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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

I am an agroecologist with 20 years research experience in plant production and ecology, focussing on agroecosystem biodiversity and pest biocontrol under reduced inputs and climate change. My research interests are driven by the wider challenges of how to enhance ecosystem service provision in agroecosystems and optimise sustainable crop production. I have led or co-led research funded by Innovate UK, UK levy boards, Defra, BBSRC, private industry and the Scottish Government.

Optimising plant traits for sustainable agriculture. Identifying the traits that allow arable plants to perform optimally in reduced input conditions has been a key feature of my research. Through Scottish Government and LINK funding, we have identified barley and wheat root traits for reduced input cropping and nitrogen use efficiency. Current work focusses on the impact of crop trait and species diversity on productivity and insect pest populations in arable systems.  In soft fruit crops, we have identified plant traits underpinning tolerance or resistance to arthropod pests above- and below-ground. This work is being extended in a new Innovate UK project to apply novel infra-red and hyperspectral imaging methods to phenotype soft fruit responses to biotic and abiotic stress.

Plants, herbivores and natural enemies. Using aphids as a model, I focus on the impact of plant traits (e.g. nutritional quality) and insect traits (e.g. presence of microbial endosymbionts) on the performance of insect herbivores and their natural enemies. I work with institute colleagues, UK and international collaborators to examine the impact of biotic and abiotic factors on the plant-herbivore-natural enemy interaction, for example through climate change, crop management and soil microbial communities. In addition, we have evaluated the nutritional value of faba beans, and their capacity for nitrogen fixation, as a novel and sustainable source of fish and animal feed on a Technology Strategy Board project. I currently supervise or co-supervise six PhD students on projects ranging from insect genomics through to field-scale biodiversity studies.


  • 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.

  • 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.