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Picture: The photo shows an area of several square meters of flowering wood anemone, Latin Anemone nemorosa. In the upper right corner of the picture a part of a mossy tree root can be seen, which merges into the tree trunk

Anthropogenic environmental changes such as climate and land use change influence species and ecosystems. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for this is shifts in the timing of phenological events. Plants, for example, can change the onset, peak and duration of their flowering period. Such shifts in the flowering period can affect pollinators and other interacting organisms. Environmental changes also affect the genetic diversity of plants and can therefore have far-reaching consequences for their evolution.


Phenology I – Field observations: Influence of forest management

While the effects of climate change on flower phenology are well documented, knowledge about the effects of other global change factors such as land use is still scarce. In deciduous forests, forest management practices alter tree species composition and structure, and thus microclimate and light conditions, as well as their seasonal patterns. Therefore, we hypothesise that forest management influences the phenology of forest understorey herbs. To test this, we record the phenology of 20 typical early-flowering forest plants (see Fig. 1) on the 100 forest plots (EPs) of the Biodiversity Exploratories Hainich-Dün and Schwäbische Alb.

Picture: The collage contains twenty photos of spring-flowering plants that are common in the forest areas of the Hainich-Dün and Swabian Alb regions. The photos show specimens of the species Adoxa moschatelina, Alliaria petiolata, Allium ursinum, Anemone nemorosa, Anemone ranunculoides, Arum maculatum, Cordamine bulbifera, Euphorbia amygdaloides, Galium odoratum, Lathyrus vernus, Mercurials perennis, Oxalis acetosella, Paris quadrifolia, Polygonatum verticillatum, Primula elatior, Pulmonaria obscura, Stellario holostea, Ranunculus auricomus, Ranunculus ficaria and Viola reichenbachiana.
Fig. 1 The 20 forest understory plants investigated in our study. This selection includes all spring-flowering plants that are common in the forest areas of the Hainich-Dün and Schwäbische Alb regions

Phenology II – Herbaria: Influence of climate change

In order to determine possible long-term phenological changes, we will compare field data from the biodiversity exploratories with data from herbarium specimens of the same regions and species. Such historical long-term data from herbaria can be used to determine whether there are long-term (climate-related) shifts in the time of flowering.

Picture: The photo shows a sheet of paper on which dried specimens of wood anemone, Latin Anemone nemorosa, are attached. At the left edge of the picture, the graduation of an applied ruler can be seen. In the lower part of the sheet, a card containing information about the scientist who carried out the sampling is stuck on the left. At the very bottom right of the sheet, there is a sticker with handwritten information about the plant.
Fig. 2 Herbar Specimen © Franziska M. Willems

Genomics I – Method development

DNA from historical samples (ancient DNA, aDNA) is often highly degraded and exhibits chemical modifications that differ from fresh DNA. Due to these modifications, RAD (Restriction site Associated DNA) sequencing, which is based on fragmentation of DNA by enzyme restriction, is unsuitable for aDNA. In order to compare DNA from fresh and historical plant samples, we use RAD fragments as capture oligonucleotides for hybridisation with the aDNA (hyRAD-hybridisation capture). The genetic analyses are carried out for a subset of five species.

Picture: The photo shows a workroom in the Tubingense Herbarium. A young female scientist wearing latex gloves is standing at a table preparing to take a leaf sample for the extraction of D N A. The woman is looking at one of two sheets of paper in front of her on which dried plant samples of yellow anemone, Latin Anemone ranunculoides, are attached. Also on the table are a laptop that is switched on, three pens, a bowl with tweezers, a spray bottle, and individual cards with information on sample taking.
Fig. 3 Taking a leaf sample for DNA extraction from a herbarium specimen in the Herbarium Tubingense © Patricia Lang

Genomics II – Genetic diversity

We will then use this method to compare the genetic diversity of today’s plants in the forest understorey with that of their ancestors from the same regions, in order to determine whether there are long-term trends of a decrease in genetic diversity, and whether the intensification of forestry use has led to a decrease in genetic diversity.


Doc
Hybridisierungs ddRAD-sequenzierung mit stark degradierter DNA historischer Proben für Populationsgenomik von Nicht-Modellpflanzen
Lang P. L. M., Weiß C. L., Kersten S., Latorre S. M., Nagel S., Nickel B., Meyer M., Burbano H. A. (2020): Hybridization ddRAD-sequencing for population genomics of non-model plants using highly degraded historical specimen DNA. Molecular Ecology Resources 20 (5), 1228-1247. doi: 10.1111/1755-0998.13168
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Lang P. L. M., Willems F. M., Scheepens J. F., Burbano H. A., Bossdorf O. (2019): Using herbaria to study global environmental change. New Phytologist 221, 110-122. doi: 10.1111/nph.15401
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Effects of global change on plants: tracing the footprints of climate warming and land use from herbaria to forest understories
Auswirkungen des globalen Wandels auf Pflanzen: Spuren von Klimaerwärmung und Landnutzung in Herbarien und Wäldern
Willems F. M. (2021): Effects of global change on plants: tracing the footprints of climate warming and land use from herbaria to forest understories. Dissertation, University of Tübingen
Doc
Wald-Frühjahrsblüher blühen später in intensiv bewirtschafteten Wäldern
Willems F. M., Scheepens J. F., Ammer C., Block S., Bucharova A., Schall P., Sehrt M., Bossdorf O. (2021): Spring understory herbs flower later in intensively managed forests. Ecological Applications 31 (5), e02332. doi: 10.1002/eap.2332
More information:  doi.org

Scientific assistants

Prof. Dr. Oliver Bossdorf
Project manager
Prof. Dr. Oliver Bossdorf
Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Dr. Hernán A. Burbano
Project manager
Dr. Hernán A. Burbano
Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
Dr. Patricia Lang
Employee
Dr. Patricia Lang
Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology
Franziska Merle Willems
Employee
Franziska Merle Willems
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