I am studying the multitrophic interactions which affect the diversity and structure of plant communities. The research focuses on the interactions between organisms from more than two trophic levels, in natural, semi-natural and managed plant assemblages. In particular, I am interested in how non-pathogenic fungi in plants affect the insect herbivores which also feed on those plants. The two categories of fungi under investigation are root-inhabiting arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM fungi) and foliar endophytes. Natural plant communities include those regenerating from seedbanks on abandoned land such as that which has been taken out of agricultural production under the set-aside scheme. Semi-natural communities include areas where mixtures of wildflower seeds have been sown, in order to recreate species-rich meadows on land or on green roofs. Managed communities involve golf courses and football pitches, and the production of high-quality turfgrass. The applications of my work are in the development of novel microbial methods for plant protection against pests and diseases, the biological control of weeds, and the conservation of very rare plants and insects.
My father has been collecting records of fungal appearance in an area around Salisbury Wiltshire Since 1950. This covers all of the New Forest and Salisbury Plain. We now have over 70,000 detailed records of fungal occurrence and the records have been deposited in the Fungal Records Database of the British Isles. We are continuing analysis of this data set, looking at how fungal phenology has changed over the last 65 y and whether certain groups or species of fungi have altered their host associations. We have published our results so far in Science, PNAS and Fungal Ecology.