Chemical Ecology of the birch-moth interaction under climate change

Main area:Ecology
 
Target group:Biology, Biochemistry
 
Educational level:Masters, Bachelor
 
Project description:

Plants release a complex blend of volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the atmosphere, and the VOC profiles change after attack by insects. Many VOCs participate in plant defense, deterring or toxifying the insects that eat the plants or lay eggs on them, attracting insects’ natural enemies, or alerting to other plants about stress such as upcoming insect attack. Mountain birch (Betula pubescens) forests are dominant in the boreal zone, and are facing marked cyclical defoliation by two most frequent insect pests, Epirrita autumnata and Operophtera brumata, the autumn and winter moth. Temperature increases in the boreal zone due to climate change will possibly lead to more frequent insect outbreaks, which will have a substantial impact on ecosystem functions and processes, including VOC release. 

This project will examine insect-induced emissions of VOCs from mountain birch. We will conduct an experiment in which we use mesh bags to apply different numbers of moth larvae on birch branches and follow the responses in terms of leaf area consumed, VOC-release, photosynthesis etc. This is part of a larger research project in which the final aim is to model effects of herbivory in birch forests. The field work will be conducted in the mountain forests in Abisko, Northern Sweden during summer 2021. You will stay at Abisko Scientific Research Station during field work, and continue with laboratory and data analyses in Copenhagen. 

You will learn the following techniques and much more:

  1. Experimental design in ecological studies & field work experience
  2. VOC sampling approaches
  3. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS): analytical method to analyse VOCs (and many other chemicals)
  4. Data analysis on "big data", multivariate statistics

If interested contact the supervisors as soon as possible!

 
Methods used:Field work, Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, multivariate statistics
 
Keywords:plant-insect interactions, chemical ecology, volatile signaling, climate change, arctic
 
Supervisor(s):  Riikka Rinnan
 
Email:riikkar@bio.ku.dk