Organismic Botany and Mycology
Fungi and their various interactions with plants are the focus of our research and teaching. While mutualistic interactions such as mycorrhiza or lichen provide benefits to both partners, only one partner benefits in parasitic interactions. There are many specific and non-specific parasites that have developed very different ecological strategies. In evolution, however, these various interactions all contribute to species diversification, and the diversity of species and ecosystems is in large part the result of these interactions.
In teaching, we try to provide an introduction to mycology at various levels as well as a deepening in individual topics that play a role in our research. We cover a wide range of methods – from field collection to electron microscopy to molecular biology and genomics.
Evolution of Host Specificity
Plant parasites such as the smut or rust fungi depend on living host plants and therefore finely tuned infection pathways have developed in the course of evolution. This has resulted in many specific interactions, which on the one hand include different infection mechanisms and on the other hand special defense mechanisms. Through infection experiments, various imaging methods and comparative genomics, we try to understand the mechanisms of the different species. In particular, we look at processes of speciation, hybridization and coevolution. As part of the Priority Program Taxon-Omic (https://www.taxon-omics.com), we are primarily investigating how modern taxonomy can also be accelerated to describe the great diversity of fungi.
Since many fungi are saprophytes, they can colonize almost any substrate that offers enough nutrients. Thus, they are usually living in complex communities and occur in every habitat in sometimes very large numbers of species and individuals. That is why we are interested in the interaction of entire fungal communities with plants – at the
root, on the leaf or in the nectar of the flowers . We characterize these communities with the help of metabarcoding approaches. It is becoming increasingly clear that the microbiome of plants can have a major effect on entire ecosystems. In Hamburg, we would like to analyse the role of fungal communities in climate change in particular.
Thermophily of Fungi
Since fungi can have a high metabolism during substrate degradation, they partly contribute to the heating of the substrate. In a compost heap, for example, fungi can cause temperatures of over 50°C or 60°C and can even survive such temperatures. In a project in which we want to identify heat-stable enzymes, we are currently searching specifically for thermophilic and thermotolerant species and investigating their growth dynamics.
Long-term Dynamics of Pasture Land
Dr. Ute Schmiedel and her team are investigating the spatial patterns in dry rangelands and their long-term dynamics in South Africa. In particular, fieldwork and long-term observations are important methods for understanding the mechanisms of pattern formation.