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Alison Karley

Staff picture: Alison Karley
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Research Leader
+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.

I am an Associate Editor for Ecological Entomology, an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Dundee and a Guest Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. I am a member of the British Ecological Society, the Society for Experimental Biology, the Association of Applied Biologists and the Royal Entomological Society.

I am a key staff member leading Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research at the Institute. For details of ongoing IPM research areas and projects, please visit the IPM@hutton website.

Current research interests

As pressure mounts to reduce dependence on agri-inputs, accompanied by uncertainty about the effects of climate change on crop production, the importance of diversifying agroecosystems for future sustainability is increasingly being realised. Ali’s research tests alternative cropping practices and pest control strategies to reduce reliance on external inputs and increase resilience to environmental stress. Her recent research has shaped current concepts about, and provided supporting evidence for, the design, management and ecological benefits of diversified agricultural systems and how to select crop types that optimise system functions. As co-ordinator of DIVERSify (EU Horizon 2020: 2017-2021), she led a consortium of 25 EU and international partner organisations to understand and demonstrate the benefits of mixed species cropping and identify crop species and cultivars that perform optimally when intercropped. Ali was one of the founding members of the ‘Crop Diversification Cluster’ of six EU projects (, aiming to increase research impact through sustained uptake of diversification measures by farmers in Europe.

Ali’s research includes identifying traits that allow crops to perform optimally with reduced nutrient and pesticide inputs. This area is developed though co-innovation projects with industry partners to identify desirable crop traits and to apply new imaging tools to phenotype plant responses to biotic and abiotic stress. For crop mixtures, Ali collaborates with crop scientists and breeders to pioneer an ‘ecological approach’ for crop improvement, focusing on trait combinations that optimize the benefits of intercropping. Ali uses participatory research to trial agroecological practices with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, and she works closely with knowledge transfer organisations to develop open science methods and tools for making results accessible to different end users.

  • Darwin Partnership Award ‘Malawi-AgroBio’ 2021-2022 (£10K) (PI)
  • Scottish Government ‘EndoScot’ 2020-2023 (£66.5K) (Co-I)
  • EU Horizon 2020 ‘FRAMEwork’ 2020-2025 (€1.4M) (Co-I)
  • AHDB ‘Soft Fruit IPM’ 2020-2022 (£444K) (Co-I)
  • GCRF ‘ClimateSmart’ 2020-2022 (£50K) (Co-I)
  • Mains of Loirston ‘NOVELLA’ 2019-2023 (£47K) (Co-I)
  • Esmée Fairburn Foundation ‘SEAMS’ 2019-2023 (£400K) (Co-I)
  • Innovate UK ‘CherryBerry’ 2018-2021 (£734K) (Co-I)
  • EU Horizon 2020 ‘MiRA’ 2017-2021 (€3.65M) (Co-I) 


  • Vasconcelos, M.W.; Grusak, M.A.; Pinto, E.; Gomes, A.; Ferreira, H.; Balázs, B.; Centofanti, T.; Ntatsi, G.; Savvas, D.; Karkanis, A.; Williams, M.; Vandenberg, A.; Toma, L.; Shrestha, S.; Akaichi, F.; Barrios, C.O.; Gruber, S.; James, E.K.; Maluk, M.; Karkey, A.J.; Iannetta, P.P.M. (2020) The biology of legumes and their agronomic, economic, and social impact., In: Hasanuzzaman, M., Araújo, S. & Singh Gill, S. (eds.). The Plant Family Fabaceae: The Biology and Physiological Responses to Environmental Issues. Springer Nature, Singapre, Chapter 1, pp3-25.
  • Graham, J.; Karley, A.J.; Dolan, A.; Williams, D.; Jennings, N. (2019) Advances and challenges in sustainable raspberry/blackberry cultivation., In: Lang, G. (ed.). Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Temperate Zone Tree Fruits and Berries. Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, Volume 2: Case Studies, Chapter 13, pp397-422.
  • Williams, D.; Aitkenhead, M.; Karley, A.J.; Graham, J.; Jones, H.G. (2018) Use of imaging technologies for high throughput phenotyping., In: Graham, J. & Brennan, R. (eds.). Raspberry: Breeding, Challenges and Advances. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Chapter 9, pp145-158.
  • Mitchell, C.; Hawes, C.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Birch, A.N.E.; Begg, G.; Karley, A. (2018) An agroecological approach for weed, pest and disease management in Rubus plantations., In: Graham, J. & Brennan, R. (eds.). Raspberry: Breeding, Challenges and Advances. Springer International Publishing, Cham, Chapter 5, pp63-81.
  • Squire, G.R.; Hawes, C.; Ianetta, P.P.M.; Karley, A.J.; Begg, G. (2016) Ecosystem services from croplands., In: Brooker, R., Hester, A. & Pakeman, R. (eds.). Ecosystem Services. The James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, pp24-25.
  • Brooker, R.; Karley, A.; Pakeman, R.J.; Newton, A.; Schob, C.; Morcillo, L. (2016) Biodiversity and function., In: Brooker, R., Hester, A. & Pakeman, R.J.(eds.). Ecosystem Services. The James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, pp6-7.
  • White, P.J.; Karley, A.J. (2010) Potassium., In: Hell, R. & Mendel, R. (eds.). Plant Cell Monographs, 17, Cell Biology of Metals and Nutrients. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp199-224.
  • White, P.J.; Bengough, A.G.; Bingham, I.J.; George, T.S.; Karley, A.J.; Valentine, T.A. (2009) Induced mutations affecting root architecture and mineral acquisition in barley., In: Shu, Q.Y. (ed.). Induced Plant Mutations in the Genomics Era. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, pp381-384
  • Karley, A.J.; Marshall, B. (2007) Functional-structural modelling as a potential tool to assess the impact of resource competition on arable communities., In: Vos, J., Marcelis, L.F.M., de Visser, P.H.B., Struik, P.C. & Evers, J.B. (eds.). Functional-Structural Plant Modelling in Crop Production. Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp231-241.

