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How nature creates forest diversity

Forests, especially tropical forests, are home to thousands of species of trees -- sometimes tens to hundreds of tree species in the same forest -- a level of biodiversity ecologists have struggled to explain. In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and their colleagues in Australia are now providing a first model that elucidates the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms underlying these natural patterns.


Equation helps to explain plant growth

It is rare in biology that a single trait can answer questions spanning several fields of research. One such trait is plant biology's "leaf mass per area," a simple measurement calculated by weighing a dried leaf and dividing by its original fresh area. Leaf mass per area, or LMA, which has been measured in thousands of studies, is used in nearly every field of plant biology to make predictions of many processes and properties such as leaf photosynthetic rates, nitrogen content and plant environmental preferences.


Tree growth model assists breeding for more wood

A meeting in a forest between a biologist and a mathematician could lead to thicker, faster growing trees.


New study shines light on photosynthesis

Terry Bricker, Moreland Family Professor in the Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Biological Sciences, and colleagues at Palacký University in the Czech Republic and at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio have solved a longstanding mystery in photosynthesis, a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy. Their findings are presented in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading

"Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population." This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.


Mid-Mesozoic beetle in amber stirs questions on rise of flowering plants and pollinators

Named for Charles Darwin, the only known specimen of a newly discovered beetle, Darwinylus marcosi, died in a sticky gob of tree sap some 105 million years ago in what is now northern Spain. As it thrashed about before drowning, more than 100 clumped pollen grains were dislodged from its body and released into the resin. Five grains remained stuck to the beetle itself. Preserved with the beetle in the now-hard amber, the grains reveal that the beetle had been chewing a pollen meal with its jaw-like mouthparts just before it died.


Ancient peoples shaped the Amazon rainforest

We often think of the Amazon rainforest as a vast expanse of nature untouched by humans. But a new study in Science suggests that's not true -- in fact, today's rainforest is shaped by trees that were cultivated by indigenous peoples thousands of years ago.


Scientists make the first ‘genetic radiography’ of the wheat used to make pasta, studying wheat from 21 Mediterranean countries

A team of Spanish scientists, with the participation of the University of Granada, has carried out the first durum wheat genetic, phenotypic and geographic adaptation study to date. Durum wheat is mostly used for the production of pasta and semolina in the Mediterranean area.


Want more crop variety? Researchers propose using CRISPR to accelerate plant domestication

Out of the more than 300,000 plant species in existence, only three species -- rice, wheat, and maize -- account for most of the plant matter that humans consume, partly because in the history of agriculture, mutations arose that made these crops the easiest to harvest. But with CRISPR technology, we don't have to wait for nature to help us domesticate plants, argue researchers at the University of Copenhagen. In a Review in Trends in Plant Science, they describe how gene editing could make, for example, wild legumes, quinoa, or amaranth, which are already sustainable and nutritious, more farmable.


Food on Mars, food on Earth: NASA taps USU scientists for space quest

Can earthlings live on Mars? They can if they develop self-sufficiency. NASA is betting on a multi-institution team of the best and brightest, including Utah State University scientists, to create the necessary technology and put it in the hands of future Mars pioneers.


Super plants need super ROOTS

Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of all U.S. water. Making fertilizers uses 1 to 2 percent of all the world's energy each year.


Using Google to map our ecosystem

Do you remember the last time you escaped the hot summer sun to enjoy a cool reprieve in the shade beneath a broad-leafed tree? While sizzling summer days may seem far away right now in the northern hemisphere, tropical cities like Singapore deal with solar radiation on a daily basis.


Researchers uncover the origins of ash tree dieback and set out ways to fight it

In an attempt to reduce the impact of ash dieback, researchers in COST Action 'FRAXBACK' joined forces and identified the origin and biology of the fungus. They are now proposing a series of guidelines that will help manage Europe’s ash tree woodlands in a more sustainable way.


Invasive and Native Marsh Grasses May Provide Similar Benefits to Protected Wetlands

An invasive species of marsh grass that spreads, kudzu-like, throughout North American wetlands, may provide similar benefits to protected wetlands as native marsh grasses. According to new research from North Carolina State University (USA), the invasive marsh grass’s effects on carbon storage, erosion prevention and plant diversity in protected wetlands are neutral. The findings could impact management strategies aimed at eradicating the invasive grass.


