Posted on 28 March 2011
They say that understanding how individuals interact and form sustainable communities can help society to address issues including food security, prevention of disease and the coexistence between humans and nature in a crowded world.
Differences among individuals matter and should change the way we think about communities
Dr Jennifer Rowntree
Biologists from the Universities of York, Manchester and St Andrews have edited a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society-B published on 28 March 2011 which focuses on how genetic interactions between individuals shape communities of plants and animals.
“Community Genetics: at the cross-roads of ecology and evolutionary genetics” contains 13 research articles and commentaries by researchers, from the UK, the USA and Spain, examining how variation within species changes interactions among species.
The issue’s co-editor, Dr Jennifer Rowntree, of the Department of Biology at York, said: “Although this field of research is relatively new, the message is already clear – differences among individuals matter and should change the way we think about communities.”
Dr Rowntree’s research focuses how genetic diversity among individual plants structures ecological communities. She works with yellow rattle, a parasitic plant common in hay meadows, which increases plant biodiversity and can be used to restore degraded habitats. Her research has shown that genetic variation in the plant community can change the effects of infection by yellow rattle.
Fellow contributor, Dr Julia Ferrari, also of the Department of Biology at York, works on bacterial symbionts which live inside insects and can change the way their host interacts with other species.
She said: “Knowledge of genetic differences between strains of bacteria and insect hosts is crucial for controlling plant pests, the transmission of plant viruses and human disease.”