Long-Term Ecological Research into plant UV adaptation high in the French Alps

Santa Neimane and Twinkle Solanki recording diurnal patterns in leaf optical properties of alpine plants under UV filters

We spent the last two weeks of May 2019 at the Station Alpin du Lautaret in the French Alps, which has been designated a Research Platform for long-term ecological studies under the framework of Horizon 2020 Transnational Access – who funded our research visit through the French National Centre for Scientific Research, CNRS.

 

Pedro J Aphalo measures solar radiation; to better understand how reflection from the snow pack affects exposure of plants in the environment.

 

 

Our team of researchers, collaborating with José Ignacio García Plazaola and Beatriz Fernandez-Marin from the University of the Basque-Country, to study how plants response to the steep increases in UV radiation that they receive on emergence from under snow cover in spring.

You can read about our finding in Physiology Plantarum following this link: Full Text Access

By characterising the patterns of response to UV radiation in terms of the photoprotection and UV-screening of plants across a diversity of species, we hope to better understand how and why these response evolved and what environmental cues underpin their induction.

Fitness of beech seedlings growing in Finland

We tested how European beech seedlings from across Europe respond to manipulations of light and watering conditions during the growing season in Finland. Our recent paper in Trees: Structure & Function reports on differences among populations receiving combinations of drought, and sun or shade conditions, including gas exchange, water relations, and UV-abs compounds in the leaf epidermis.

Beech seedlings under drought (front) & well watered (back) treatments.

Wang F, Israel D, Ramírez-Valiente J-A, Sánchez-Gómez D, Aranda I, Aphalo PJ, Robson TM. (2021) Seedlings from marginal and core populations of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) respond differently to imposed drought and shade. Trees Structure and Function, 35, 53-67.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s00468-020-02011-9

 

Photodegradation contributes to forest leaf litter decomposition

Qing-Wei Wang and Marta Pieriste inspecting leaf-litter decomposition filters in the understorey site of a Japanese beech forest

The contribution of photodegradation to litter decomposition in a temperate forest gap and understorey

In a study recently published in New Phytologist with our collaborator Qing-Wei Wang, we found that the spectral composition of light in a forest gap and understorey through the year affected the rate of photodegradation of senescent leaf litter material across a variety of native plant species. This finding that photodegradation plays an important role in forest litter decomposition has potentially far-reaching consequences, and could partially explain the hole in the carbon budget in this ecosystem.

Wang QW, Pieristè M, Kenta T, Liu C, Robson TM, Kurokawa H (2020) Photodegradation enhances litter decomposition modulated with canopy openness in a temperate forest. New Phytologist. NPH17022 https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17022

Enhanced decomposition can occur through direct photochemical mineralisation, but in temperate forests effects of increased temperature and the availability of substrates for microbial decompositions can be even more important. These actions of photofacilitation are highly wavelength dependent and the subtilties of these responses can only be identified through very large scale experimental manipulations of sunlight, as was done in this ambitious experiment.

Surviving on the Edge

We are grateful to a grant  from HiLIFE Grand Challenges, Biological Resilience Seed Funding, allowing us to start work on the project: Surviving on the edge – trait syndromes that facilitate northerly species-range expansion.

This project will allow us to utilise a unique field-trial of Fagus sylvatica (European beech) at the University of Helsinki – far beyond the north-eastern limit of its range. Using such trials, we can compare the traits of populations in  new potentially stressful environments, giving us the tools to forecast how they will respond to climate change and potentially exploit more northerly regions of Europe.

In addition to field data, the project will test how trait information can be inserted into species distribution models. We will bring together experts in the field from Helsinki and beyond, to discuss how best to develop such models to provide informed forecasts of future species distributions. Armed with this knowledge, we will consider how policy makers, foresters, and conservation bodies might utilise this information in their work.

Newly thinned Helsinki beech-provenance trial in May 2020; with four populations covering the European range limits.

Do UV-radiation and blue light have a role in photodegradation affecting decomposition in Finnish forests over winter

The rate of decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor controls the thickness of the litter layer and nutrient recycling within the ecosystem. Decomposition is well known to depend on moisture and temperature which hasten both the microbial and non-microbial breakdown of leaves following their autumn senescence.

In this paper, just accepted in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry we test the extent to which light plays a role in the decomposition of autumn leaves. Photodegradation, the process by which sunlight accelerates decomposition, has typically been considered important only in dry environments. However, Santa Neimane and Marta Pieristè found in this experiment that it can also participate in decomposition during winter and spring prior to forest canopy closure.

The paper also considers how photodegradation acts on leaves of silver birch and European beech. Using spectrally selective filters over leaf litter in the understorey of different stands in Viikki arboretum and under controlled conditions, the distinct roles of UV radiation and of blue light, which facilitates microbial colonisation could be identified.

