For humans, the mere thought of living alone can be depressing and lead to the decline of an individual’s health. Well research out of the University of Helsinki shows that plants may react in a similar manner when faced with habitat loss. After extensive surveys into Plantago lanceolata meadows across Finland, biologists and ecologists noted in areas where the habitat is fragmented an increase in infections from fungus occurs.
The research conducted by Anna-Liisa Laine and her colleagues shows that meadows in closer proximity to other meadows showed a significantly less infection rate of fungal pathogens. Laine among other plant ecologists began investigating the effects of this powdery mildew fungus back in 2001 and has contributed to a massive amount of data analyzing the effects of plant pathogens in wild ecosystems. To date Finland has one of the largest databases of wild plant ecology and the effects of diseases in areas of varying biodiversity.
Typical results expected would suggest that the higher the population the higher the risk for disease, however in Plantago lanceolata meadows evidence suggested the contrary. It is believed this is related to the genetic diversity of organisms that live in areas where populations can grow closer together. The influence from surrounding environmental elements, such as how seeds and nutrients are dispersed, provides reinforcement through the landscape to promote healthier organisms. Meadows in areas of isolation lack the genetic diversity needed to evolve higher immune systems against pathogens while meadows in proximity appear to have more mixed genes allowing better defenses.
Traditional ecological laws prove that epidemics are dramatically more devastating in areas with higher populations, yet in many plants the occurrences of devastating epidemic s are rather slim. Anna-Liisa Laine is funded by the Academy of Finland where she seeks to unravel the mysteries of epidemiology and disease research. Anna-Liisa’s interest is spurred by the lack of understanding we currently have in how diseases are regulated in nature and she currently continues her research in the archipelago of Finland.Tags: biodiversity, biologists, finland, plant ecology