Department of Experimental and Functional Morphology

Located in Třeboň, South Bohemia

Head: prof. RNDr. Jitka Klimešová, CSc.

People ׀ Projects ׀ Publications

Research topics

  • Disentangling the diversity of root sprouting vigor using data on hormonal balance in roots and root anatomy
  • Describing the economic spectrum of belowground coarse organs like rhizomes, thick roots, tubers, or bulbs and studying their persistence, anatomy, carbohydrate storage, and dry matter content
  • Assessing which functional traits promote plant persistence in insular systems
  • Examining disturbance responses by comparing clonal versus non-clonal plants
  • Investigating eco-physiological traits of aquatic carnivorous plants in relation to their growth, mineral nutrition, trap characteristics, and turion dormancy. 

The main research interest of our team are constraints that plant morphology is constituting for plant ecological functions. We test our ideas through manipulative experiments as well as using field assessments of plant traits and their distribution along environmental gradients.

In our studies, we use plant morphology, anatomy, and ecophysiology. To increase awareness of plant morphology and anatomy, we provide guidance in the form of databases, handbooks, and courses.

Selected recent results

1/ Hormonal imbalance is behind the advantageous but rare ability of root sprouting

Root sprouting is an advantageous but rare ability allowing clonal growth and regeneration after injury, even after fragmentation of the root system. This ability is typical of perennial weeds of arable land. In experiments with pairs of related plants differing in this ability, we confirmed the hypothesis that root sprouting species have a lower ratio of auxin to cytokinin than their relatives. However, most plants avoid this low ratio in order to avoid the risk of developmental deformations.

  • Martínková J., Klimeš A., Motyka V., Adamec L., Dobrev P. I., Filepová R., Gaudinová A., Lacek J., Marešová I. & Klimešová J. 2023: Why is root sprouting not more common among plants? Phytohormonal clues and ecological correlates. Environmental and Experimental Botany 205, 1 – 11. doi:10.1016/j.envexpbot.2022.105147
  • Martínková J., Motyka V., Bitomský M., Adamec L., Dobrev P. I., Filartiga A., Filepová R., Gaudinová A., Lacek J. & Klimešová J. 2023: What determines root-sprouting ability: Injury or phytohormones? American Journal of Botany 110, 1 – 12. doi:10.1002/ajb2.16102

Příbuzné rostliny lišící se schopností odnožovat z kořenů po narušení

Related plants differing in their ability to resprout from roots after disturbance. Above, a plant capable of branching from the roots, and below, a plant without this ability. A, D – plants before disturbance; B, E – plants in which the above-ground biomass was removed; C, F – plants regenerating after disturbance.


2/ Trash or treasure: Rhizome conservation during drought

We wanted to find out if plants recycle carbohydrates from dying rhizomes, because the amount of carbohydrates in the rhizome can significantly affect its decomposability and thus the carbon cycle in the soil. To answer this question, we set up an experiment with 8 rhizomatous species of herbs grown in a pot divided into two halves. We wanted to induce rhizome dieback by applying drought to the half of the pot containing the old rhizome parts (a method developed to obtain dead rhizomes and study their decomposition). We sampled the plants during the growing season and analyzed the content of stored carbohydrates. Rhizomes did not show signs of senescence and kept their stored carbohydrate contents unchanged. Plants protected their rhizomes during drought as an essential organ that can ensure their regeneration when the drought is over. It turned out that the classic method used to study the decomposition of rhizomes is not suitable, because it does not lead to their death and rather proves that the rhizome is a very important organ for the plant, which is not being to get rid of in case of stress.

  • Lubbe F. C., Bitomský M., Bartoš M., Marešová I., Martínková J. & Klimešová J. 2023: Trash or treasure: Rhizome conservation during drought. Functional Ecology 37, 2300 – 2311. doi:1111/1365-2435.14385

Pokusné rostliny ve skleníku Botanického ústavu v Třeboni.
Experimental plants in glasshouse of the Institute of Botany in Trebon.


3/ The hidden half of the fine root differentiation in herbs: nonacquisitive belowground organs determine fine-root traits.

Differences in fine root traits are generally thought to underlie the different ability of species to live in habitats with differing nutrient availability. The role of other belowground organs in this relationship was not yet known, so we investigated to what extent the traits of fine roots are determined by the type of belowground storage organs and/or clonal growth organs (e.g. rhizomes). Using phylogenetic comparative techniques, we found that economic traits, i.e. the shorter lifespan and faster growth rate of fine roots, are positively related to the increasing lifespan of of belowground storage organs and/or clonal growth organs (from monocots and species with stolons, through rhizomes to non-clonal perennial species). This shared continuum in root traits and belowground storage/clonal organs correlate with the environment where respective species occur. Fast-growing and short-lived roots and belowground storage organs and/or clonal growth organs can be found in productive and disturbed communities, while species with the opposite characteristics in non-productive habitats. This confirms that the lifespan of belowground storage organs and/or clonal growth organs influence the properties of roots in herbs.

