Assessing the impacts of invasive fungal pathogens and phytophagous insects on native plants, pathogens, phytophagous insects and symbionts (FIRB)
This project is aimed at investigating the potential impacts of biological invasions induced by fungal plant pathogens and phytophagous insects on the main components of the native ecosystems: plants, their pathogens, pests and symbionts.
Three model systems are investigated: the fungal pathogen Heterobasidion irregulare and the Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea) (model system 1), the phytophagous insect Hyphantria cunea and the black poplar (Populus nigra) (model system 2), and the phytophagous insect Bagrada hilaris and the cabbage (Brassica oleracea) (model system 3). In each model system, the impacts of the invasive fungal pathogen or the phytophagous insects on the native host species are compared with the impacts induced by taxonomically or ecologically related native species (model system 1: Heterobasidion annosum; model system 2: Melasoma populi; model system 3: Nezara viridula). Besides assessing differences in host plant susceptibility to both invasive and native model species, are investigate also the physiological responses of the host plants. In particular the qualitative and quantitative differences in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) occurring between the systems host plant/invasive and host plant/native species. Gene expression studies are also carried out to assess the different host susceptibility towards the invasive and native pathogens.