Department of Invasion Ecology

October 14, 2020

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The department was founded in 2005 as a result of on-going research at the Institute of Botany focused on alien plants introduced by humans. The research is performed in collaboration with leading experts in invasion ecology worldwide. It reflects the current state of the art of the field and is aimed at the currently most studied topics.

The department participates in pan-European projects focused on the research of alien and invasive plants. It contributed to the ALARM project and to building the DAISIE database. Currently it participates in the 7 FP project PRATIQUE. It also maintains CzechFlor, the database of flora of the Czech Republic, with emphasis on alien plants. The studies carried out in the department address theoretical principles of the invasion process, classification of alien plant species, macroecological aspects of plant invasions, habitat invasibility and the role of biological traits associated with invasiveness. Long-term attention has been paid to case studies of important invaders in Czech flora. The research combines field and experimental approaches with use of secondary data, including historical records, and GIS approaches.

Factors determining naturalization and spread of invasive species

Naturalization success of introduced species is determined by various factors. The outcome of invasion depends, besides on species invasiveness, on species residence time, propagule pressure, land-use, the level of human-induced disturbances and ecological, geographic and climatic conditions in the target area. These factors determine the diversity and composition of alien flora of the region. In the Department of Invasion Ecology, these issues have been addressed from a regional to global spatial scale within the framework of the DAISIE and ALARM projects of the EU 6 FP.

Invasiveness of alien plant species and invasibility of habitats

Traits advantageous during the invasion process and how they influence the result of the invasion process is explored using databases containing many species, but also original comparative field data. Recently, detailed data about the reproduction characteristics of many naturalized alien species have been collated. Also, invasibility of plant communities under various habitat conditions is the focus of ongoing research, based on field studies and database analyses; the National Phytosociological Database is used in collaboration with the Masaryk University, Brno.

Case studies of invasive species

The case studies focusing on individual alien species provide a key source of information necessary to detect mechanisms that lead to a successful invasion. Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) was studied within the framework of an EU 5 FP project GIANT ALIEN and the research continues even after the project has been completed. Studies comparing congeners are an important research tool used at the Department; the comparison of invasive and non-invasive congeners (Fallopia sp., Oeothera sp.) is an approach that at least partially filters out the variability associated with life form and phylogenetic position. Currently, the research is focused on species of the genus Impatiens. Experimental approaches, genetic analyses and field surveys are combined with information on historical aspects of particular invasions.

The Database of Alien Plants of the Czech Republic

The database of alien plants has been built and updated since 1999 and contains information on the current distribution, history of spread and biological and ecological traits of all alien species recorded in the Czech Republic since the beginning of botanical research in the early 19th century. Altogether, 1378 alien species are registered in the database, which represents about one-third of Czech flora. The database, which ranks among the most detailed in Europe, was partly implemented into the DAISIE database and used for analyses made for ALARM. The Department of Invasion Ecology has also produced a database of invasive woody species DAWIS.

DAISIE: European Alien Species Database

In 2005–2008, under the framework of the EU 6 FP project DAISIE the Department staff contributed to building a database of plant and animal species invasive to Europe. This database contains information on aquatic and terrestrial plants and invertebrate and vertebrate animal species alien to Europe, as well as data from 50 regions and information on approx. 11,000 species (www.europe-aliens.org). Members of the Department are involved in updating the database now that the project is complete.

Optics Laboratory

October 13, 2020

The optics laboratory was established in 1999 to ease the Institute’s Průhonice departments access to modern monitoring and analytical techniques in the area of microscopy. This workplace provides a broad range of electron and light microscopy monitoring methods, including fluorescence, Nomarski’s differential interference contrast, and phase or relief contrast. An image from microscopes or binocular magnifying glass is digitalized and then altered or analyzed; many methods, e.g., measuring, highlighting the sought-after structures in the images (e.g., chomosomes in cells, spores, mycorrhizal shapes), can be used. The laboratory also marginally deals with scanning and macrophotography (e.g., for digitalizing herbaria samples). In 2004 the laboratory expanded its activities to include scanning electron microscopy.

Electron microscopy

A Quanta 200 scanning electron microscope from the American-Dutch firm FEI enables us to observe and scan topographic samples in detail unattainable when magnified with light optics (resolution: up to 3.5 nm, magnification scale: maximum 50 000x for natural specimens with no coating). The laboratory especially specializes in visualizing, identifying or analyzing microstructures of the surfaces of biological substances (e.g., surface of leaves, seeds, roots of higher plants, fungal or lichen mycelia and spores or conidia), usually in their natural form, with no coating or other preparation. In addition to the standard high and low vacuum modes, the electron microscope can also provide ESEM technology (Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy) that enables researching non-conductive biological samples without coatings (water vapor saturated environment with pressure up to 2600Pa, cooling up to –20°C). With suitable sample cooling, even very fine and relatively easily damaged structures such as some lichen species or petals of vascular plants can be seen. The Institute of Botany is one of the first institutes in the Czech Republic to use ESEM in biological material research. Just as with the light microscopy images, ESEM images are also saved in digital form to enable further software editing and analyses.