Research Group

Molecular Evolutionary Biology

Our molecular evolutionary and ecological research aims at understanding how organisms interact with their abiotic environment. In particular our research addresses the following questions: How do organisms adapt to their environment? Which genomic signatures are a result of environmental conditions? How do climatic factors influence the interaction of organisms and what role does the partner in a symbiosis and microbiomes play in this regard?

To study these questions we use comparative genomics, phylogenetics, population genetics and community ecology methods. We study lichens, i.e. a symbiosis of fungi, algae and bacteria as well as plant- and soil-based fungal communities.


Selected publications

Rolshausen G, Dal Grande F, Sadowska-Des AD, Otte J, Schmitt I (2018) Quantifying the climatic niche of symbiont partners in a lichen symbiosis indicates mutualist-mediated niche expansions. Ecography. Early view. DOI: 10.1111/ecog.03457.

Dal Grande F, Rolshausen G, Divakar P, Crespo A, Otte J, Schleuning, M, Schmitt I (2018) Environment and host identity structure green-algal communities in lichens. New Phytol 217: 277-289.

Singh G, Dal Grande F, Divakar P, Otte J, Crespo A, Schmitt I (2017) Fungal-algal association patterns in lichen symbiosis linked to macroclimate. New Phytol 214: 317-329



Prof. Dr. Imke Schmitt
Professor, Deputy Director 'Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre', Head of Research Group 'Molecular Evolutionary Biology'

Research interests

My primary research interest is the evolution of symbiotic organisms, in particular those that form partnerships with fungi. I have been using phylogenetics and comparative phylogenetics to analyze the evolutionary history of lichen-forming fungi and their characters. Since many fungal groups produce a wide variety of secondary metabolites, I am also interested in exploring the potential of phylogenetic methods in natural product chemistry to understand the evolution of chemical characters and biosynthetic genes. Currently my lab is studying the effects of climate change on the assembly of fungal communities associated with plant leaves and roots using next generation sequencing approaches. We want to find out, if the composition of symbiotic fungal communities affects local adaptation of the plants. My work integrates a variety of disciplines, such as molecular phylogenetics, systematics, natural product chemistry, and metagenomics.






Dr. Francesco dal Grande
Postdoctoral, Researcher Member of Research Group 'Molecular Evolutionary Biology'

Research interests

Effects of climate change on lichen-forming fungi and their photobionts:reactions of species/communities, diversity and stress-protective role of secondary metabolites.

Co-Phylogeography of lichen symbionts: selectivity and specifity in lichen communities, vertical vs. horizontal photobiont transmission.

Molecular phylogenetics of green algal lichen symbionts.

Secondary metabolites of fungal and algal lichen symbionts: annotation and analysis of secondary metabolite biosynthesis gene clusters in lichen genomes.


Winner of the “Mason Hale Award”; IAL (International Association for Lichenology): “The Mason Hale Award is granted to recognise excellence in research by young lichenologists for outstanding work resulting from doctoral dissertations or similar studies.”

Dr. Gregor Rolshausen
Postdoctoral Researcher, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Evolutionary Biology'

External Links

Dr. Jürgen Otte
Head of laboratory
Anna Sadowska-Des
PhD student