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Alison Karley

Staff picture: Alison Karley
Ecological Sciences
+44 (0)1382 568820

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

Since 2004, I have been a researcher in Agroecology at the James Hutton Institute. After reading Natural Sciences at Cambridge, I studied for a D Phil in plant membrane nutrient transport at the University of York and IACR-Rothamsted. Subsequently, I have applied my training in plant nutrient physiology to study plant-insect interactions at scales of the organism and system. Postdoctoral research at the University of York on the nutritional physiology of aphids led to my current post.

Current research interests 

The traits that allow plants and insects to perform optimally under environmental constraints intrigue me and form the focus of my research in plant nitrogen physiology and the interactions between plants, insect herbivores and their natural enemies.

Optimising plant traits

Identifying the traits that allow arable plants to perform optimally in reduced input conditions has been a key feature of my recent research. Through research funded by RESAS under Sustainable Crop Systems, I have worked with colleagues (Tracy Valentine, Geoff Squire) to identify barley root traits contributing to nitrogen uptake efficiency. We are now applying a similar approach to identify wheat root ideotypes for reduced input agriculture in a LINK project. I also collaborate with Pete Iannetta and Gavin Ramsay on a new Technology Strategy Board project, evaluating the nutritional value of faba beans for fish and animal feed, which has opened up a novel research area for the institute.

Plants, insect herbivores and natural enemies

Using aphids as a model, I focus on the impact of plant nitrogen quality, particularly tissue amino acid composition, on insect herbivore performance. In addition, I collaborate with colleagues to examine factors that indirectly influence the plant-insect herbivore interaction, for example through changes in soil microbial community (with Alison Bennett, James Hutton Institute). In collaboration with Julie Graham and Rex Brennan, we are identifying soft fruit plant traits that contribute to pathogen and insect pest resistance through a Technology Strategy Board project.

This research complements the work of my research students, to examine trophic interactions between insect herbivores, their microbial endosymbionts and natural enemies. I collaborate with Steve Hubbard (University of St Andrews) and Mark Chaplain (University of Dundee) to use both experimental and mathematical modelling approaches to explore the impact of microbial endosymbionts on insect population dynamics. I also work with Scott Johnson (University of Western Sydney) and Sue Hartley (University of York) to understand the effect of plant drought stress on insect herbivores and their natural enemies.


  • Aslam, T.J., Johnson, S.N. and Karley, A.J. 2012. Plant-mediated effects of drought on aphid population structure and parasitoid attack. Journal of Applied Entomology. (doi:10.1111/j.1439-0418.2012.01747.x)
  • Bingham, I.J., Karley, A.J., White, P.J., Thomas, W.T.B. and Russell, J.R. 2012 Analysis of improvements in nitrogen use efficiency associated with 75 years of barley breeding. European Journal of Agronomy 42, 49-58.
  • Johnson, S.N., Young, M.W. and Karley, A.J. 2012. Protected raspberry production alters aphid-plant interactions but not aphid population size. Agricultural and Forest Entomology 14, 217-224.
  • McMenemy, L.S., Hartley, S.E., MacFarlane, S.A., Karley, A.J., Shepherd, T. and Johnson, S.N. 2012. Raspberry viruses manipulate the behaviour of their insect vectors. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 144, 56-68.
  • Bingham, I.J., Karley, A.J., White, P.J., and Thomas, W.T.B. 2011. Plant breeding has increased the nitrogen use efficiency of barley varieties. Knowledge Scotland - Policy Briefing 218, 7 February 2011.
  • Cook, N., Aziz, N., Hedley, P.E., Morris, J., Milne, L., Karley, A.J., Hubbard, S.F. and Russell, J.R. 2011. Transcriptome sequencing of an ecologically important graminivorous sawfly: a resource for marker development. Conservation Genetics Resources 3, 789-795.
  • Karley, A.J., Valentine, T.A. and Squire, G.R. 2011. Dwarf alleles differentially affect barley root traits influencing nitrogen acquisition under low nutrient supply. Journal of Experimental Botany 62, 3917-3927.
  • Karley, A.J., Wheatley, R.E., White, P.J., Squire, G.R., Hawes, C., and Bingham, I.J. 2010 Towards a low nitrogen future. Knowledge Scotland - Policy Briefing 198, 21 December 2010.
  • Clark, E.L., Karley, A.J. and Hubbard, S.F. 2010. Insect endosymbionts: manipulators of insect herbivore trophic interactions? Protoplasma 244, 25-51.
  • White, P.J. and Karley, A.J. 2009 Potassium. In: Hell, R. and Mendel, R. (eds.). Cell Biology of Metals and Nutrients. Springer, Dordrecht, 199-224.
  • Johnson, S.N., Hawes, C. and Karley, A.J. 2009. Reappraising the role of plant nutrients as mediators of interactions between root- and foliar-feeding insects. Functional Ecology 23, 699-706.
  • Karley, A.J. and White, P.J. 2009. Moving cationic minerals to edible tissues: potassium, magnesium, calcium (Review). Current Opinion in Plant Biology 12, 291-298.

Scientific/Conference Posters

  • 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-karley on 19/09/14 02:44:17 AM

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.