Undergrad and Masters Projects

  1. Do under-canopy changes in the sunlight reaching northern forests provide a novel niche for species to exploit?

The leaves of trees absorb light from particular parts of the solar spectrum, meaning that sunlight reaching the forest floor has a novel spectral composition.  Have particular species of lichens and plants adopted a form of photosynthesis that can exploit the shift in light resources under canopies?

  • Bartels & Chem (2010) Ecology, 91(7), 1931–1938 doi 10.1890/09-1376.1
  • Nybakken et al., Oecologia (2004) 140: 211–216 doi 10.1007/s00442-004-1583-6
  • Williams et al., New Phytologist (2014)202: 1267–1276 doi: 10.1111/nph.12750

This project will co-supervised by Juoko Rikkinen and Saara Hartikainen in addition to Matthew Robson.


  1. Does UV radiation affect the timing of germination and initiation of flowering in plant species?

In the spring-time, as well as longer days, plants in favourable sites often receive more solar UV radiation than in the winter.  This UV radiation is a potentially important cue for development, and particularly for those plants with UV nectar guides in their flowers this is also importance for pollination. However the relationship between development and UV requires more investigation.

  • Hulber et al., (2010) Functional Ecology 24 245–252 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2009.01645.x
  • Kudo et al., (2008) Ecology, 89(2), 321–331. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/06-2131.1


  1. Does the light environment where plant species grow and the colour vision of pollinators affect flower colour along environmental gradients?

For effective pollination, flowers must be visible to their pollinators. For example, light environments are depleted in red under canopies so red flowers may not be very visible and are not often found in such environments. The timing of flowering in plant species with different coloured flowers may be influenced by their light environment and the pollinators that visit them.  Furthermore, if spectral cue interact with temperature changes, climate change may interfere with the synergetic ecological relationships between plants and flowers by causing a mismatch in their phenology.

  • Théry (2001) Plant Ecology 153: 251–261 doi: 10.1023/A:1017592631542
  • Sargent & Ackerly (2008) Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23 123-130 doi:10.1016/j.tree.2007.11.003


  1. How does plant perception of the light environment over different parts of the solar spectrum interact to produce different plant phenotypes?

Plants are known to have photoreceptors for blue (cryptochrome & phototropin), red:far-red (phytochrome) and UV (uvr8) light. Following perception, each photoreceptor is responsible for a response pathway. However, plants don’t naturally receive single colours of light, so what happens in photomorphogenesis when different spectra of light induce competition among these response pathways?

  • Boccalandro et al 2012. Plant Physiology 158 1475–1484 doi/10.1104/pp.111.187237
  • Goya et al. 2013 Trends in Plant Sci 17 393 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2013.03.002
  • Robson et al 2014 Plant Cell and Env. doi: 10.1111/pce.12374


  1. How much of the variability in a species is within populations and how much is among populations?

This is one of the fundamental questions in the field of functional genomics.  If most genetic variability occurs within populations, a populations is more likely to hold adaptive traits to cope under various environments. Whereas for in which genetic variability is primarily among populations are likely to show local adaptation, and lower dispersal. These factors determine phenoptyic plasticity, range shift and vulnerability to climate change.

  • Aranda et al. 2015 Tree Physiology 1-13 doi:10.1093/treephys/tpu101
  • Savolainen et al. 2007 Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 38:595–619.
    doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.38.091206.095646


  1. How far does UV radiation penetrate into a leaf?

The upper epidermis of plant leaves contains UV-absorbing compounds, flavonoids, which help to prevent UV from reaching the valuable mesophyll layers.  Over the past 20 years the techniques used to investigate the extent of light penetration into leaves have changed, and there are now contradicting reports of how much UV radiation penetrates the leaf.  The answer to this ecophysiological question has important implications for our interpretation of all UV photobiology research.

  • Day et al. 1994 Plant Physiology 92, 207-2018. DOI: 10.1111/j.1399-3054.1994.tb05328.x
  • Barnes et al., 2015 Plant Physiological and Biochemistry doi:10.1016/j.plaphy.2014.11.015
  • Barnes et al., 2014 Physiologia Plantarum doi: 10.1111/ppl.12025


  1. Are there familial and elevational relationships in the UV protection of plant species?

Various hypotheses exist as to the trends in UV protection among plant species.  Some researchers speculate that functional groups of plant are most similar, while others think that taxonomic relationships are more important. Alternatively, the habitat of origin, or the habitat of growth may be the most important factors. As yet, a convincing case to support one of these hypotheses over another is yet to be presented.

  • Agate et al., (2013). Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2013.03.014
  • Bornman et al., (2015) Photochem. Photobiol. Sci., 14, 88-107 DOI: 10.1039/C4PP90034K
  • Gwynn-Jones et al., (1999) Book Chapter: The responses of plant functional types to enhanced UV-B radiation, in The effects of enhanced UV-B radiation on terrestrial ecosystems (Ed. J. Rozema), pp 173-185.
  • Koes et al, (1994) Bioessays, 16(2):123 – 132. DOI: 10.1002/bies.950160209

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