- Ecology and determinants of short- and long-term dynamics of grassland communities
- Aboveground herbivores and soil biota as drivers of performance of species and composition of natural communities
- Evolution of plant traits – clonality and other architectural traits and long-distance dispersal
- Plant structural-functional modelling seeking evolutionary implications of ecophysiology
- Ecology, population biology and genetics of polyploid systems and populations of rare species
- Epigenetic variation in ecology and evolution of plant populations
Selected recent results
1/ Evolution of the plant body in relation to drought
Natural selection by drought led plant vascular form to diversify in early evolution, as plants grew larger and spread on dry land. Network analysis of the conducting tissues of living, fossil, and idealised plants shows that drought acts to increase vascular complexity with plant size. This major reinterpretation of a key episode in plant evolution also answers the hundred-year-old question of their vascular complexity. It may find applications in breeding resistant crops.
- Bouda, M. Huggett, K. Prats, J. Wason, J. Wilson, C. Brodersen. (2022) Hydraulic failure as a primary driver of xylem network evolution in early vascular plants. Science. 378(6620): 642-646. doi: 10.1126/science.add2910
Fossilised stem of Dernbachia brasiliensis, a tree fern of the Permian (250-300 million years ago). Water-conducting tissue highlighted in blue. [© Ludwig Luthardt, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. CC-BY licence.]
2/ Evolution of phenotypic plasticity and survival of native species populations
A native forb changes evolutionarily in plasticity to shading, allowing it to persist under invasion-induced light stress.
- Dostál P. 2022: Evolution of plasticity prevents postinvasion extinction of a native forb. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America 119, 1 – 7. doi:10.1073/pnas.2118866119
Veronica chamaedrys, a native species surviving an exotic plant invasion thanks to rapid evolution. Author: Bff , CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9880652
3/ 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 functions it can provide. Phylogenetic analysis of ca 3000 species of European flora showed great evolutionary flexibility of clonality. Plants can thus flexibly attain its functions when the environment requires it, and get rid of it just as easily.
- Herben T. & Klimešová J. (2020). Evolution of clonal growth forms in angiosperms. New Phytologist 225: 999-1010. doi: 10.1111/nph.16188
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
4/ Fine-scale root community structure in the field: species aggregations change with root density
Plants are easier to study than animals as they do not move, but a (larger) half of their bodies is inaccessible being hidden in the soil and bearing no clear clues for identification. Specifically, assignment of roots into species in the field, a necessary condition for understanding how species interact, has long been an enigma. Still, these roots search for nutrients in the soil and respond to their concentrations, something that has been known only in culture conditions, but the true role of it in the field has been essentially unknown. We bypassed this obstacle by using quantitative Real-time PCR and identified them into species and determined their amounts. This permitted us to show a snapshot of root interactions in the field. Using it we showed that root interactions and physical aggregations change strongly with nutrient availability and overall root density: roots of all species are finely intertwined in the shallow soil which is nutrient-rich, but behave much more individualistically in deeper layers poor in nutrients.
- Herben T., Balšánková T., Hadincová V., Krahulec F., Pecháčková S., Skálová H., Krak K. (2020). Fine‐scale root community structure in the field: species aggregations change with root density. Journal of Ecology 108: 1738-1749. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.13372
5/ Nutrient-demanding species face less negative competition and plant-soil feedback effects in a nutrient-rich environment
Competition and plant-soil feedback (PSF) have negative effects on plant performance. These mechanisms control plant abundance and thus maintain the diversity of plant communities. Resource availability can modulate the strength of these mechanisms, but to a variable extent in different species. We showed that nutrient addition attenuated negative effects of competition and of PSF, but to a larger degree in species from nutrient-rich than nutrient-poor habitats, enhancing dominance of the former species.
- Klinerová T.& Dostál P. (2020). Nutrient‐demanding species face less negative competition and plant-soil feedback effects in a nutrient‐rich environment. New Phytologist 225:1343–1354. doi:10.1111/nph.16227
Results of this study were obtained using an extensive garden experiment including more than 40 grassland species.
6/ Evaluating the role of biotic and chemical components of plant-soil feedback of primary successional plants
The results of our pot experiment showed that early-successional species accumulate more pathogenic fungi in their soils than mid-successionals. The most frequent predictors of plant performance in these soils were the plant-induced changes in soil chemical properties, while soil fungal communities influenced plant germination.
- Kuťáková E., Meszárošová L., Baldrian P. & Münzbergová Z. (2020). Evaluating the role of biotic and chemical components of plant-soil feedback of primary successional plants. Biology and Fertility of Soils 56 (3): 345-358. doi: 10.1007/s00374-019-01425-z
7/ In vivo pressure gradient heterogeneity increases flow contribution of small diameter vessels in grapevine.
This study is the first to combine a 3D microCT reconstruction of a plant stem with MRI of water flow rates therein. It found that pressure gradients in the living plant redirect about a quarter of the theoretically expected flow from the widest vessels to their narrow neighbours. The result casts doubt on previous understanding of long-distance water transport in plants, with implications for the construction and evolution of stems, and applications towards breeding drought-resistant plants.
- Bouda M., Windt C. W., McElrone A. J. & Brodersen C. R. (2019). In vivo pressure gradient heterogeneity increases flow contribution of small diameter vessels in grapevine. Nature Communications: 10 (1) 1-10. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13673-6.
False colour image of flow rates (slow–blue to fast–red) projected onto 3D reconstruction of X-ray microcomputed tomography of grapevine (Vitis vitifera L.,var. Cabernet Sauvignon) xylem at 3.2μm resolution.
8/ DNA methylation as a possible mechanism affecting ability of natural populations to adapt to changing climate
We explored the importance of epigenetic variation studied as DNA methylation for species climatic adaptations. The results suggest that DNA methylation may modify the response of a clonal grass to moisture. DNA methylation may thus affect the ability of clonal plants to adapt to novel climatic conditions. Despite the significant interactions between population of origin and demethylation, our data do not provide clear evidence that DNA methylation enabled adaptation to different environments. In fact, we obtained stronger evidence of local adaptation in demethylated than in naturally-methylated plants. As changes in DNA methylation may be quite dynamic, it is thus possible that epigenetic variation can mask plant adaptations to conditions of their origin due to pre-cultivation of the plants under standardized conditions. This possibility should be considered in future experiments exploring plant adaptations.
- Münzbergová Z, Latzel V., Šurinová M., Hadincová V. (2019). DNA methylation as a possible mechanism affecting ability of natural populations to adapt to changing climate. Oikos, 128: 124-134. doi: 10.1111/oik.05591
9/ Linking species abundance and overyielding from experimental communities with niche and fitness characteristics
So far, the principal force shaping local plant abundance patterns remains unclear. Rarity can result not only from the poor competitive ability or from small vegetative or generative reproduction but also from strong self-limitation. The same mechanisms can drive species-specific overyielding, that is, increased species productivity at high community diversity. To test which of the mechanisms shapes local abundance and overyielding, we measured vegetative growth, competitive ability (competitive effect), and negative frequency dependence for 49 perennial grassland species from Central Europe. We then linked these characteristics with species abundance and with species-specific overyielding in the Jena Experiment. We found that species with smaller rates of vegetative growth (i.e. in species with smaller fitness) were also less abundant in the Jena Experiment. Larger species-specific overyielding was then associated with a stronger negative frequency dependence.
- Dostál P., Tasevová K. & Klinerová T. (2019). Linking species abundance and overyielding from experimental communities with niche and fitness characteristics. Journal of Ecology 107: 178-189. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13005