What are phytomyxids?
Phytomyxids are obligate biotrophs with complex life cycles and occupy a range of ecosystems from soil, freshwater and marine environments (Neuhauser et al., 2011).
They (also referred to as Phytomyxea) include two orders: Phagomyxida, known to parasitize brown algae and diatoms, and Plasmodiophorida, which are parasites of green plants (Neuhauser et al., 2010).
Along with their sister taxa Vampyrellidae, they group within Endomyxa the subphylum of Cercozoa (Archibald and Keeling, 2004; Bass et al., 2009; Cavalier-Smith and Chao, 2003).
Why study them?
Of the 41 known species of Phytomyxea, only 4 have been studied in detail leaving a great deal of diversity to be discovered (Neuhauser et al., 2011). Generally speaking however, much of the literature concentrates on establishing the correct phylogeny (Bulman et al., 2001; Burki et al., 2010), methods of detection (Faggian and Strelkov, 2009) and its detrimental effects on crops (Dixon, 2009a).
Investigating diversity within the group (under certain management regimes and across the landscape), in addition to the role they play in soil communities has significant implications in maintaining plant diversity above ground (Van der Heijden et al., 2008).
Phytomyxids in agriculture
The PhD aims to gain a better understanding of how changes in the way the land is managed, in this case rotations, impacts the communities of phytomyxids present. Do we see a great diversity of species under rotations of the same crop? What happens to diversity when a break crop is used?
I am also trying to establish whether protist communities differ depending on which part of the host they are found. For example is there a great diversity in the rhizosphere compared with the bulk soil? How is the community structured in terms of common species and rarer species. Does the host material make a difference?
How does the time of year affect what we see in terms of community diversity and structure?