Ecological role of plant viruses in grassland communities
This research is investigating the ecological role of plant viruses in grassland communities with a focus on Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), an important C4 prairie grass. This species is planted widely (e.g., prairie restorations, Conservation Reserve Program land) and is being seriously discussed for biofuel applications. This research has two major thrusts: 1) experiments to explore the effect of viruses on switchgrass survival, growth, and reproduction, and 2) landscape-level surveys to study the prevalence and variability of viruses in grasslands across eastern Kansas. This work contributes to a larger understanding of the role of pathogens in ecology and evolution and to studies of the agricultural/natural systems interface. Additional collaboration with researchers at Ohio State University (Hsiaochi Chang and Dr. Allison Snow) is looking at landscape-level genetic interactions between cultivated and native switchgrass.