  • Klimešová. J. & Herben, T. 2023: The hidden half of the fine root differentiation in herbs: nonacquisitive belowground organs determine fine-root traits. Oikos 2023, 1 – 10. doi:1111/oik.08794

Pořadí rostlin se zvyšující se délkou života kořenující jednotky od jednoletek a rostlin se stolony, přes oddenkaté po neklonální byliny.

Order of plants with increasing lifespan of rooting unit from annuals and stoloniferous through rhizomatous up to non-clonal perennials.


4/ The effect of moisture, nutrients, and disturbance on storage organ size and persistence in temperate herbs

Plants use their leaves and stems above the ground to get carbon for growth and maintenance, while surplus carbon store for later use in storage organs. Currently, plant storage has mostly been overlooked as part of the theory of plant growth strategies, therefore we only know little about how the size of storage responds to environmental and disturbance gradients. To fill this gap, we used images of rhizomes from over 200 species from the Clonal Plant Database (CLO-PLA) to measure the size and persistence of the storage organs and compared them to the environmental conditions each species lives in. Rhizome size was largest in wet conditions and smallest under frequent disturbance. Wetness and severe disturbance supported long rhizome annual increments, while high disturbance frequency supported short-lived rhizomes. We can therefore see two directions for storage organ strategy: (1) turnover along productivity and disturbance gradients and (2) volume along a plant size gradient.

This is the first analysis of relationship between storage and environment for more detail analyses, assessment of storage carbohydrates would be necessary.

  • Bartušková A., Lubbe F. C., Jiangiang Q., Herben T., & Klimešová J. 2022: The effect of moisture, nutrients and disturbance on storage organ size and persistence in temperate herbs. Functional Ecology 36, 314 – 325. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.13997

Morphological markers on belowground organs of stem origin that were used to assess organ size and persistence.


5/ Sticking around: Plant persistence strategies on edaphic islands

Species on islands are at high risk of extinction due to environmental changes, including global warming, land-use alterations, and invasions. At local scales, extinctions can be offset by strategies promoting in situ persistence. We explored how so far overlooked persistence-related traits of plants (those linked to belowground resource conservation, growth, size, and longevity) on edaphic islands respond to variation in insularity and the environment (soil and microclimate). More extreme insularity and soil conditions tended to promote plants with more conservative strategy. While clonal species responded consistently to variation in insularity and soil conditions, non-clonal plants showed distinct species-specific responses. These results imply that extinction risk due to environmental changes may differ in those two groups of plants.

  • Ottaviani G., Méndez-Castro F. E., Conti L., Zelený D., Chytrý M., Doležal J., Jandová V., Altman J. & Klimešová J. 2022: Sticking around: Plant persistence strategies on edaphic islands. Diversity and Distributions 28, 1850 – 1862. doi:10.1111/ddi.13586

Similarity of species characteristics of clonal (a) and non-clonal (b) plants on terrestrial islands.


6/ Insularity promotes plant persistence strategies in edaphic island systems

Theory of island biogeography predict number of species on islands in relation to their distance from mainland and on their size based on plant dispersal abilities and local speciation. Ability of a species to persist on an island is, however overlooked. On three European edaphic island systems we showed that insularity promotes and selects plant strategies to persist locally like more extensive clonal growth and at the same time reduce diversity of those strategies.

  • Conti L., Méndez-Castro F. E., Chytrý M., Götzenberger L., Hájek M., Horsák M., Jiménez-Alfaro B., Klimešová J., Zelený D. & Ottaviani G. 2022: Insularity promotes plant persistence strategies in edaphic island systems. Global Ecology and Biogeography 31, 753 – 764. doi:10.1111/geb.13465

Geographical location and landscape configuration of the three studied edaphic island systems in Europe.


7/ How does the intensity of management affect temperate grasslands?

Ecologists pay little attention to the underground part of the plant, and when they study it, they focus on the roots and their function in obtaining nutrients. However, plants also have other organs underground, in the case of herbs these are mainly rhizomes. The rhizomes contain carbon storage, ensure the horizontal spread of the plant, mediate the connections between the different parts of the clone and connect the fine roots and the aboveground plant parts. How much energy do meadow plants devote to these functions in the form of biomass invested in rhizomes? Can rhizome biomass be predicted using the plant traits of species occurring in the community? We tried to answer these and other questions by analyzing 52 meadow communities, which were either intensively or extensively managed. We found that the plant traits allow us to predict the distribution of plant community biomass only in extensively managed meadows. The reason was the low production of rhizomes in plants from intensively managed meadows and this could also be responsible for the change of ecosystem functions in case of too intensive management in grassland ecosystems. The loss of rhizomatous species and the associated loss of rhizome functions such as carbon sequestration in soil, clone integration and soil erosion protection can be a mechanism that leads to the degradation of intensively used grasslands in arid areas and deserve therefore further attention.

