Current research

Patterns and drivers of cryptogam and vascular plant diversity in glacier forelands

New research on the factors determining the diversity of cryptogams and vascular plants in the Svalbard glacier forelands was recently published by employees of our Institute in the prestigious journal of Science of the Total Environment. Despite the differences between the studied organism groups, similar factors influenced their diversity, cove and distribution, including distance to the glacier terminus, selected physio-chemical substrate properties, and time elapsed after glacier retreat. Contrary to previous findings, the diversity and cover of cryptogams in the forelands were not limited by competition from vascular plants. Results showed that vascular plant cover positively influenced the diversity and cover of cryptogams. This indicates the existence of complex species relationships and the coexistence of species dependent on each other between these distinct groups even in initial and relatively simple communities of Svalbard forelands.

More information:
Wietrzyk-Pełka P. et al. 2021. Patterns and drivers of cryptogam and vascular plant diversity in glacier forelands. Science of the Total Environment 144793.

The improvement of common buckwheat yield

The international journal, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, has published a publication co-authored by Dr. Aneta Słomka and Dr. Klaudia Sychta, devoted to scientific research leading to an increase in the yield of an economically important plant, common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). Despite flowering profusely throughout the season, common buckwheat develops a very small number of edible kernels, possibly as a result of flower competition for assimilates. The results of the analyses carried out in this study on plants grown in natural conditions and flowers grown in vitro show that the optimal content of nutrients and reduction of flower competition for assimilates results in the desired improvement of plant yield.

More information:
Hornyák M. et al. 2020. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21, 8953.

Papain-like cysteine proteases are enzymes involved in heavy metal-induced programmed cell death in plants

The mechanisms of programmed cell death (PCD) in plants, compared to animals, are very poorly understood, especially considering the influence of various abiotic factors on the induction of this process. The discovery of Dr. Klaudia Sychta, Dr. Aneta Słomka and Prof. Elżbieta Kuta revealed participation in this process of enzymes - papain-like cysteine proteases (PLCPs) and was published in Environmental and Experimental Botany. TUNEL assay, Western blot and Ligand blotting have shown that PLCPs are involved in the induction of PCD pathway by heavy metal exposure in suspended cells of metal tolerant plant, Viola tricolor (heartsease).

More information:
Sychta K. et al. 2020. Environmental and Experimental Botany, 174, 104041.

Research project in our institute co-founded by The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU)

PhD student from our Institute, Justyna Żabicka, has received a grant for a project „Reconstruction of V. pubifolia origin with the use of advanced molecular methods (low-copy nuclear gene GPI and RADseq) and establishing its relationship with closely related violets of subsect. Stolonosae”, from The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), for the years 2019-2020.

The importance of arbuscular mycorrhizas for forest herbaceous plants

The colonization of roots by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and the richness and species composition of AMF associated with 19 species of herbaceous plants, as well as physicochemical properties of the soils of their habitats were examined. It was found that 17 species form arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM). Sixteen AMF species, both common and rare, were given for the first time for these habitats. The abundance of AMF spores and species richness differed between plant species, but remained at a low level compared to other ecosystems. Nevertheless, a negative correlation between the content of available phosphorus in the soil and the intensity of AMF colonization was observed, which suggests the importance of AM for forest plants in habitats with low phosphorus contents.

More information:
Rożek et al. 2019, Science of the Total Environment 649: 1573-1579.

Vegetation composition, soil physicochemical and microbiological properties of wet meadows after translocation of the ecosystem

To protect valuable wet meadows of the Natura 2000 program, 1.3 hectares of turf, cut into blocks, were transferred to artificial basins in the Silesian Botanical Garden in Radzionków. To evaluate the impact of translocation on this ecosystem, we monitored vegetation composition, soil physicochemical and microbiological properties, and fungal root colonization of Molinia caerulea, the plant species diagnostic to the wet meadows, for three seasons: before the transfer and for the two following years. In the first year after translocation, changes in the content of elements in the soil were observed. Plant communities have maintained a high level of diversity, with the dominance of characteristic meadow species. However, an increase in the number of weeds has been noted. Little changes were observed in the colonization of M. caerulea by fungi. The number of AMF species was lower immediately after translocation, but in the second year an increase in the number of species was noted. There were no differences in the species composition of these microorganisms. Soil respiration and microbial biomass have also not changed. This is probably related to the turf transfer in large blocks, which has kept microbial communities in good condition. Few changes in the plant community, root colonization by fungi, and soil microbiological properties two years after translocation indicate the success of the transfer of this ecosystem.

