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Trees that can tolerate soil pollution are also better at defending themselves against pests and pathogens. “It looks like the very act of tolerating chemical pollution may give trees an advantage from biological invasion,” says Dr Frederic E. Pitre of the University of Montreal and one of the researchers behind the discovery.
Unexpectedly, whilst studying the presence of genetic information (RNA) from fungi and bacteria in the trees, the researchers found evidence of a very large amount of RNA from a very common plant pest called the two-spotted spidermite.
In fact, 99% of spidermite RNA was in higher abundance in trees without contamination, suggesting that the polluted plant’s defence mechanisms, used to protect itself against chemical contamination, improves its resistance to a biological invader.
“This higher spidermite gene expression (RNA) in non-contaminated trees suggests that tolerating contamination might ‘prime’ the trees’ defence machinery, allowing them to defend themselves better against pests, such as spidermites,” says Pitre.