  • Lozada, L.M; Karley, A. (2022) The adoption of agroecological principles in Scottish farming and their contribution towards agricultural sustainability and resilience, SEFARI webpage. (Appendices:
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; Black, K.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.j.; James, E.K.; Maluk, M.; Newton, A.; Squire, G.R.; Walker, G.; White, P. (2017) Teaming up for good: intercropping and farming-science partnership at the James Hutton Institute., NGO Report for, 8 November 2017.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; Black, K.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.J.; James, E.K.; Maluk, M.; Newton, A.C.; Squire, G.R.; Walker, G.; White, P.J. (2017) Sustainable legume systems for improved primary produce., SAB Annual Report, May 2017.
  • Brooker, R.; Iannetta, P.; Karley, A.; Newton, A.; Pakeman, R. (2017) Crop mixtures in the Strategic Research Programme., Workshop Report, James Hutton Institute, Dundee, 27 July 2017. Report circulated to workshop attendees.
  • Greenland, A.G.; Bentley, S.; Jones, H.; Karley, A.; Lee, D.; Sherlock, D.; Valentine, T.; White, C.; Young. P. (2017) New wheat root ideotypes for improved resource use efficiency and yield performance in reduced input agriculture., AHDB Project Report, Reference No. RD-2008-3575.
  • Brooker, R.; Aalders, I.H.; Ballingall, K.; Begg, G.; Birch, A.N.E.; Elliott, G.; Ellis, C.; Freitag, T.; Hawes, C.; Holland, J.; Holmes, B.; Hough, R.L.; Karley, A.; McCracken, D.; Mitchell, R.; Stockan, J.; Zadoks, R.; Albon, S.A.; Hester, A.J.; Pakeman, R.J. (2013) Biotic and biophysical underpinning of ecosystem services in the Scottish context: a review., Published online as an outputs from WP 1.1 of the Ecosystem Services Theme of the SRP.
  • Squire, G.R.; Begg, G.S.; Hawes, C.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K.; Karley, A.J.; Young, M.W. (2011) Scotland's wild arable plants., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2010, pp21-23.
  • Karley, A.J.; Johnson, S.N.; Clark, E.; McMenemy, L.S. (2010) Insect herbivore-microbe interactions: impacts on insect fitness and behaviour., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2009, pp23-24.
  • Johnson, S.N.; Karley, A.J.; Hawes, C.; Mitchell, C. (2008) Aboveground-belowground trophic linkages., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2007, pp40-41.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.S.; Wishart, J.; Young, M.W.; Karley, A.J.; Valentine, T.A.; Hawes, C.; Squire, G.R. (2006) Common wild plants as biodiversity indicators., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2006, pp42-43.
  • Karley, A.J.; Marshall, B.; Young, M.W.; Holroyde, S.; Wright, G.M.; Squire, G.R. (2004) Plant archtecture and structural-functioning modelling., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp157-159.

Scientific Posters / Conferences

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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.