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Alison Bennett

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Recent publications

Staff picture: Alison Bennett
Ecological Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

Current research interests 

My current research focuses on two areas.

  1. What are the evolutionary pressures on the plant-arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal mutualism? Using a wide variety of systems (agriculture, invaded natural habitats, etc.) I am exploring how changes in the plant-AM fungal interaction result in evolutionary responses in both plants and fungi.  This work currently consists of examinations of changes in response to AM fungi by invasive species, examinations of selected crop species for loss of association with AM fungi, and selection for "cheater" AM fungi.
  2. What is the role of AM fungi in multi-species interactions?  I am continuing to explore the role of AM fungi in plant-herbivore interactions, and extending this research to look at below-ground herbivores and parasitoids.  Interested in multi-species interactions?  Check out our EU group on Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions:

Past research 

Broadly, my research in plant biology has addressed fundamental ecological questions such as how mutualisms are maintained, why invasive species are successful, and how mutualisms influence the evolutionary ecology of communities in a system (the plant-arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal mutualism) that is important for all natural systems, agriculture, restoration, and conservation. 

Despite their ubiquitous nature (AM fungi are found in every natural habitat as well as agricultural systems), we currently know little about the ecology or evolution of this interaction. Using a combination of field, greenhouse, and molecular techniques, my unique research approach has addressed mutualisms in a community context: the community of AM fungi, the community of mutualists (plants and AM fungi), mutualists within communities, and the role of mutualisms in ecosystems.

To this end I have explored the ecological and evolutionary responses within the AM fungal community in order to determine the nature of the plant-fungal interaction and the evolutionary pressures that can dissolve the mutualism; used simple and complex plant-interaction chains to examine how the presence or absence of a species alters simple communities, and how those changes feed back to alter evolutionary trajectories of interactions; and utilised long term experiments to understand the role of the AM fungal and whole soil community in structuring plant responses to global change. 

In addition, because theory is such an important driving force for understanding systems in ecology, I also collaborate with mathematicians to better understand the structure of AM fungal-plant systems.


Recent publications

Current group members include:

Sandra Caul (technician extraordinaire)

James Hourston (PhD, NERC CASE, co-supervised with Scott Johnson (University of Western Sydney) and Alan Gange (RHUL)) Submitted May 2015

Alex van den Bos (PhD, joint student with University of Aberdeen, co-supervised with Tim Daniell (JHI) and David Johnson (University of Aberdeen) Submitted May 2015

Peter Orrell (PhD, joint student with University of Hull, co-supervised with Maria Nijnik (JHI) and Darren Evans (University of Hull)

Pil Rasmussen (PhD, supervised by Ayco Tack (Stockholm University))

  • Email:
  • Phone: +44 (0)844 928 5428
  • Craigiebuckler Aberdeen AB15 8QH Scotland
  • Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA Scotland
A Scottish charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Scotland No SC374831.
Registered office: The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA. Charity No SCO41796

Printed from /staff/alison-bennett on 30/06/16 10:13:35 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.