genotypes from all across Europe. Half of the plants are exposed to a drought treatment using rainout shelters. We will study the local enemy community at each site, which is expected to decrease in complexity from south to north. We will also examine the plants’ tolerance, resistance, and defenses against these enemies, and how these relate to plant fitness.
This study will also present some clues related to what could happen with other threatened species from ‘Sistema Central’ Mountain Range with similar distribution range and ecology.