I am primarily a plant physiologist interested in the interactions between crop plants and their environment; resource capture and the sustainability of agricultural systems. My research interests cover three main areas:
- Plant Phenotyping. In collaboration with researchers in the School of Computer Science, including Dr Jonathon Gibbs, I am interested in the adoption of new technologies for the higher-throughput phenotyping of plant species. This includes image analysis, reconstruction and deep learning approaches to identify features on interest from images of plants.
- The role of crop canopy architecture in light interception. I use a combination of plant physiology, 3-dimensional plant reconstruction based on RGB cameras and light modelling in the form of ray tracing to link canopy architectural traits to the interception of light by plant material. Canopy architecture is highly variable both within and between species and the arrangement of leaves and structural elements will determine how efficiently the plant can intercept light for photosynthesis. As light interception is linearly related to biomass production, optimising how plants intercept and use light energy will be critical for underpinning any future improvements to our crop varieties.
- The response of photosynthesis to the fluctuating light environment. Light drives photosynthesis but the amount (quantity) and spectral quality (the colour) of light available for photosynthesis will vary due to many factors such as solar movement, wind, location and structure of the plant canopy. Light characteristics can change on rapid timescales which will put pressure on the photosynthetic machinery to optimise photosynthesis whilst limiting damage to the membrane. I am interested in the light environment to which leaves are exposed to in the field, and how photosynthetic pathways respond to these changes.
- Farmer and Breeder preferences. Preference towards certain architectural traits by farmers or growers may limit the possibility to optimise our crop plants for yield production. I am therefore interested in identifying the traits that farmers and breeders are most interested and seeing whether these preferences are in agreement with the scientific evidence for productivity.
- Alternative cropping practices. Alternative cropping practices such as intercropping (the growth of two or more crops simultaneously), agroforestry (growing crops with trees), vertical farming and urban agriculture have the potential to increase food availability and mitigate some of the negative effects of climate change. I am interested in how we can develop and promote these systems, optimising planting and design to maximise resource capture.