Fire-adapted seed and fruit traits in Cerrado species: adaptation to smoke and heat generated by wild-fires in the Brazilian biodiversity hotspot

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Gerhard Leubner

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Gerhard Leubner's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Daniele Colombaroli

Department of Geography, RHUL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Tina Steinbrecher (RHUL)
Jake Chandler (RHUL)
Marta Perez (RHUL)

Project Description:

Wildfires are a global phenomenon affecting many ecosystems and together with climate change shape their vegetation, cause damage to property and livelihoods, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and impacting on biodiversity. Germination from seed after fire is a global phenomenon, triggered by either the heat-shock or smoke-derived signalling molecules (including karrikins). It has evolved multiple times, is widespread across the phylogenetic tree, can be associated with distinct seed dormancy mechanisms, but for savanna ecosystems including Brazil’s Cerrado the mechanisms and ecophysiology is poorly understood. In the project is seeds and fruits from species adapted to fire-prone regions of the Cerrado will be investigated to understand fire-generated heat-shock and smoke as germination cues.

In the project the student will investigate seeds of different fire-adapted species to identify novel mechanisms controlling how fire-derived smoke and heat-shock affect their germination, storability, and seedling establishment. This project provides interdisciplinary training including in molecular ecophysiological and biophysical/imaging techniques. This project benefits from active collaboration with Brazilian partner Prof A Fidelis (Sao Paulo University) for Cerrado species morphophysiology and fire vegetation ecology and an interdisciplinary UK supervision team: Prof G Leubner (1st supervisor, Royal Holloway University of London, Head of RHUL’s Seed Biology Group, Biological Sciences Department), Dr Daniele Colombaroli (2nd supervisor, RHUL Geography Department and Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society), and for the different methods experts from RHUL’s Seed Biology Group: Dr J Chandler (seed molecular marker biology) and Dr M Perez (seed ecophysiology), Dr T Steinbrecher (RHUL, seed biomechanics).

Policy Impact of Research:

That environments were and are shaped by fire is a global phenomenon at the heart of NERC’s “Business of the Environment”. The expected impact is on fire vegetation ecology to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change and on developing innovative seed technologies.


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