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Plant Ecology Laboratory

Research in our lab focuses on diversity patterns in biological communities, and on the interactions underlying these patterns. The main questions we address are: how do communities vary along natural gradients and gradients of human impact? What are the major assembly rules shaping communities; and are they attributable to biotic interactions or environmental heterogeneity? What are the roles of different biotic interactions - including competition, facilitation, herbivory and symbiosis - in structuring communities? Read more

News archive - October

Which AM fungi and plants colonize early successional sites first?

October 2016

There is little quantitative information about which arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi colonize early successional sites first and whether AM fungi or plants arrive quicker. In our new publication, we placed traps with natural sterilized substrate in a limestone quarry to measure dispersal of AM fungi and plants from surrounding calcareous grasslands. We found mostly AM fungi with ruderal traits to be the first and fast colonizers of early successional habitats. As for plants, we found fewer species further away from the propagule source and increasing number of plant species with more time. AM fungi were faster colonizers than plants.

García de León, D.; Moora, M.; Öpik, M.; Jairus, T.; Neuenkamp, L.; Vasar, M.; Bueno, C.G.; Gerz, M.; Davison, J. & Zobel, M. 2016. Dispersal of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plants during succession. Acta Oecologica 77:128-135.


Plant Ecology laboratory welcomes visiting students

October 2016

Plant Ecology lab welcomes new visiting students Diana Navrátilová, Javier Puy and Mathieu Forget.


Diana is a PhD student in the Institute of Microbiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic where she is supervised by Petr Baldrian. Diana is studying the phylogenetic covariation between vascular plants and soil microorganisms. During her stay with the Plant ecology lab she is supervised by Martin Zobel.



JavierJavier is a PhD student in the Functional Plant Ecology lab at the University of South Bohemia in Czech Republic.  He is supervised by Francesco de Bello and Carlos Perez Carmona. Javi's PhD thesis is focusing on the role of maternal effects in plant interactions. During his stay here he will be working with
Maarja, Mari and Inga.




Mathieu is a master student in Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France, where he is supervised by Marc-André Selosse from Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. His master thesis is about Sebacinales diversity in plant roots. During his stay in the Plant ecology lab he is supervised by Maarja Öpik.

Plant Ecology laboratory welcomes a visiting PhD student

October 2016

Plant Ecology lab welcomes new visiting student Patricia Silva Flores, who is doing her doctoral degree in Biological Sciences in the Department of Botany at Concepción University in Chile. Her supervisor there is Dr. Götz Palfner. She is performing her research work in CEAF in the laboratory of Root-Microorganisms Interaction, where her supervisor is Dr. Rubén Almada. Patricia is studying in her PhD project the effect of host plant species, soil physicochemical factors and climatic seasons on the diversity and distribution of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi of mediterranean sclerophyll forest. During her stay with plant ecology laboratory she is supervised by Maarja Öpik.

Biotic interactions drive herbivore richness in the Arctic

October 2016

This is the first collective effort and analytical paper of the Herbivory Network. Here, we collected information on the distribution of all 73 species of vertebrate herbivores that occur in the Arctic.  Vertebrate herbivores are particularly important as they affect the structure and dynamics of plant communities and provide food for higher trophic-level predators.  The results of this study showed that herbivore diversity in the Arctic is higher in areas with greater plant productivity and with higher diversity of predators.  The interactions between plants, herbivores and predators occurred over large spatial scales across the Arctic, in ecosystems where patterns of biodiversity were supposed to be affected mainly by temperature variation. Overall this paper is one of the first ones showing that biotic interactions can be relevant at large scales.


Map of herbivore distribution

Figure. Distribution maps of species richness of (a) all herbivores, (b) herbivorous birds, and (c) herbivorous mammals.
Barrio, I. C.; Bueno, C. G.; Gartzia, M.; Soininen, E. M.; Christie, K. S.; Speed, J. D. M.; Ravolainen, V. T.; Forbes, B. C.; Gauthier, G.; Horstkotte, T.; Hoset, K. S.; Høye, T. T.; Jónsdóttir, I. S.; Lévesque, E.; Mörsdorf, M. A.; Olofsson, J.; Wookey, P. A. & Hik, D. S. 2016. Biotic interactions mediate patterns of herbivore diversity in the Arctic. Global Ecology and Biogeography 25:1108–1118.


Defence of a PhD thesis

October 2016

On the 12th of October, Jaak-Albert Metsoja defended his PhD thesis titled "Vegetation dynamics in floodplain meadows: influence of mowing and sediment application", which is available from here. Congratulations!

Prof. David Gowing from Open University, United Kingdom, acted as an oponent for Jaak-Albert. The day before the defence, Prof. Goving gave a seminar titled "British floodplain meadows and the hydrological niche".

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