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Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2023-06-01 - 2026-05-31

The research in plant physiology and anatomy of woody plants has focused mainly on the wood of stems, primary roots, and leaves, while the bark has received far less attention until now. Small pores in the outer bark, called lenticels, allow continuous gas exchange between the atmosphere and the underlying living tissues of the bark and wood. One important aspect of the bark is the multi-functional role it plays in the carbon budget of the entire plant. Immediately beneath the dead outer bark lies a “green sleeve” of living cells that surrounds the stem and contains abundant chloroplasts. The main function of this green sleeve is thought to be related to the refixation of respiratory carbon dioxide, but it may also serve other functions vital to the tree's survival, such as supplying oxygen, maintaining water transport, defending against pathogens, and healing mechanical injuries. As trunks age, rhytidome formation reduces the light penetration through the outer bark, making the inner bark incapable of photosynthesis. This represents a trade-off between the protective function of the outer bark and the physiological function of the underlying living tissues. Objectives: The main objective is to investigate the multi-functionality of the living green layers of the bark in terms of: carbon balance, plant hydraulics, gas exchange, light transmission, and biomechanical functions. The project aims to establish a new research discipline called "phytodermatology" that incorporates functional, structural, and physiological approaches to the study of bark in order to fill gaps in our current knowledge. Approach: Histological and physiological studies will be conducted on ten different tree species that differ in bark structure, lenticel type, and bark and wood anatomy, with the aim of determining the net carbon gain of the whole plant, the distribution of the green sleeve within and between species, and the photosynthetic capacity of the bark. Originality and innovation: the role of the green sleeve in carbon balance, oxygenation, and hydraulics of woody plants remains largely unexplored. Combining classical methods of anatomy with state-of-the-art technologies such as microCT to measure structural changes in lenticels, chlorophyll fluorescence techniques to measure light transmission, 13C labeling, and isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) to track the various carbon fluxes in the stem should allow us to gain new insights into bark structure and function.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-03-01 - 2024-01-31

Human‐induced temperature increase has amplified during the past decades particularly at high elevations, whereas changes in precipitation patterns have been regionally more variable. Although alpine plants are long‐lived and persistent against both exceptionally warm and cold weather, they are sensitive to warmer conditions and drought over longer periods. The international monitoring network GLORIA has established permanent plots in mountains, enabling comparisons of species distribution and vegetation composition and their changes since the beginning of the century. To better understand the species’ response to the environment and to environmental changes, this project focuses on plant functional traits on GLORIA summits, that are related to the performance of plants and their response to environmental factors and also provide a link between species richness and functional diversity. For 2022 we aim to characterize c.60 species from Hochschwab, representing > 80% of the cover by vascular plants in GLORIA-plots. We will measure more traits than most comparable studies (there have been few on alpine plants) including “hard” traits with clear adaptive significance, and already sampled and tested for 57 species on the GLORIA site Schrankogel in 2021. We will not only examine differences in species adaptions, but also between different mountain ranges with different climatic and geologic conditions. Plant functional traits, combined with precise monitoring data, are a powerful basis for assessing directional, climate‐induced losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services and are important for adjustments of conservation strategies under accelerating climate change.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-01-01 - 2022-12-31

As a consequence of climate change, mortality of canopy trees has doubled in European temperate forests over the last three decades. Accelerated tree mortality causes changes in ecological communities, alters ecosystem function, reduces ecosystem services, and can have land–climate feedbacks. Currently, the drivers and mechanisms of tree mortality are still under debate and are most probably a result of complex interdependencies of mutually inclusive mechanics. However, a mechanistic understanding of tree mortality is crucial to lessen economic and cultural harm and sustain forest production systems. The majority of studies on tree mortality focus predominantly on drought stress as the initial trigger of tree mortality. Given the predicted significant increase in frequency, duration, and intensity of temperature extremes (heatwaves), the role of thermal stress will gain of great importance in climate-change-related ecosystem research. In this project, we will on tree-size dependent thermal stress in a temperate forest.

Supervised Theses and Dissertations