More information:
Chmolowska et al. 2019, Land Degradation & Development, doi: 10.1002/ldr.3284.
Zubek et al. 2019, Journal of Environmental Management, doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.04.044.

The structure and occurrence of a velum in Utricularia traps (Lentibulariaceae)

Bladderworts (Utricularia, Lentibulariaceae, Lamiales) are carnivorous plants that form small suction traps (bladders) for catching invertebrates.  Recently, some authors have questioned the occurrence of a velum in the traps of the Utricularia from the various sections. The main aim of this study was to confirm whether velum occur in the traps of the Utricularia species from the subgenera Polypompholyx, Bivalvaria, and Utricularia. The 15 species were examined from subg. Polypompholyx, subg. Bivalvaria and subg. Utricularia. A velum was found in all examined Utricularia species. Two main types of velum have been proposed. A velum was present in Utricularia traps regardless of the trap type or the habitat (aquatic, epiphytic and terrestrial species). We proposed broad definition of velum as cuticle membranes covered by mucilage, from a functional point of view this definition is more useful and more reflects complexity of this structure.

Płachno BJ, Świątek P, Miranda VFO, Stolarczyk P. 2019. The structure and occurrence of a velum in Utricularia traps (Lentibulariaceae). Frontiers in Plant Science, section Plant Physiology doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.00302

The trap architecture of Utricularia multifida and Utricularia westonii

Utricularia are carnivorous plants which have small hollow vesicles as suction traps that work underwater by means of negative underpressure for capturing small animal prey. Utricularia multifida and U. westonii have specific thick-walled traps, which are triangular in a transverse section but their functioning is unclear. Some authors suggest that the trap door in U. multifida acts as a simple valve without a suction trapping mechanism. Our main aim was to check the anatomical trap characters which are responsible for possible water outflow and maintaining negative underpressure as main functional parts of the active trap suction mechanism in both species. Our anatomical results indirectly support the hypothesis that both species have suction traps like all other Utricularia species, but the biophysical data rather suggest a passive valve mechanism.

Płachno BJ, Świątek P, Adamec L, Carvalho S, Miranda VFO. 2019. The trap architecture of Utricularia multifida and Utricularia westonii (subg. Polypompholyx). Frontiers in Plant Science, section Plant Physiology  doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.00336

Integrity of lichen cell membranes as an indicator of heavy-metal pollution levels in soil

The structure and physiology of lichens determine their success in the colonisation of environments extremely hostile to life. The epigeic lichens Cladonia rei and Diploschistes muscorum are effective heavy-metal-tolerant colonisers of highly polluted and disturbed sites. The cell membrane damage is one of the most sensitive parameter for physiological response to environmental stress. However, this parameter has usually been tested either under laboratory conditions or in the thalli of lichens that had been transplanted into the affected area. Lichens which naturally inhabit heavy-metal-contaminated sites have been examined very rarely in this respect. In the study we analyzed the effect of heavy metal accumulation on the integrity of lichen cell membranes and verified the relationships between this physiological parameter and levels of soil pollution with heavy metals to identify its bioindicative value. The results indicate that intracellular heavy-metal accumulation affects the level of cell membrane damage. Moreover, the loss of cell membrane integrity in the thalli of C. rei and D. muscorum is related to soil pollution with heavy metals. Therefore, the level of cell membrane damage in epigeic lichens can serve as an early warning indicator for detection of elevated metal concentrations in soil. The biomonitoring method proposed in the paper involves common and widespread lichen species and can be widely applied in post-industrial areas.

