Welcome Upasana – new PhD student to study cryptogam diversity and stress tolerance

Text and pic by Upasana Sharma

Hello! It’s my pleasure to introduce myself ―  I am Upasana Sharma from India, pursuing my PhD in Estonian University of Life Sciences (Environmental sciences and applied biology) under the supervision of Professor Ülo Niinemets and Dr. Kristiina Mark.  First of all, I wish to thank my supervisors who found me suitable for the position and selected me for the program.

I am extremely happy to be a part of one of the best plant physiology labs in Europe, lead by a renowned plant physiologist prof. Ülo Niinemets and his team.

I completed my masters (M.Sc. in Botany) from University of Allahabad, India in 2015. Later on, I worked as a science teacher in a school for two years. Then again came back to the research field which was my core interest. After qualifying a National Eligibility Test (CSIR- NET/JRF) for lectureship as well as for research I joined as a junior research fellow the lichenology lab of CSIR- National botanical research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow, India in 2018.  One day while working in NBRI I got informed about the PhD position in physiology and ecology of cryptogams in the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The topic was interesting and related to lichens and mosses as I was already working in lichenology. So I was pretty excited to get the opportunity and to gain more knowledge about the physiological and ecological aspect of cryptogams. I applied for the position and was fortunate enough to get selected  after many formalities and paperwork.

I will work on the topic “ Cryptogam-associated  green algal diversity and stress tolerance in the perspective of global change” during my PhD.  As we know, people are working more and more focused on higher plants while cryptogams are less explored. But we should not ignore the crucial role of cryptogams in the ecosystems.   

I am also thankful to our plant physiology group members Tiia, Pille, Helina, Piret, and others, who have been very helpful. I am looking forward to give my best in contribution to science as a researcher, and as a person, always try to be a better version of me.

 Plethora of thanks!

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Welcome José Ángel – new PhD student to study lichen productivity

Text and pic by José Ángel

I am José Ángel from Spain, and I am starting my PhD here at the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

I am really grateful to have the opportunity to continue my scientific formation as a PhD student, and especially with a remarkable team lead by Professor Ülo Niinemets.

I graduated at the University of Malaga (Spain) back in 2015. I worked as an administrative assistant later on, and finally in 2018 they selected me to be part of a research group at the University of Seville (Spain), where I worked in the Ecology and Plant Biology department assessing the impact of an invasive plant species, Oenothera drummondii, and identifying  which traits contribute to its invasive success. The project was about to end in the middle of 2019, and before that I saw I post from Kristiina Mark about the opportunity for pursuing PhD studies here at the Estonian University of Life Sciences. I wrote her right away, and after tons of papers and procedures I was luckily selected and I´m today (really happy) here.

During the next years I will be working mostly with mosses and lichens, with the topic of ¨Cryptogam productivity in different climatic conditions¨. They are normally wrongly considered ¨lower plants¨ and have much to say in the configuration of ecosystems. I would like to play my part in science and generate a positive impact on the group as well as to learn as much as possible. See you around!

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Interview with Steffen

Conducted and written by Sven Paulus, originally published in Research in Estonia portal

Järvselja´King´s pine (pic from Wikipedia)

Estonia’s only primordial forest hosts a SMEAR research station, led by Steffen Noe, a Senior Researcher at University of Life Sciences. One of his research interests is how the forest affects the atmosphere and vice versa. What is his story and why did a German citizen decide to move to Estonia 15 years ago?

We are at the Station for Measuring Ecosystem-Atmosphere Relations. What exactly do you measure here?

We measure the composition of greenhouse gases and reactive trace gases such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides in air. We examine how the forest affects the atmosphere and vice versa. We started with official mast measurements in 2015 and have been continuously measuring for four years now.

If we look at the measurement data, then what processes are taking place in this area?

We are able to observe how the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases and what the additional local effects are. In this way, we capture the annual carbon dynamics and relate it to local forest management and weather conditions. Last year was very dry and we could see what is happening in the forest in the case of water scarcity. It is possible to monitor how the exchange processes between the forest and the atmosphere take place, and what affects the course of these processes.

