Current research projects

Project: C4-photosynthesis combined with water storage – a formula for evolutionary success in extremely dry and saline habitats.

This project investigates the hypothesis that succulence in combination with C4 photosynthesis constitutes a key innovation of several plant lineages for evolutionary success in dry and saline habitats. Plant groups studied in this project are Camphorosmoideae, Salsoloideae and Salicornioideae (Chenopodiaceae), Sesuvioideae und Aizooideae (Aizoaceae), and Zygophylloideae und Tribuloideae (Zygophyllaceae). We generate molecular phylogenies and collect leaf anatomical, physiological and ecological data for these groups to infer the evolution of drought relevant traits. Molecular clock and biogeographical analyses as well as tracing of character history reveal when and where C4 and drought adaptive traits evolved in these lineages. Comparative studies of the bioclimatic and ecological niches of C3 and C4 sister species/lineages are conducted to investigate possible adaptive advantages of C4 photosynthesis especially in extremely dry and saline habitats and to value the potential of these C4 species/lineages to colonize and remediate environments disturbed by salinization and/or desertification.

Partners of this project:
- Prof. D. U. Bellstedt, Dept of Biochemistry, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
- Prof. C. Klak, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, S. Africa
- Prof. S. Liede-Schumann, Pflanzensystematik, Universität Bayreuth, Germany.
- Prof. R. Sage and Dr. T. Sage, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. Toronto, Canada.
- Prof. M. Ludwig, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.

This project is financed by the German Science Foundation.

Project: Evolution of fast seed germination in Amaranthaceae s.l.

Several species of Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae show very fast seed germination. Some species are able to germinate within a few hours and therefore are among the fastest germinating seeds in the plant kingdom. This project investigates seed and seedling traits as well as ecological conditions related to germination speed in c. 150 species of Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae. We study the evolution and correlation of seed and germination traits in a phylogenetic context. We test the hypotheses whether fast germination represents an adaptation to stressful and dynamic environments and whether fast germination is achieved by a specific seed anatomy and morphology.

Partners of this project:
- Dr. F. Vandelook, Nationale Plantentuin von Belgie, Univ. Meise, Belgium.
- Dr. R. Newton, Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, UK.

This project is financed by the German Science Foundation.