  • Klimešová J., Mudrák O., Martínková J., Lisner A., Lepš J., Filartiga A. L. & Ottaviani G. 2021: Are belowground clonal traits good predictors of ecosystem functioning in temperate grasslands? Functional Ecology 35, 787 – 795. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.13755
  • Ottaviani G., Lubbe F. C., Lepš J., Lisner A., Martínková J., Mudrák O. & Klimešová J. 2021: Strong impact of management regimes on rhizome biomass across Central European temperate grasslands. Ecological Applications 31, 1 – 5. doi:10.1002/eap.2317

Louky lišící se intenzitou obhospodařování.

Meadows with varying intensity of management. The intensity of management and the biomass of the rhizomes increase from the top to the bottom.


8/ Carbon storage in meadow plants and its relationship to plant economy

The concept of the plant’s economic spectrum, which is very popular in functional ecology, still lacks a link to carbon storage, and research has focused mainly on the photosynthetic efficiency of the leaf under conditions of varying resource availability. We tried to find out whether the properties of the leaves in which carbon is assimilated are coordinated with the properties of the underground organs of herbs in which carbon is stored. We used anatomical traits, morphological traits, and data on the type and concentration of storage carbohydrates to describe the properties of storage organs. Based on the analysis of 40 meadow species, we found that the economic traits of the leaves are weakly coordinated with the traits of the storage organs and that the two groups of traits are independent of each other and therefore represent independent strategies within the plant’s economic spectrum.

  • Lubbe F. C., Klimeš A., Doležal J., Jandová V., Mudrák O., Janeček Š., Bartušková A. & Klimešová J. 2021: Carbohydrate storage in herbs: the forgotten functional dimension of the plant economic spectrum. Annals of Botany 127, 813 – 825. doi:10.1093/aob/mcab014


Schéma možných vztahů mezi skupinami ekonomických vlastností listů a podzemních zásobních orgánů.

Scheme of possible relationships between economic leaf traits and traits of belowground storage organs.


9/ Evolution of clonal growth forms in angiosperms

Plants are propagated by seeds, however, many plants also propagate clonally using stolons, rhizomes or roots. Although clonality is common in plants, it has been paid little research attention; we do not know how it changed during evolution or what what functions it can provide. We sought this by phylogenetic analysis of approx. 3000 species of European flora. It showed great evolutionary flexibility of clonality. Plants thus can flexibly attain its functions when the environment requires it, and get rid of it just as easily.

Rozmanitost orgánů klonálního rozmnožování u rostlin
Diversity of clonal reproduction organs in plants. Plants can fairly easily switch among individual types of clonal reproduction, just as they can easily lose altogether or regain it back.

  • Herben, T.; Klimešová, J. (2020). Evolution of clonal growth forms in angiosperms. New Phytologist 225: 999–1010. doi: 10.1111/nph.16188


10/ How clonal and non-clonal plants cope with severe disturbance?

Generally, clonal plants are expected to deal with disturbance more successfully than non-clonal plants. It is because they have larger bud bank(from which new shoots are resprouting), and storage of carbohydrates (that fuels biomass reestablishment). In a garden experiment with 17 congeneric pairs differing by clonality, we applied various types of severe disturbance, for example cutting of aboveground parts, freezing and flooding. We found that both groups of plants have the same ability to regrow. Both groups, however, use specific strategies in coping with disturbance and this may lead to a different response later in their life. Clonal plants invest more energy to regenerating organs, non-clonal plants build more effective acquisitive ones, i.e. leaves and fine roots.

Skleníkový pokus studující strategie klonálních a neklonálních rostlin
Greenhouse experiment studying strategies of clonal vs non-clonal plants. Photo by J. Martínková

  • Martínková, J., Klimeš, A., Puy, J., & Klimešová, J. 2020. Response of clonal versus non-clonal herbs to disturbance: Different strategies revealed. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 44: 125529. doi: 10.1016/j.ppees.2020.125529
  • Martínková, J., Klimeš, A., & Klimešová, J. 2020. Young clonal and non-clonal herbs differ in growth strategy but not in aboveground biomass compensation after disturbance. Oecologia 193: 925–935. doi: 10.1007/s00442-020-04724-7


11/ Turions as a source of nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon for spring growth

Turions are dormant buds serving aquatic plants for overwintering, usually at the bottom of the water body. We investigated the content of resources needed for their spring regrowth and whether they differ according to ecological group of plants (carnivorous/non-carnivorous; rooting in depth/free floating, etc.) We found out that turions store preferentially starch that is partly consumed during winter. Turions are able to allocate about 40 % of total N and 60 % of total P to support the growth of new organs in spring. Photosynthetic pigment content is sufficient to ensure the high net photosynthetic rate of germinating turions. We did not support the hypothesis that storage of resources and their mobilization from turions differ among ecological groups of aquatic plants.

Zralé turiony bublinatky obecné
 Mature turions of common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) can be up to 25 mm large. Photo by L. Adamec

  • Adamec, L., Kučerová, A., & Janeček, Š. 2020. Mineral nutrients, photosynthetic pigments and storage carbohydrates in turions of 21 aquatic plant species. Aquat. Bot. 165: e103238. doi: 10.1016/j.aquabot.2020.103238