Science sometimes gives answers, but it raises more questions. We are heading for Big Data, because the mast measures the environment all year round, and our server gets 8 million rows of data from the sensors every day. Their analysis can produce very good statistics and compare these processes with data from other stations, as well as with previously measured data. This allows us to see a wider picture.

Secondly, we can provide meteorological measurement services such as local winds, precipitation and temperature. We work with colleagues from the University of Tartu to measure air ions and airborne particles, as well as solar radiation. One very important aspect is to see how the forest affects the formation of clouds.

Based on current data, can any patterns be identified here at Järvselja?

We can analyse how the forest absorbs carbon in our protected and unmanaged patch of forest. Then we compare it with the carbon emissions of the local managed forest. The results of the last four years indicate that both carbon absorption and emission are faster in young managed forests. The old forest is growing slower and absorbs less carbon over time. Their net weight is very similar, but the big difference is in the speed of the processes.

If we want to manage the forest in a way that it would be a net absorber of carbon, we can find different approaches, which take the age and the area of that forest into account. It is very good to use data from measuring stations to plan such forest management.

In Estonia, there has been a major debate on forestry in recent years. Some say more forest should be cut and managed. Others, however, think that too much is being harvested and that various species are becoming extinct. How do you feel about this situation?

It must be understood that there are different possibilities. The forest is not only a carbon absorber but can be a carbon emitter during a very dry year. In 2018, we measured that since the drought of July, the forest was an emitter of carbon until the end of that year. Colleagues from the University of Tartu and I took measurements in an old pine forest, which was a carbon absorber during the same period. This shows that we cannot take it unequivocally but need to understand how the system works. Then it is possible to decide whether the forest should be managed or not.

This is partly a scientific debate, and the second debate should be a social one. We need to understand what ecosystem services the forest is giving us. In addition to carbon absorption, the forest also provides raw material and controls the reserve and purification of water. As Estonia is more or less flat, and we do not have glaciers, it is necessary that enough clouds form here and that they can get enough water from the ground for precipitation.

At the moment, we predict that Estonia’s future weather will be moist and there will be more precipitation. A very important factor to consider is that the forest buffers all this water. In the case of growing forest resources, the question is how to use it: to make wood pellets and firewood or to allow the forest to grow longer. For example, making paper is a very short-term use of the forest, because wood could also be used to make long-lasting products. It should also be considered how to use the forest as a resource that encourages a reduction in the use of carbon from fossil fuels. Here lies the great opportunity for development.

We need to think about how to use the data already available and include remote sensing at the next level to see the wider dynamics of forest management. If the climate keeps changing, perhaps more dry summers and more damp winters will come, then there will also be more pests and wind. Therefore, a wider picture, both spatial and temporal, is needed to understand the whole system.

Another issue is the emergence of clouds, which we have studied in cooperation with the universities of Helsinki and Tartu. Over the last decade, thanks to our collaboration with the Finns, we have written several articles on how one feedback loop works. We see how forest growth and biomass production change cloud formation through volatile air particles and ions. My own interest is how pollution from air transport affects all of this.

What made you move from Germany to Estonia?

It was very random. I had completed my doctoral thesis and then the sources of finance for my research centre in Germany changed. I got a tip from my colleagues that I could find a job in Ülo Niinemets’s research team in Estonia. My first job was under the Marie Curie project, that supports exchange of researchers. I stayed in Estonia because I saw an opportunity to pursue my research here.

When you arrived here fifteen years ago, you took your family with you. How long did you originally plan to stay?

The original plan was to stay for up to three years, as envisaged by the agreement. After that I received funding from the Estonian side for my own project to study volatile compounds in the energy crops. Another factor was that my network grew towards Finland and Sweden. It was also important that Estonia, due to its small size, is flexible and capable of changing rapidly.

It is also a question of the long-term perspective for the family. Furthermore, I realised that I could follow my vision and achieve something here. Today, we are in a very difficult situation on the research funding side and I think we need a public debate so that we can put our long-term goals in place. If you do not have a goal or it is short-term, there is a great risk that development will not occur at all.

