Computational crop ecophysiology
The focus of my research and teaching is on the interactions between plants, as well as between plants and their environment, and how this translates to crop performance. To address questions in this domain I have specialized in the development of 3D plant simulation models called functional-structural plant models.
The research questions that are addressed in my projects are typically related to plant performance. A key aspect of plant development related to performance is phenotypic plasticity: how do plants adapt their development in response to environmental variables (light quantity and quality, soil water and nutrients, insect herbivory, temperature) and how are these cues shaped by other plants (shading, light scattering, uptake of water and nutrients from the soil) in plant stands composed of the same or different plant species. My research aims at understanding the processes underlying plant performance in relation to their environment and the consequences for plant and crop performance, and using this knowledge to aid the development of better functioning crops.
The main tools that are used to address question regarding crop form and function are functional-structural plant (FSP) modelling closely linked with dedicated field, glasshouse or growth-chamber experiments. The essence of FSP models is the simulation of the relationship between plant functioning and plant structure in 3D, with explicit feedback between plant growth and development on the one hand and environmental drivers on the other. This feedback is crucial to the functionality of FSP models: for instance, light capture by leaves determines the production of growth substrates and eventual growth of leaves, stems and other plant organs resulting in a change in plant structure, but this change itself determines to what extent light can be captured. Here, the 3D aspect of FSP models plays an important role, since growth of organs like leaves and stems may result in different (self) shading patterns depending on their positioning in 3D space, affecting light interception and ultimately growth. The same is true for other resources such as water or nitrogen distribution in the soil in relation to root system architecture. This feedback makes FSP models appropriate tools to simulate crop vegetation performance emergent from the underlying processes related to interaction between plants.
I teach in BSc, MSc, and postgraduate courses in the domains of plant science, crop ecology and physiology, intercropping and plant modelling.