See article: Integrity of lichen cell membranes as an indicator of heavy-metal pollution levels in soil. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 174: 26–34.

New research grants in our institute – 16.11.2018

Dr. hab. Marcin Nobis
"Analysis of factors affecting species diversity and endemism of the Middle Asian mountains, as a basis in planning of biodiversity hotspot conservation"
M.Sc.  Justyna Żabicka
"The exploration of genetic diversity and the postglacial colonisation of two closely related species, Viola epipsila and V. palustris, in their circumboreal range"

Cryptogamic communities as a useful bioindication tool for estimating heavy-metal soil pollution

Lichens and bryophytes have commonly been used as bioindicators of environmental conditions, especially in relation to air quality. However, their diagnostic role in the assessment of soil pollution is relatively poorly recognised. In the present study we found significant relationship between soil chemical parameters and cryptogamic biota structure which implies the high bioindicative value of the defined lichen and bryophyte assemblages. Specific sets of distinct species reflecting levels of pollution were instrumental in the development of a practical tool. This approach may constitute a first step in soil quality assessment in a broad landscape scale. It provides an opportunity for preliminary verification of the sites that are potentially the most contaminated and which require further attention, for example, within the framework of restoration projects, reclamation interventions, or conservation strategies.

See articles: Cryptogamic communities as a useful bioindication tool for estimating the degree of soil pollution with heavy metals. Ecological Indicators 88: 454-464.

Data on cryptogamic biota in relation to heavy metal concentrations in soil.  Data in Brief 19: 1110–1119.

A new book about carnivorous plants

In 2018 the book about carnivorous plants was printed by Oxford University Press (“Carnivorous Plants: Physiology, ecology, and evolution”, editors: Aaron Ellison and Lubomír Adamec). It provides the latest findings related to the physiology, ecology, and evolution of carnivorous plants. Bartosz Płachno contributed to three chapters of this book.

More info:

Floral micromorphology of the bird-pollinated carnivorous plant species Utricularia menziesii

Bird pollination is rare among species in the genus Utricularia. Bartosz Płachno and co-workers examined the micromorphology of U. menziesii flowers to assess traits that may be linked to its pollination strategy. They showed that the flowers of U. menziesii fulfil many criteria that characterize bird-pollinated flowers: red colour, a large, tough nectary spur that can withstand contact with a hard beak, lack of visual nectar guides and fragrance. The type of nectar which was detected in U. menziesii spurs is common in flowers pollinated by passerine perching birds.

Annals of Botany,

New research projects in our institute – 15.05.2018

1. M.Sc. Katarzyna Rożek
"Comparison of the impact of fourteen tree species on herbaceous layer development, soil physicochemical properties and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi abundance, species richness and composition in the experimental forest"

2. M.Sc.  Klaudia Sychta
"Cell suspension culture of selected Viola L. species to study zinc and lead accumulation and cell tolerance to heavy metal stress as a model to demonstrate evolutionary developed tolerance in the genus Viola"

3. M.Sc.  Paulina Wietrzyk
"Are cryptogams main factor responsible for initial soil development and carbon sequestration on glacier forelands in Svalbard?"

4. Dr. hab. Szymon Zubek
"A comprehensive analysis of interactions between herbaceous plants and soil microbiological and physicochemical properties in temperate deciduous forests as the basis for effective biodiversity protection of these ecosystems"

New research project in our institute - 26.01.2018

Dr Grzegorz Pacyna has received a grant for a project “Fossil plants from the late Triassic Krasiejów locality as a key to understanding the evolution of floras of the Triassic and Jurassic periods”, from the Polish National Science Foundation.

Modifications in the structure of the lichen thalli and implications for their heavy-metal accumulation capacity

Phenotypic traits of lichens can be greatly modified by environmental factors. The results showed that morphological modifications within the same lichen species could greatly affect heavy-metal accumulation in variously formed individuals. This has implications for bioindication and biomonitoring studies in which the concentration of a given element in the thalli is considered as a determinant of the environment condition.

