Interview with Axel Schopf

Dear Axel, you are leader of EVA subprogram 3, can you tell us what is your research focused on?

Ecophysiological and biochemical studies on development and metabolism of insects and pathogens on host plants under global change conditions as well as orientation behaviour of insects by magnetic fields.

I can see that you are focusing on very complex field. Can you tell us what are your most important findings so far?

Yes, we have several interesting findings. Let me mention several points:

Dry and mild winters increase the metabolism in the obligate diapausing insect Panolis flammea, which may lead to earlier termination of winter diapause and post-diapause development and earlier emergence of the moth, which is one of the most important pest species on pine.

To what extent the combined effects of elevated temperature, drought, and CO2-concentrations does influence the nutritional quality of host plants (Quercus petraea and Picea abies) for two major lepidopteran pest species, Lymantria dispar and L. monachal, is checked by feeding the moth larvae with a leaf/needle-powder diet from the treated trees. As a first result we found that in both tree species the elevated CO2 concentrations under high temperature conditions lead to higher C/N ratios in the than under lower temperature conditions. However, only the spruce trees also showed this effect at low temperature conditions.

In a further study we investigate the combined effect of temperature and drought conditions on the intensity and length of a summer diapause (aestivation) of the two winter moth pupae, Operophtera brumata and Erannis defoliaria. Both insects synchronize their life cycle by an arrested stage during the pupal development in the summer to emerge as adults in the late autumn. After mating, the females lay the eggs near buds on the twigs of the host tree where they overwinter. In this study we proof for the first time that the pupal stage of these moths undergoes such an aestivation, which might be terminated by an increase of the moulting hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone and influenced by environmental factors. First results reveal that two weeks after pupation the pupae of Operophtera brumata already show a very low respiration rate indicating a stage of diapause.

In a pilot study it seems that electromagnetic fields influence the behavior of last instar larvae of gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) in their behavior to position the place of their pupation. The experiments are still running.

 The influence of mycorrhizas on woody tree species concerning morphology, physiology and defence of deciduous trees against biotic and abiotic factors is studied under changing environment conditions. We published a method for trehalose determination by LC-MS/MS in spruce ectomycorrhizal roots to check the fungi infection in spruce caused by the pathogen, Gemmamyces piceae. Further, we used this method in other experiments to analyse non-structural carbohydrates of mycorrhizal fungi which are of importance in plant metabolism. The experiment covers the phytopathology input, physiological assessment of the trees, analysis of oligosaccharides in roots and needles, soil analysis and PCR method for fungi detection.

I guess the research equipment and international cooperation is crucial for your team. Can you tell us something about this?

Physiological and biochemical analyses need principally a basic lab equipment, but also high specific and expensive instruments. This is not possible to have it everywhere in the scientific community. Thus, cooperation with national and international labs are of high importance to be able to conduct scientific research of high quality. Therefore, we are in close cooperation with the experimental ecological station Bílý Kříž”, Beskydy Mts, the Phytophthora Research Centre at the Mendel University Brno, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna and in the near future with the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany

 Axel, I know that you cooperate with number of young scientists not only from your (SP3) team. How do you find this cooperation?

Working with young scientists is a great pleasure and also keeps an old man - like me – young.

Lets back to global issues. Your research is strongly connected with global change. What can we expect in central Europe from your point of view in couple decades?

If we fail in significantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in short term, it will be catastrophic for our descendants. The first signs of extreme weather events in Central Europe are already taking place (drought and heat spells, forest fires, extreme precipitation with corresponding flooding, etc.). The scientific prognoses are that these events will become more frequently and still more intensive.

Thank you Axel for your time.

Your EVA 4.0

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