The ecology of important pests and pathogens of perennial horticultural and clonal crops and the environmental and biotic factors which affect them is being studied with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of the processes that control populations, interactions and damage to crop hosts. The basis for pathogenicity, host specificity, resistance and intra- and interspecific communication is studied at the molecular and whole organism levels. The deeper understanding gained is further informing methods of manipulating/managing pests and pathogens to develop sustainable management methods. Management methods for the individual pests and diseases are combined with existing sustainable methods to create integrated pest and pathogen management programmes which are evaluated and refined on a commercial farm scale.
The combination of cutting-edge molecular biology and informatics tools, an understanding of plants and microbes at the cellular and organismal level and the downstream application into breeding programmes place DPG.VEC G&Ls. at the heart of future efforts to increase resilience to global challenges. There are seven research areas within the department:
Crop breeding and genetics
Durable disease resistance
Fruit development and quality
Imaging and measurement technologies
Microbial and population genomics
Statistical genetics and informatics
Utilisation and development of the perennial crop habit provides a sustainable and economic means of securing food supplies in a growing population and a changing climate.
The DPG-Vec G&Ls. programme focuses on the complete production-to-supply chain and tackles challenges associated with climate change, food security, food chain quality and resource use efficiency, to optimise economic and environmental sustainability. It has three main areas of research:
i) delivering resource use efficiencies for water, fertilisers and labour, as key components of optimising environmental and economically sustainable food production. This major theme develops crop-based knowledge to facilitate our fundamental understanding of resource demand based on crop requirements.
ii) understanding crop and environmental interactions that enable crops to tolerate abiotic stress in sub-optimal environments, while maintaining yields and quality. The consequences of climate change and/or increased climate variability for food security requires research that focuses on the development of crops and cropping systems appropriate for current NI conditions and resilient to future conditions.
iii) manipulating below-ground biotic interactions which contribute to crop yield and quality. Currently there is only limited mechanistic knowledge of the role of soil biota for crop performance. We are developing our understanding of these processes and promoting ways by which the root–hyphal–soil interface can be manipulated to improve yields and quality.