More info: Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2018) 25:1950–1961

New research project in our institute – 10.01.2018

Dr Agnieszka Nobis has received a grant for a project "River corridor plants: Linking the occurrence of plants confined to large river valley with soil properties", from the Polish National Science Foundation.

The “behaviour” of the plasmodesmata in the mucilage cells

The integument peri-endothelial zone in species from genera Taraxacum, Hieracium and Pilosella consists of mucilage cells. The mucilage is deposited as a thick layer between the plasma membrane and the cell wall, and therefore the mucilage pushed the protoplast to the centre of the cell and cytoplasmic bridges connected the protoplast to the plasmodesmata through the mucilage layers. It is also worth mentioning that we also observed the elongation of the plasmodesmata in the mucilage cells. These studies were funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (Contract grant number: DEC-2013/09/B/NZ8/03308).

More info:
Protoplasma 253: 1365–1372
Protoplasma 254: 2287–2294

"Chromatubules" (chromatin-filled tubules)

Of the 11 Utricularia species examined, the spindle-like tubular projections (approx. 5 µm long) emanating from resident nuclei located in placental nutritive tissues were observed only in U. nelumbifolia. These tubular nuclear extensions contained chromatin distributed along hexagonally shaped tubules. The apices of the projections extended into the cell plasma membrane, and in many cases also made contact at the two opposing cellular poles, and with plasmodesmata via a short cisterna of the cortical endoplasmic reticulum. In collaboration with the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, we created 3-D ultrastructural reconstructions of the nuclei with projections using the serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBEM) technique. We named the specific nuclear projections “chromatubules” (chromatin-filled tubules). Chromatubules resemble the stromules (stroma-filled tubules) of plastids. Chromatubules potentially connect the cell poles and possibly interact with the plasma membrane and plasmodesmata and neighbouring cells. We proposed that they are involved in nucleus-cell-cell communication, thereby constituting a novel functional process for the plant nucleus.

More info:
Annals of Botany 120: 673–680

New taxonomic monograph of water buttercups (Ranunculus sect. Batrachium)

After 50 years since the first monograph of the group was published,  a new taxonomic account of water buttercups (Ranunculus sect. Batrachium) was realized. International research team with Joanna Zalewska-Gałosz from our Institute published a completed taxonomic characterizations of 30 species of Batrachium occurring worldwide. Diagnostic characters, identification keys, ecological preferences and geographical ranges for all 30 taxa were also presented. We hope that this work will be a starting point for more advanced, scientific studies of this interesting group of aquatic plants.

Pdf: A taxonomic account of Ranunculus section Batrachium (Ranunculaceae)

Symbiotic fungi may accelerate plant invasions

Two invasive plants, Rudbeckia laciniata and Solidago gigantea (Asteraceae), are strongly dependent on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) for their growth. The fungi also increased P concentration in shoots. However, the magnitude of the response of both plant species to AMF was dependent on the fungal and soil identities. The findings of Marta Majewska, Kaja Rola and Szymon Zubek thus indicate that the presence of particular AMF species in a site enhances the performance of plants and may determine the success of their invasion.

More info: Mycorrhiza (2017) 27:83–94

New research project in our institute

Dr Małgorzata Jaźwa has received a grant for a project “The floristic diversity and physicochemical properties of soils on the roadsides", from the Polish National Science Foundation. Congratulations!

Immunolocalization of cyclotides in plant cells, tissues and organ supports their role in host defense

The distribution of cyclotides was visualized using immunohistochemistry in cells of leaf, petiole and root fragments of Viola odorata and Viola uliginosa of the Violaceae family rich in species producing  cyclotides, head-to-tail cyclic plant peptides consisting of approximately 30 amino acids, having diverse biological activities. Relatively large quantities were observed in tissues potentially vulnerable to pathogen attacks (the leaf and petiole epidermis and in vascular tissue in all the assessed plant organs). The findings of international group, with Elżbieta Kuta from our Institute, supports cyclotides role as defense molecules.

More info: Planta (2016) 244: 1029–1040