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! 

Post Doc & PhD student opportunity in plant canopy ecology and ecophysiology

If you are interested in understanding how climate change might affect forests and forest ecology come and join our Canopy Ecology & Ecophysiology Group at the University of Helsinki.

We are looking for a postdoc and/or PhD student to lead an exciting new project funded for 4 years by the Academy of Finland to study how forest and crop canopies use sunlight and how ecosystem processes in canopies might respond to climate change.

Postdoctoral Applicants should have completed their Ph.D. and be able to demonstrate;

  1. A proven ability to write timely high-quality research publications
  2. An understanding of plant ecophysiology and plant canopies
  3. Strong quantitative skills.

PhD Applications should express an interest in developing the above skills and have demonstrated high academic competence and research experience in a relevant area of plant biology.

Applications should include (preferable in a single pdf-file):
(1) a one-page expression of motivation and interest in the position,
(2) a CV,
(3) a list of their publications with the 3-5 most-relevant highlighted, and
(4) details of two referees who can be contacted to give academic references.

Interested applicants are encouraged to get more information about the position and research group from Matthew Robson (matthew.robson(at)helsinki.fi).

Please submit your application using the University of Helsinki Recruitment System via the link Apply for the position. “Apply

For technical support with the University of Helsinki Recruitment System, please contact recruitment(at)helsinki.fi. Applications should be submitted no later than September 1st, 2019. A six-month trial period will be applied

More details about the broader project

The project will assess canopy photosynthesis under diffuse vs. direct sunlight, considering how climate change will affect the amount and spectral quality of solar radiation in plant canopies. This change will have basic and applied implications for global net carbon assimilation and for crop production

The research will involve (1) field-based measurements of plant traits and sunlight in forest and crop canopies, (2) modelling photosynthesis in canopies under different light conditions, (3) controlled environment experiments to test how plants behave in different light environments manipulating the diffuse vs. direct factions of sunlight, (4) opportunities to collaborate with our academic research partners around the world.

Postdoctoral Position Specifications: The starting will be ca. 3200 – 3500 euros/month, depending on the appointees’ qualifications and experience.

Ph.D. Position Specification: In addition to partial funding from the research group, PhD applicants will be expected apply for extra funding through the University of Helsinki’s Doctoral Programmes. The starting salary of the doctoral student will be ca. 2200-2300 euros/month, depending on the appointees’ qualifications and experience.

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.

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.

Canopy photosynthesis in diffuse vs direct sunlight: implications under future climates

We’re delighted that the Academy of Finland has funded a new 4-year project from our group to study, Canopy level photosynthesis under conditions of diffuse and direct sunlight and its implications for light use efficiency by plants under future climates.

Both climate change and it potential solutions involving climate manipulations cause shifts in direct and diffuse sunlight that plant canopies receive (e.g. under clouds or aerosols). Photosynthesis at the whole-canopy scale is more efficient under diffuse than direct light; as diffuse radiation penetrates further into the canopy. But we lack knowledge of how canopies adjust to receiving diffuse radiation and the mechanisms as allow greater efficiency in light use.

Knowledge of canopy-level light use efficiency are of both ecological and practical value: these data provide input to models of global carbon assimilation and can be useful in crop improvement.

We will develop this project with collaborators:
Titta Kotilainen (LUKE senior scientist)
Pedro Aphalo  (OEB, University of Helsinki)
Anders Lindfors and Anu Heikkilä (FMI)
Sasha Madronich (National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA)
Otmar Urban (CzechGlobe)
Alexey Shapiguzov (OEB, University of Helsinki)
Sharon Robinson (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Erik Murchie (Nottingham Univ., UK)
Twinkle Solanki & Jon Atherton (University of Helsinki)


Effective supplementation of the sunlight available to plants in greenhouses

Large seasonal changes in sunlight and its spectral composition are challenging for greenhouse growers in commercial horticulture. This is particularly true for growers at high latitudes like Finland.

