Senckenberg Research








17. January 2018, 3.30 - 6.00 pm



Dr. Alfredo Garcia, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Mósteles, Spain

Local adaptation in peripheric populations in mountains as a response to climate change


Shira Penner, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel

Adaptation to stress in Brachypodium along the aridity gradient in Israel

Shira Penner

Climate change is troubling for plants, due to increasing drought conditions. As current knowledge regarding evolutionary potential of plants to mitigate climate change is limited, more research is needed. Therefore, I am utilizing the natural variation in plants growing along the aridity gradient in Israel, from Mediterranean to extreme desert climates, in order to understand adaptation to future aridity.
The crop model plant Brachypodium grows naturally along the aridity gradient in Israel. It comprises of three annual species differ by chromosome numbers and ploidy levels. We are using plants collected from >20 natural Brachypodium populations along the whole aridity gradient and determined their ploidy level using Flow Cytometry (FACS). Surprisingly, genome size was not associated with increased aridity, as fraction of polyploids was not associated with precipitation. In a common-garden experiment we found evidence that flowering time is a key trait in (pre-) adaptation to aridity, and that populations under long-term drought conditions are putatively more adapted to cope with future aridity. Here, again, ploidy level was not associated with phenotypic adaptation to aridity:  no significant difference in phenotype between diploids and polyploids was found across all populations.In order to directly test for the effects of ecological factors on adaptation to drought in Brachypodium spp., we performed a controlled watering experiment in the Botanical Garden and a reciprocal experiment in Mediterranean and arid sites. In addition to test for pre-adaptation to climatic conditions and local adaptation (home vs. away advantages), we also tested for community effect (i.e., competition) on survival and performance of plants from all across the gradient, both diploids and polyploids. Results from these two ecological experiments show that adaptation to the original climate, rather than ploidy level, affects fitness and phenology under the combination of drought (a-biotic) and competition (biotic) stresses. These findings reinforce our previous results that suggested no association of ploidy level and phenotype across the gradient and support the hypothesis of pre-adaptation to local climatic conditions.

Overall, this study indicates that phenotypic pre-adaptation to drought may exist and that genome doubling is not necessarily a genomic mechanism underlying drought tolerance.


Prof. Imke Schmitt, Senckenberg BIK-F, FFM, Germany

Climate adaptation in species interactions: environmental genomics of the lichen symbiosis

Imke Schmitt, Francesco Dal Grande, Gregor Rolshausen

Decoding the impact of climatic conditions on species interactions, not just individual species, is essential to understanding complex ecological responses to climatic changes. Here, we selected the lichen symbiosis, a closely interacting mutualistic consortium, to investigate climate responses of the different symbiotic partners at the molecular level. The long-term goal is to use this system to contribute to our understanding of community interactions under climate change. Lichens are multipartite symbiotic consortia consisting of a primary fungal partner, photosynthetic symbionts (green algae and/or cyanobacteria), and associated communities of third-party fungi and bacteria. We hypothesize that all components of this “miniature ecosystem” respond to climatic factors, and that specific combinations of involved partners allow environmental adaptation of the lichen holobiont. We present initial results, as well as planned research on genomic adaptation of primary fungal partners and photobionts in the lichen symbiosis along altitudinal gradients.


Dr. Ruth Müller, Goethe University Frankfurt & PoloGGB Terni, Italy

Cold tolerance of Aedes albopictus along an altitudinal gradient in Nepal and associated epitype, genotype, physiotype and morphotype

Isabelle Kramer, Parbati Phuyal, David A. Groneberg, Ulrich Kuch, Meghnath Dhimal, Ruth Müller

Aedes albopictus mosquito belongs to the world’s most feared mosquito species with high social and medical importance because it transmits three of the most important arthropod-borne dengue (DENV), chikungunya (CHIKV) and zika (ZIKV) viruses.
The ecological plasticity of the mosquito A. albopictus to rapidly produce low-temperature phenotypes after introduction to temperate zones has been identified as a key trait for the successful establishment of this species in cooler habitats. The eggs of A. albopictus are the most cold resistant life stage and thus, the cold hardiness of eggs is used to predict the future occurrence of the species in distribution models.
We aim to analyse the potential association of cold hardiness and morphological and epigenetic plasticity in A. albopictus eggs in order to better understand the rapid adaptation of this originally tropical to subtropical species to cooler ecoregions (such as Germany). A. albopictus eggs were collected in Nepal along a climatic gradient which serves as surrogate for climate change. Here we present the ongoing epigenetic and genetic, morphological and physiological research on this egg material.
The anticipated understanding of the mosquito´s biology by means of field and experimental research will bring a lot of benefit for an advanced vector prevention and control and hence for an advanced public health in both, Nepal and Europe.


