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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


GSBI conference

December 2014

In December, our workinggroup members Maarja, Lena and John ended their scientific year with the 1st Conference of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) in Dijon, France. Under the topic „Assessing Soil Biodiversity and its Role for Ecosystem Services“  the conference was a dynamic international meeting summarizing the current state of knowledge and recent advancements in the science of soil biodiversity. All our participants contributed with a poster to the conference, which had the following titles: “Global diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi – everything is almost everywhere” (John Davison), “Response of AMF diversity to land use change in a grassland ecosystem” (Lena Neuenkamp) and “The MaarjAM database of Glomeromycota implements sequence based classification and collates global distribution data (Maarja Öpik).

PhD student's seminar

November 2014

In the middle of November, the PhD student’s seminar of the department of botany was held in Jäneda. The PhD students from different workingroups had the possibility to introduce their work and preliminary results. According to the tradition, the best talks were awarded. Among those were also Lena’s and Maret’s presentations. Congratulations!

IAVS conference

September 2014

The 57th Annual Meeting of the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) titled „Biodiversity & Vegetation: Patterns, Processes, Conservation“ was held in Perth, Australia in the beginning of September. From our working group Martin Zobel, Mari Moora, Maret Gerz, Lena Neuenkamp and Jaak-Albert Metsoja participated.  In their keynote talks, Martin addressed the role of the species pool concept in studies of plant communities („The role of the species pool concept in the study of diversity patterns and plant community assemblages“), and Mari pinpointed the importance of including soil microbial communities – especially fungal plant symbionts – in vegetation research („Progress and challenges in `underground ecology´“).  Lena presented data of successional changes in functional diversity of an abandoned calcareous grassland („30 years of succession in an Estonian calcareous grassland: how does time and landuse history shape plant community functional composition?“). Jaak-Albert focussed on plant community changes on a sediment deposition site at a river floodplain („Drivers of plant community assembly on sediment deposition sites at the River Emajõgi floodplain, Estonia“). With her poster „Plant community mycorrhization differentially affects plant species diversity in forests and grasslands“ Maret  showed how effects of mycorrhization do vary among ecosystems. All abstracts are published in Mucina, L., Price, J.N.& Kalwij, J.M. (eds.), Biodiversity and vegetation: patterns, processes, conservation. Kwongan Foundation, Perth, AU.

Conference in Oulu

August 2014

In the beginning of August 2014 Lena Neuenkamp and Jaak-Albert Metsoja participated the 9th Conference on Ecological Restoration organised by the European Chapter of the Society of Ecological Restoration in Oulu, Finland. Under the topic „Restoration, Ecosystem Services and Land Use Policy“, the conference was an international forum to discuss the restoration of Ecosystem Services, and the ecological, economic and socio-cultural values of restoration. Lena and Jaak contributed to the discussion with their talks. Lena presented first results from her field study about estimating the role of AMF in grassland restoration („Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: key to successful grassland restoration?”). Jaak ´s talk focussed on the outcome of a LIFE project targeting floodplain restoration as means to promote plant as well as fish communities („Restoring a flooded meadow in Central Estonia. Can we aim at benefits for fish and plant communities at the same time?”).


July 2014

In the first half of the July, members from our working group were occupied with field work on Muhu and Saaremaa islands. We worked in different successional stages of alvar grassland to study the covariation of fungi and plants and dispersal limitation of seeds and spores. We collected data about plants and gryptogams – lichens and mosses. We also took soil and root samples to identify the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal community in the studied sites and set up seed traps for seed dispersal study.

Conference in Zürich

May 2014

Our working group members Maarja Öpik, Maret Gerz and Lena Neuenkamp participated in the 33rd New Phytologist Symposium „Networks of Power and Influence: ecology and evolution of symbioses between plants and mycorrhizal fungi“  in Zürich (Switzerland) from 14th-16th May 2014. The conferences adressed the interaction between mycorrhizal fungi and plants as well as underlying mechanisms. As an invited speaker Maarja Öpik gave an overview of patterns of global diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi („Global diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities“). Maret presented with her poster „Plant community mycorrhization differentially affects plant species diversity in forests and grasslands“ that effects of mycorrhization do vary among ecosystems. With her poster „Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: key to grassland restoration“, Lena described which beneficial effects arbuscular mycorrhiza might have for grassland restoration.

A ’smoking gun’ on the Ice Age megafauna extinctions

February 2014

On Feb.6th 2014 the following paper was published in Nature, where three members of our lab – John Davison, Mari Moora and Martin Zobel - acted as the shared first authors:

Willerslev, E., Davison,J., Moora, M., Zobel, M., Coissac, E., Edwards, M.E., Lorenzen, E.D., Vestergard, M., Gussarova, G., Haile, J., Craine, J., Gielly, L., Boessenkool, S., Epp, L.S., Pearman, P.B., Cheddadi, R., Murray, D., Brathen, K.A., Yoccoz, N., Binney, H., Cruaud, C., Wincker, P., Goslar, T., Alsos, I.G., Bellemain, E., Brysting, A.K., Elven, R., Sonstebo, J.H., Murton, J., Sher, A., Rasmussen, M., Ronn, R., Mourier, T., Cooper, A., Austin, J., Moller, P., Froese, D., Zazula, G., Pompanon, F., Rioux, D., Niderkorn, V., Tikhonov, A., Savvinov, G., Roberts, R.G., MacPhee, R.D.E., Gilbert, M.T., Kjaer, K.H., Orlando, L., Brochmann, C., Taberlet, P. 2014. Fifty thousand years of Arctic vegetation and megafaunal diet. Nature 506: 47-51.

So far the common image of much of the northern hemisphere during the latest Ice Age has been of a landscape dominated by grass steppe. The new results show this to be exaggerated. The landscape was far more diverse and dominated by protein-rich forbs. After the Ice Age the forbs became rarer and some of the large forb-eating mammals went extinct or near-extinct.

Severe climate changes put an extreme stress on animals and plants. After the Last Glacial Maximum the composition of the ecosystems changed. New kinds of vegetation invaded – but without the large herbivores following. When debating the impact of climate change one should not expect the return of the former ecosystems even though the climate change may be reversed.

Read more

Plant Ecology Lab welcomes visiting PhD student

February 2014

We welcome visiting PhD student Sara Valero Cervero. During her stay with plant ecology lab she is supervised by Maarja Öpik.

Sara studies diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in semiarid environments in Sierra de Baza Natural Park in Spain. Her supervisor is Dr. Conception Azcon-Aguilar (Estacion Experimental del Zaidin, CSIC, Granada, Spain).

The seminar of Plant Ecology Lab

February 2014

This year’s seminar of Plant Ecology Lab took place on February 10-11 in Narva-Jõesuu. Participants of the seminar gave talks about their current as well as forthcoming projects. In addition to members of Plant Ecology Lab, collaborating members from Plant Evolutionary Ecology workgroup and Mycology workgroup participated in the seminar.

Lab work in Brazil

January 2014

In the second half of January, our working group members Maret Gerz and Teele Jairus visited UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul) in Brazil. During their stay they analysed the root samples collected in December as a part of the pilot study.  

Lab work in Finland

January 2014

In the second half of January, our PhD student Lena Neuenkamp is going to visit Finnish METLA Forestry Research Institute. In cooperation with Dr Minna Männisto, she will use fatty-acid analyses to study if and how AM fungal abundance changes in alvar soils which are in different successional stages (see the gallery of the study sites). 

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