How did you adapt to the Estonian society and how quickly did you learn Estonian?

In 2004, there were fewer opportunities than today with the EURAXESS platform, which provides advice on language courses and other local issues. At the beginning of this work, I had to do it myself and manage to speak Estonian. Initially, I sat down with a computer using a dictionary. In the spring of 2005, I started studying Estonian at the German Cultural Institute in Tartu. When our working group moved from Tartu University to the University of Life Sciences in 2008, I spoke to new colleagues already in Estonian, as my language practice had increased.

Speaking of adapting to Estonian society, we bought a house here and our daughter went to the local kindergarten and school. We became more familiar with people at parents’ meetings, as well as interacting with people at universities.

What advice would you give to a student or academic coming here from abroad?

One trick is to try and connect with people and get to know them. This will give you a better idea of ​​what is going on around you. Another very good tip in Finland or Estonia is to go to the sauna with people, because it is much easier to talk to them there.

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Kaia visiting Copenhagen

Text and pic by Kaia Kask

From 04-08.11.2019 I participated in a course named “Biogenic Volatiles – Exchange at Different Scales and Interactions with Ecosystem Processes” in Denmark, organized by Roger Seco, Tao Li and Riikka Rinnan from the University of Copenhagen. In total 30 PhD students were taking part in this course from different countries. We had two key speakers: Professor Jörg-Peter Schnitzler from Germany and Professor Pawel K. Misztal from USA. We also visited Copenhagen Botanical Garden and sniffed some plant odor. In addition to listening, students also had to participate in a group work and present the outcome. In total, these five days were very informative and interesting and it was a pleasure to meet other students in the same study area. One thing that caught my eye was that it was kind of popular among students to have some plant related tattoo. Keeping the plants closer!

I would like to thank DORA Plus T1.1 for supporting this visit.  

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Workgroup and EcolChange seminar – Jose and Upasana about invasive plants and lichenous bioindicators

Seminar of Chair of Crop Science and Plant Biology and Centre of Excellence EcolChange, Estonian Univ of Life Sciences

This time we have two new PhD-students, Jose from Spain and Upasana from India, presenting what they have been working on before coming to Estonia.

José Ángel Morales Sánchez is a PhD-student in the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Title of his talk: Oenothera drummondii: an invasive plant species threatening coastal ecosystems

Upasana Sharma is a PhD-student in the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Title of her talk: Assessment of potential of lichens as bioindicator of pollution gradient in Mirzapur, Sonbhadra regions of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, India

Time: Monday, 2. December 2019 at 12.00

Place: Tartu, Kreutzwaldi 5 – D267 (Metsamaja)

Coastal lichens (pic from here)
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Workgroup and EcolChange seminar – Elina Karron about the influence of growing technologies on soil fungi

Seminar of Chair of Crop Science and Plant Biology and Centre of Excellence EcolChange, Estonian Univ of Life Sciences .

Elina Karron née Akk is a PhD-student in the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Title of the talk: Influence of growing technologies to microfungy abundance and community on cereal grains and soil; and production of mycotoxins

Time: Monday, 18. November 2019 at 12.00

Place: Tartu, Kreutzwaldi 5 – D267 (Metsamaja)

Pildiotsingu growing technology cartoon tulemus
Growing (up) has become pretty technological process nowadays…

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Linda-Liisa went to Botany 2019 conference

Text and pics by Linda-Liisa Veromann-Jürgenson

Reminiscing about the hot sun and warm desert rain under our grey leaky autumn sky…

I had the privilege of visiting the Botany 2019 conference titled “Sky Islands & Desert Seas” and presenting a talk. The conference took place this summer 27th-31st of July near Tucson, Arizona, USA. (Link to conference webpage)

It was the rainy season in the Sonoran Desert, so the cacti were in full bloom. Although it rained in the evenings, the midday temperature was 33-37 degrees

I presented in the colloquium chaired by Chase Mason, Juliana Medeiros, and Christina Caruso: “The evolution of functional traits in plants: is the giant still sleeping?”. This was the most interesting session for me! A special issue will also be published in the International Journal of Plant Sciences at the beginning of 2020 where several of the papers are written by the presenters and the moderators. There will be two papers from our work group! The title of my presentation was “Evolution of photosynthetic limitations: mesophyll conductance in gymnosperms” and based on the feedback, people are really interested in what we do here in our lab.

