Plant ecology

Last changed: 18 April 2024
A woman and a man are studying the crop.

We conduct research to identify crops that can make the best out of a given situation. Crops that are efficiently utilize the available resources on their growing site and also cope with the challenges they face in terms of diseases, pests and extreme weather conditions that are becoming more common due to climate change. Therefore, we investigate the relationships between individual plant characteristics, crop yield, agricultural system design and management. Our final goal is to favour the achievement of higher yields along with greater sustainability in agriculture. We work together with plant breeders.

Crop production in relation to genotype and environment

We mainly study cereals and mixtures between cereals and legumes that provide us with food and feed, as well as willow and poplar grown on agricultural land for production of biomass. Our research is based on genetically determined plant characteristics - the importance of traits of different varieties and species cultivated on agricultural land. We also explore the possibilities of genetic modification.

Finding the right traits

Our research can contribute to improve the sustainable development in future agriculture. With the right crop traits, important ecosystem services (e.g., reduced losses of plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pest and disease control, increased biodiversity) can be supported.

In several projects, we work closely together with plant breeders. As an example, together with Lantmännen, we try to develop wheat varieties that support higher yields and are more nutrient efficient. Collaboration across scientific disciplines and with the industry is crucial for our research to have an impact on society. For example, Lantmännen is now developing new wheat genotypes based on plant traits that we have identified together. This will, in the long run, enable the company to develop new varieties that are more nitrogen-efficient and give more stable yields compared to today's varieties.

Holistic perspective

It is important to adopt a holistic system perspective when evaluating resource efficiency. A plant that is good at acquiring nutrients and generates high yields is not necessarily resource efficient. Maybe we need to add a lot of (commercial) fertilizer to achieve the higher yield. Today, commercial fertilizers are relatively cheap, and the increased cost may not be crucial for the farmer. But in the future, we believe that we will need crops that utilize plant-internal nutrient resources in a more efficient way. For example, we have been involved in a research project with Spanish colleagues developing genetically modified tomato plants with similar nitrogen uptake characteristics but producing larger tomatoes compared to the best conventional varieties.

It is a scientifically challenging field. There is still a lot we do not know about how different plant nutrients interact to limit growth.

The research group is led by Martin Weih. Contact him if you want to know more about our research.


Modelling human-plant-environment interactions

How do environmental conditions affect plants in managed and natural ecosystems? What are the risks of damage to leaves, crops and trees from lack of rainfall and extreme temperatures?  How will the risks of damage change under future climates? What can be done in managed ecosystems to reduce the potential for damage and stabilize yields?

We develop and apply ecophysiological and ecohydrological models – process-based, quantitative description of vegetation response to random, potentially damaging, weather conditions – to quantify such risks and the potential effects of management strategies – from species and variety selection, to implementation of irrigation or crop rotation.

We build simple analytically-tractable stochastic models, the results can be clearly understood. We complement these models with more realistic but more detailed, parameter- and computation-intensive models. The models are grounded on empirical data, from field experiments, long-term experiments and literature reviews.

Contact: Giulia Vico

Plant health

We are developing sustainable crop protection strategies based on a mechanistic understanding of the interactions between plants, pests and their natural enemies/antagonists. The research demonstrates the importance of botanical and microbiological diversity for sustainable plant protection strategies.

Contact: Ida Karlsson 

Plant interaction in cropping systems

Plants do not see, hear, smell or test, but they communicate with each other in different ways including chemical signalling between different plants pairs. The aim of our research is to develop sustainable crop protection strategies based understanding of the interactions between plants, insects and their natural enemies.



Martin Weih, Professor
Department of Crop Production Ecology, SLU 018-672543