 Meklit Asefa Gebre, Minstry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, Adis Abab, Ethiopia

Comparing the Nutrient Uptake of Amaranthus hybridus subsp. cruentus and Hordeum vulgare L. on Different Soil Types

Meklit Asefa Gebre

The purpose of this study was to compare the nutrient uptake of Amaranthus cruentus and Hordeum vulgare on different soil types at Ziway. Minerals are essential for human nutrition and plant growth and development.  Nutrient concentration in plants varies in many factors, including soil types. The impact of soil types on nutrient accumulation in amaranth and barley grown in high and medium productive soils and low or poor soil was studied. Treatments were laid out in factorial experimental design and replicated four times. Leaf samples both Amaranthus cruentus and Hordeum vulgare were collected at 50% flowering stage and analyzed for their macro- and micronutrient content. The collected data was subjected to ANOVA. Significant difference between the means were separated using t test at p<0.05. The results showed that the nutrient uptake of both Amaranthus cruentus and Hordeum vulgare increased with increasing order of soil productivity, high productive soil followed by medium productive soil and low productive soil. The contents of TN, P, Fe, Zn and Cu of amaranth grown in high productive soil, medium productive soil and poor soil were higher than those in barley grown in soils of similar productivity. On the other hand, the contents of Mn in amaranth  grown in high productive soil, medium productive soil  and poor soil were lower than those in barley grown in the same soils and differences were  significant (p<0.05).


Dr. Jan-Peter George, Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests (BFW), Vienna, Austria

Adaptation to drought in conifers: can we utilize the intra-specific variation in growth response?

Jan-Peter George


Dr. Alice Dennis, University of Potsdam, Germany

Alternative cold-tolerance strategies in New Zealand stick insects

Alice B. Dennis, Brent J. Sinclair and Thomas R. Buckley


Noemí López-González, Universidad de Salamanca, Spain

Living in bioclimatic transitional zones: Does polyploidy drive ecological range shifts in Veronica tenuifolia ssp. javalambrensis?

Noemí López-González

Background. Polyploidy has played an important role in the evolution and diversification of many lineages of vascular plants. It has been associated with speciation and adaptation processes due to the potential capability to produce shifts in morphology, breeding system, and ecological tolerance, which may have also an influence on the geographic ranges of taxa.
Methods. A thorough sampling was carried out across the distribution range of Veronica tenuifolia ssp. javalambrensis. Ploidy level was analyzed using flow cytometry and the present cytotype distribution patterns were described. As a way to preliminary evaluate whether ecological divergence between cytotypes exists, potential associations among cytotypes and several bioclimatic variables were investigated using multivariate analysis techniques.
Results and discussion. Although most individuals are diploids, a few populations composed only of (most probably auto-)tetraploids and/or with mixed-ploidy (2x-4x) were discovered. These populations are restricted to climatic contact zones (Mediterranean-Temperate), that have been already described as “hot-spots of polyploid and hybrid records” within the Mediterranean Region. Moreover, three distinct population groups were found, each one linked with different bioclimatic features. The occurrence of the tetraploid level is associated with high precipitation levels, low temperatures and low seasonality.


Prof. Jean-François Flot, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

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Maike Herrmann, University Koblenz-Landau, Germany

Population divergence and thermal selection: Combining reverse ecology and population transcriptomics

Maike Herrmann, Suda Parimala Ravindran, Klaus Schwenk and Mathilde Cordellier

The discovery of the genetic basis underlying local adaptation is complicated by the diversity and interplay of forces influencing genetic divergence among populations. To assess the contribution of thermal selection to population divergence, we combined reverse ecology and population transcriptomic approaches, thereby considering transcriptome-wide variation in both gene expression profiles and DNA sequences. Based on an extensive literature search for candidate genes possibly under thermal selection in arthropods and a comparison of transcriptomes among four Daphnia galeata populations, we identified transcripts potentially responding to local thermal selection.
Temperature-relevant candidate genes were overrepresented among transcripts strongly contributing to sequence divergence among two populations; indicating that local thermal selection acted on the coding sequence level. Based on outlier tests and distinctive expression profiles, we identified a large number of transcripts which may contribute to local thermal adaptation. Temperature-relevant candidate genes were, however, not overrepresented among these, compared to the global gene set; suggesting that thermal selection played a minor role in divergence among Daphnia populations. Interestingly, the affected gene functions were largely consistent between the two data sets, although the majority of genes contributing strongly to sequence divergence did not contribute strongly to divergence at the expression level and vice versa. Thus, we conclude that genetic and regulatory variation constitute alternative routes for responses to natural selection. Our combination of literature-based identification of ecologically informative candidate genes and a population transcriptomics approach represents a powerful methodology with a wide range of applications in evolutionary biology.


Dorte Janussen, Senckenberg, Germany

Biodiversity of deep - sea glass sponges (Hexactinellida) from polymetallic nodule fields in the Clarion - Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ), NE Pacific

Daniel Kersken, Dorte Janussen, Pedro Martinez

Up-to-date knowledge on deep-sea glass sponges (Hexactinellida) from the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) in the northeastern Pacific is scarce and needs to be extended as the CCFZ is the world’s largest potential deep-sea mining area for polymetallic nodules. Framework of this project is the European Joint Programming Initiative Oceans (JPIO) which also focuses on the “ecological aspects of deep-sea mining”. During the expedition SO239 EcoResponse, 68 megabenthic deep-sea sponges of 18 morphotypes and 35 species were collected in depths from 1700 to 5000 m, by deployment of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Main objective of this project is the establishment of a picture-based species catalogue. Therefore, we study the taxonomy and phylogeny of deep-sea hexactinellids. Furthermore, we focus also on annotation of deep-sea megafauna analyzing ROV transect videos, perform C14 radiocarbon age dating of glass sponges and plan to compare the CCFZ in the northeastern Pacific with the DISCOL area in the southern Pacific.