Research of the Department of Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants

Research in our Department deals with the evolution, phylogeny, and taxonomy of angiosperms.

Evolution, phylogeny and taxonomy of flowering plants (Prof. E. Hörandl):
Flowering plants harbor the greatest species diversity of all land plants. The evolutionary processes that have led to their diversity and the global distribution are manifold: polyploidy, hybridization, a broad range of reproductive strategies, and adaptive radiations are key factors for the success of flowering plants. The combination of DNA markers, karyological, morphological and reproductive data helps to understand speciation, dispersal and evolutionary history of flowering plants.

We focus on the evolution of temperate angiosperms and elucidate the role of hybridization and modes of reproductive systems for diversification processes via population genetic studies, ploidy screenings and studies of breeding systems. Apomixis, the asexual reproduction via seed, is a frequent trait in temperate, arctic and high alpine species complexes, and probably a widespread reproductive strategy in tropical trees. Understanding the frequencies, the genetic basis and the biogeographical success of apomictic plants will elucidate the evolution of flowering plants and help to understand basic evolutionary questions like the “paradox of sex”.

In our projects we work on the plant genera Ranunculus (Ranunculaceae) with emphasis on the Ranunculus auricomus complex, Salix (Salicaceae), Xanthium (Asteraceae) and the citrus family Rutaceae.


Current research projects

Species delimitation in the apomictic polyploid Ranunculus auricomus complex using an integrative TaxonOMICs approach (Prof. E. Hörandl, DFG project, SPP Taxon-OMICS)

Molecular evidence for sectional classification of shrub willows (Salix L. subg. Chamaetia/Vetrix) based on RAD sequencing data (Dr. Natascha Wagner, DFG project, SPP Taxon-OMICS)

Resolving intricate taxonomies by using type material, HybSeq and geometric morphometrics. – A proof-of-concept from the nasty Xanthium L. (Asteraceae) (Dr. Salvatore Tomasello, DFG project, SPP Taxon-OMICS)

Evolution of polyploidy and apomixis in the pantropically distributed and species rich genus Zanthoxylum (Rutaceae) (Dr. Marc Appelhans, DFG project)

Effects of environmental stress on apomixis in Ranunculus (Prof. Elvira Hörandl, Eleni Syngelaki, Fuad Ulum Bahrul): Here we test experimentally the hypothesis that environmental stress (light, temperature) affects mode of reproduction and DNA methylation profiles.


Former projects

Rutaceae Phylogeny, Biogeography and Taxonomy (Dr. Marc Appelhans): Phylogenetic analysis using DNA sequence analysis, next generation sequencing and morphological data aims at a reconstruction of diversification processes of the Citrus family in space and time.

Apomixis, polyploidy and evolution of the Ranunculus auricomus group (Prof. Elvira Hörandl, Birthe Barke, Dr. Ladislav Hodac): Hybrid origin, establishment of apomixis, and diversification of this polyploid complex is being studied by experimental crosses, developmental studies, next generation sequencing analysis and geometric morphometrics.

Taxonomy and biogeography of the Ranunculus auricomus complex (Prof. Elvira Hörandl, Kevin Karbstein, Dr. Ladislav Hodac, Dr. Salvatore Tomasello): Species diversity, distributions, mode of reproduction is being studied by using next generation sequencing methods, flow cytometry and geometric morphometrics.

Hybridization and reticulate evolution in willows (Salix) (Prof. Elvira Hörandl, Dr. Natascha Wagner, Dr. Li He): By using next generation sequencing methods (RAD Seq) we study in situ hybrid evolution in natural populations.