The experiment also exploited natural UV filters found in the epidermis of leaves as a means to see whether screening UV-radiation from the mesophyll when leaves are orientated with their upper-face upwards would affect the rate of photodegradation.

This research formed part of Santa Neimane’s undergraduate thesis on Erasmus exchange in Helsinki. It complements the subsequent long-term study of decomposition in a temperate beech forest published this summer, Pieristè et al. 2019, which considers the dynamics of photodegradation in leaves of tree species spanning a continuum of succession.

Read more in the papers:

Pieristè M, Neimane S, Nybakken L, Solanki T, Jones AG, S, Forey E, Chauvat M, Ņečajeva J, Robson TM. (2020) Ultraviolet radiation accelerates photodegradation under controlled conditions but slows the decomposition of leaf litter from forest stands in southern Finland. Accepted in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. PLAPHY5920. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2019.11.005

Pieristè M, Chauvat M, Kotilainen TK, Jones AG, Aubert M, Robson TM, Forey E. (2019) Solar UV-A radiation and blue light enhance tree leaf litter decomposition in a temperate forest by accelerating photodegradation rate. Oecologia, 191(1), 191-203. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04478-x

Understanding plants’ readiness to grow beneath the snowpack

A quick start to the growing season for plants emerging from the snowpack can provide them with a fitness dividend in locations where the summer is short.

In our latest paper, Transmission of ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared solar radiation to plants within a seasonal snow pack, just out in a Special Issue of PPS devoted to plant UV responses, we measured how much sunlight plants receive under snow and how the properties of the snowpack affect the irradiance spectrum.

Changes in the spectral composition of light under the snowpack may help plants perceive the onset of spring and physiologically prepare for exposure to the full sunlight and cold temperatures they will experience once they emerge.

This field work involved spending some very cold clear days hiding in deep snowpacks! 

Springtime recovery of Vaccinium vitis-idaea leaves above and below the snow pack

In Arctic and alpine environments warming temperatures are expected to result in longer growing seasons and to encourage growth, but snow will melt faster and more will fall as rain. This means that the protective winter blanket of snow cover may no longer be present to hide plants from the extremes of cold that periodically occur. Whether plants can overcome this paradox to benefit from the increased sunlight and warmth above the snow, while resisting the greater fluctuations in temperature, will depend on their physiological capacity to cope with the changing conditions.

Is the paper, Solanki et al., 2018, published in a special issue of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry on UV-cross protection, we explore the ecophysiological response of Vaccinium hummocks to snow cover over the course of a year in central Finland.

Twinkle Solanki taking Dualex measurements in central Finland

We focus on the role played by UV-absorbing compounds in protection against high light and low temperature combinations as shoots emerge from under snow in the early spring.

Solanki T. et al., 2018 UV-screening and springtime recovery of photosynthetic capacity in leaves of Vaccinium vitis-idaea above and below the snow pack Plant Physiology and Biochemistryhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2018.09.003

Allocation to root growth can determine the survival of Mediterranean oaks during seasonal drought

The range of Holm oak (Quercus ilex), green; cork oak (Q. suber), purple; and their overlap, brown. Circle sample site, and triangle the field experiment.

Complex trade-offs in allocation to growth can determine the success of oak species where their ranges overlap.

This is highlighted by our paper Ramírez-Valiente et al., (2018), where higher root investment under seasonal drought by cork oak gave it an advantage over Holm oak, despite our prior expectations that the latter species is more drought tolerant.

Acorns germinating under controlled conditions prior to planting in the experimental plot

José-Alberto Ramírez-Valiente, Ismael Aranda, David Sanchéz-Gómez, Jesús Rodríguez-Calcerrada, Fernando Valladares, T Matthew Robson; Increased root investment can explain the higher survival of seedlings of ‘mesic’ Quercus suber than ‘xeric’ Quercus ilex in sandy soils during a summer drought, Tree Physiology, , tpy084, https://doi.org/10.1093/treephys/tpy084

Remotely monitoring seed fall in beech stands

Following on from the publication of our database on the network of European beech trials in Scientific Data earlier this month, I spent last week with Marta Benito-Garzon & Santa Neimane in one UK trial testing a new approach to monitoring beechnut production.

A seed trap installed in Little Wittenham trial, Oxfordshire. Seeds falling through the tube are automatically recorded and the information relayed back to a central computer

The prototypes will be deployed over this autumn and then optimized to register only falling seeds, not leaves or other objects, by validating the beechnut counts against the number of seeds caught in the bags beneath.

Once perfected the electronic monitoring system, designed by Marta Benito-Garzon (INRA Bordeaux) will allow researchers to follow the timing of autumn seed dispersal in real time from the comfort of their offices!