Better informing growers of the light environment within greenhouses throughout the year and how the of use of lamps with bespoke spectra, and output optimised for specific crop species, allows efficiency saving to be made.

Blue:green (B:G) ratio in sunlight , in a polytunnel and glass greenhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.

At GreenSys 2019 in Anger, France 16-20 June 2019, Titta Kotilainen will present our research showing how greenhouse lighting subjects plants to different light spectra for photosynthesis depending on the time of year and location of greenhouses.

Titta Kotilainen will discuss how better selection and management of the light environment, through greenhouse materials, shade screens and insect nets, and appropriate lighting, improves crop yield and reduces energy costs.

  • Robson TM, Kotilainen TK. (2018) Transmittance of spectral irradiance by climate screens and nets used in horticulture and agriculture (Version 1.1.1) [Data set]. Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1561317
  • Kotilainen TK, Robson TM, Hernández R. (2018) Light quality characterization under climate screens and shade nets for controlled-environment agriculture. PLoS ONE 13(6): e0199628. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199628

Range‐wide variation in local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity of fitness‐related traits

Last year, we published a database of traits from European beech provenance trials; the most extensive set of such data to be collected (Robson, Benito-Garzon et al, 2018 Scientific Data), and earlier this year provided a road map of how to use these sort of trait data in Species Distribution Model to predict responses to climate change (Benito-Garzon et al., 2019 New Phytologist). So it’s fitting that Homero Garate, working with Marta Benito-Garzon in Bordeaux in collaboration with us, should give a practical illustration of the application of these models to this data set, presented here in a new paper just out in Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Spatial projections of vertical growth (cm) for (a) vertical‐radial growth model and (b) vertical growth‐leaf flushing models

The paper entitled, Range‐wide variation in local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity of fitness‐related traits in Fagus sylvatica and their implications under climate change, quantifies local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity of vertical and radial growth, leaf flushing and survival across the species range to estimate the contribution of each trait towards explaining occurrence.


The place of spectral composition among cues controlling tree phenology

In this review, just out in Tree Physiology, we assess the literature researching how the composition of UV, blue, and red/far-red regions of the spectrum affect bud burst and leaf senescence  phenology.

The role of plant photoreceptors in detecting diurnal shifts in spectral composition

The effect of climate change on phenology is a strong determinant of fitness. But shifts in the timing of annual events and the polewards displacement of species ranges both have the potential to interfere with the interactive control of phenology by temperature and photoreceptor-mediate processes.  This dictates that to anticipate plant responses to climate changes, we must gain an understanding the mechanisms underlying the role of spectral composition in phenology.

These ideas and more are explored in the Tree Physiology review article, Brelsford et al., 2019: The influence of spectral composition on spring and autumn phenology in trees. https://doi.org/10.1093/treephys/tpz026

Moving Forward in Plant-UV Research

Our new and comprehensive review and perspective on the future of plant-UV research assimilates the knowledge and insight across the breadth of plant science from researchers in UV4Plants Association. We hope that it will inspire researchers in their attempts to better understand plant responses to UV radiation and to put this knowledge to practical use.

Let us know what you think! Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences, 2019, DOI: 10.1039/C8PP00526E

How can we track long-term trends in solar UV-B irradiance?

Is there potential to apply our knowledge that  plant phenolic compounds respond to UV-B radiation to infer past changes in global solar UV-B irradiance?  This is the possibility that we explore in a Perspective paper just out in Photobiological & Photochemical Sciences.

Our collaborators from the University of Bergen in Norway and University of Innsbruck intend to test the potential for us to use fossilised pollen grains to do just that. By testing whether the UV-screening phenolics in the pollen of trees growing today tracks their exposure to UV-B radiation they will try to establish a mechanistic link that will allow past UV irradiances to be revealed in cores of fossilised pollen.

In this perspective piece we formulate a model for how this approach might be put into practice.