PhD (HDR) Scholarship: Down To Earth Defence And Drought: How And When Australian Grasses Use Silicon Defence


About the project

We are now offering a research scholarship to a highly motivated PhD candidate to work within a research group addressing the functional role of plant silicon in resistance to climate change and insect herbivores. The project is funded through the Australian Research Council.

Many grasses take up large amounts of silicon, which has been shown to be an effective defence against herbivores, but also alleviates the effects of a broad range of abiotic stress, including drought.

Silicification of plant tissues makes them more abrasive to herbivores and can alleviate drought stress (e.g. reduced water loss via transpiration). Moreover, silicon may provide plants with structural support at a lower metabolic cost than carbon-based compounds such as lignin. Silicon is expected to be particularly beneficial to plants growing in seasonally arid and low nutrient environments, such as Australia.

This project will expose a range of Australian and exotic temperate region grass species to predicted changes in precipitation patterns with and without silicon supplementation. Attendant changes in photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, leaf water potential and transpiration will be characterised.

Plant growth recovery will be assessed using automated phenomic screening. Selected species will be tested for susceptibility to insect herbivores representing different feeding guilds. The project will identify whether silicon alleviates water stress in Australian grasses, in relation to other physiological traits, and determine how this affects plant susceptibility to herbivores.

The project provides an exciting opportunity to test new approaches for plant protection and climate change adaptation. The project will be based at HIE with the opportunity to work with the UK-based supervisor, Prof Sue Hartley, on novel analytical techniques for the visualisation of silicon deposition under different climatic conditions.

Applications close 1 September 2017 - Apply Today

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