Toby Kiers, Full Professor, University Research Chair

Mutualistic partnerships have been incredibly important in shaping the earth’s biodiversity. My aim is to understand how such cooperation between different species evolves and persists. We use experimental evolution and phylogenetic analysis to identify how mutualisms respond to radical changes in their environment. I am interested in identifying the evolutionary selection pressures that shape partnerships in nature and ultimately to identify approaches to conserve mutualisms in the face of environmental change.

My most recent work focuses on trading in nature and how complex ‘biological markets’ can emerge among plants and their symbiotic fungi. Underground, fungi and plant roots form vast networks of connected individuals, in which sugars from roots are exchanged for nutrients from fungi. We design experiments to understand how cooperation is maintained in these plant-fungal networks.

Using a variety of model systems, my research also explores the concept of ‘punishment’ and how punishment is used in nature by plants, animals and microbes.

Lastly, I am interested in the accessibility and conservation of plant and microbial genetic resources, and strategies to promote innovation in farming systems. We ask how can evolutionary theory be applied to agricultural systems using a ‘Darwinian Agriculture’ framework.

Selected Publications

Fisher, R.M, Henry, L.M., Cornwallis, C.K, Kiers, E.T*, West, S.A*. 2017. The evolution of host-symbiont dependence. Nature communications, 8, 15973.

West, S.A. and Kiers, E.T. 2015. Evolving new organisms via symbiosis. Science, 348, 392-393.

Kiers, E.T., Duhamel, M., Beesetty, Y., Mensah, J.A., Franken, O., et al. 2011. Reciprocal rewards stabilize cooperation in the mycorrhizal symbiosis. Science, 33, 880-882.

Kiers E.T., Leakey R.R.B., Izac A.M., Heinemann J.A., Rosenthal E., Nathan D. & Jiggins J. 2008. Agriculture at a crossroads. Science, 320, 320-321.

Kiers, E.T., Rousseau, R.A., West, S.A. & Denison, R.F. 2003. Host sanctions and the legume rhizobium mutualism. Nature, 425, 78-81

Link to full publication list in PURE