World’s future food security “in jeopardy” due to multiple challenges, report warns

Mankind's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new FAO report.


Forests to play major role in meeting Paris climate targets

Forests are set to play a major role in meeting the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement - however, accurately monitoring progress toward the 'below 2°C' target requires a consistent approach to measuring the impact of forests on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


A rose to store energy

A special structure for storing energy known as a supercapacitor has been constructed in a plant for the first time. The plant, a rose, can be charged and discharged hundreds of times. This breakthrough is the result of research at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University (Sweden).


Current Plant Biology Call for Papers: Special issue on MicroRNA genes

Current Plant Biology would like to invite submissions for an upcoming Special Issue on MicroRNA genes.


Study offers guidance on how to protect olive trees from being ravaged by deadly pathogen

Expert ecologists at the UK-based Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have devised a scientific model which could help predict the spread of the deadly Xylella fastidiosa which is threatening to destroy Europe's olive trees.


In Nature Plants: How to reduce the environmental impact of a loaf of bread?

With an estimated 12 million loaves sold in the UK every year, bread remains a staple of the British diet. In a groundbreaking study researchers from the University of Sheffield have now calculated the environmental impact of a loaf of bread and which part of its production contributes the most greenhouse gas.


Nematode resistance in soybeans beneficial even at low rates of infestation

Each spring, tiny roundworms hatch and wriggle over to the nearest soybean root to feed. Before farmers are even aware of the belowground infestation, the soybean cyst nematode (SCN) silently begins to wreak havoc on soybean yield.


New gene for atrazine resistance identified in waterhemp

Waterhemp has been locked in an arms race with farmers for decades. Nearly every time farmers attack the weed with a new herbicide, waterhemp becomes resistant to it, reducing or eliminating the efficacy of the chemical. Some waterhemp populations have evolved resistance to multiple herbicides, making them incredibly difficult to kill.


Scientists remove reliance on seasonality in new lines of broccoli – potentially doubling crop production

Scientists at the John Innes Centre are developing a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in 8-10 weeks. It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions, which could help with continuity of supply, as growers would no longer be reliant on seasonal weather conditions.


In New Phytologist: Where do flowers come from? Shedding light on Darwin's "abominable mystery"

The mystery that is the origin of flowering plants has been partially solved thanks to a team from the Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire et Végétale (CNRS/Inra/CEA/Université Grenoble Alpes), in collaboration with the Reproduction et Développement des Plantes laboratory (CNRS/ENS Lyon/Inra/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) and Kew Gardens (UK). Their discovery, published in the journal New Phytologist, sheds light on a question that much intrigued Darwin: the appearance of a structure as complex as the flower over the course of evolution.


Awards, Prizes and Funding Opportunities: February 2017

Here are a few awards, prizes and funding opportunities for plant scientists that we have come across recently. Please let us know if you know of any others!


Forests worldwide threatened by drought

Forests around the world are at risk of death due to widespread drought, University of Stirling researchers have found.


Researchers detail genetic mechanisms that govern growth and drought response in plants

New research from an Iowa State University scientist identifies a genetic mechanism that governs growth and drought tolerance in plants, a development that could lead to better performing traits in crops.


Hybrid plant breeding: Secrets behind haploid inducers, a powerful tool in maize breeding

A common strategy to create high-yielding plants is hybrid breeding -- crossing two different inbred lines to obtain characteristics superior to each parent. However, getting the inbred lines in the first place can be a hassle. Inbred lines consist of genetically uniform individuals and are created through numerous generations of self-crossing. In maize, the use of so-called "haploid inducers" provides a short cut to this cumbersome procedure, allowing to produce inbred lines in just one generation.


Cultivating cool-for-cash-crops

When deciding what crops to grow during a season, growers look at several factors. Do the crops have a good yield in their area? Does the area currently have the resources -- usually water -- to grow that crop? Will the crop give a return on the investment? And, what are the future effects that growing that crop might have on the growers' fields?


In Journal of Experimental Botany: imaging technique widens our view on the inner worlds of plants and their guests

Plants come in all shapes and sizes – but why, and how? Scientists at the John Innes Centre (UK) exploring how interactions between genes affect plant patterning have developed an imaging technique to visualise live gene activity at the macroscopic scale.