I didn’t miss a single sunrise, because of the time difference. They were all beautiful.

I was lucky that I got to present quite early on, so I could properly enjoy and focus on the rest of the conference. Botany 2019 was packed with fascinating presentations and posters from researchers at the top of their fields and young researchers just at the beginning of their careers, but the quality of the presentations and posters was top-notch for both. Although there were sessions on a variety of fields from hybridization and agriculture to molecular biology and even lichenology, I attended more plant physiology- and palaeobotany-oriented sessions. That’s the trouble with interesting conferences – some of the presentations you really want to hear coincide. The next Botany conference will be in Anchorage, Alaska, and I strongly recommend it to everyone! 🙂

Claudia Melo had an intriguing poster about the antibacterial and antiviral properties of guava extracts. It seemed to be very promising for more plant-based and natural remedies for a variety of diseases.

I would like to thank Ülo and Tiina for recommending I go and present in the conference; Chase, Juliana and Christina for accepting my presentation; and DORA Plus T1.1 and BSA for financing the endeavour. A special thanks to Chase for helping with the associated paperwork and to Juliana for being the most wonderfully thorough but friendly editor I have ever encountered!

Two saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) hugging. The hotel was located in the desert, so it was only a few steps into the densest saguaro population in the world. We even saw their white flowers!

Presentation abstract

Evolution of photosynthetic limitations: mesophyll conductance in gymnosperms

Linda-Liisa Veromann- Jürgenson; Tiina Tosens; Timothy J. Brodribb; Lauri Laanisto; Ülo Niinemets

Mesophyll conductance is thought to be an important photosynthetic limitation in gymnosperms, but they currently constitute the most understudied plant group in the extent to which photosynthesis and intrinsic water use efficiency (WUEi) are limited by mesophyll conductance. However, in gymnosperms, photosynthetic limitations, particularly how limitation combinations contribute to realized photosynthetic rates, have been studied in very few species precluding any broad conclusions about the share of different controls, hindering reliable global modelling of the gymnosperm forest contributions to global carbon cycle and responses to climate change.

A comprehensive analysis of leaf gas-exchange, photosynthetic limitations, and mesophyll conductance (gm, calculated by three methods previously used for across-species comparisons) of 7% of extant gymnosperm were performed to gain insight into the evolution of physiological controls on photosynthesis at the lower return end of the leaf economics spectrum. The studied species were grown in a common garden but originated from globally contrasting habitats and evolutionary histories.

Low mesophyll conductance was the main limiting factor of photosynthesis in the majority of species. Remarkably, gm varied 21-fold extending almost across the whole range of values observed in vascular plants to-date. Photosynthetic limitation analysis revealed that mesophyll and stomatal limitations were dominant, correspondingly spanning 8–72% and 5–57% of total photosynthetic limitation. Both limitations were correlated with foliage structural characteristics, challenging the hypothesis that species phylogenetic background directly determines the partitioning of photosynthetic limitations.

Ultra-structural analysis in 11 species revealed that the strongest sources of limitation were extremely thick mesophyll cell walls (Tcwm), high chloroplast thickness and variation in its shape and size, and the exposed surface area of chloroplasts per unit leaf area. In gymnosperms, the negative relationship between net assimilation per mass and leaf mass per area (LMA) reflected an increased Tcwm, whereas the easy-to-measure integrative trait, LMA failed to predict the underlying ultrastructural traits limiting gm. These adaptations may be relics from the atmospheric concentrations in which these genera evolved, still present due to evolutionary constraints, but may give evergreen gymnosperms an advantage over angiosperms in the rising CO2 levels of this century.

A very Sonoran sight: prickly pears (Opuntia) and saguaros

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