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Department of Forest Genetics
Mitarbeiter suchenSuche
Aposeris foetida

Helleborus niger


Dissemination of glacial refugiums in regard to various tree species

A Abies alba
Cb Carpinus betulus
Fe Fraxinus excelsior
Fs Fagus sylvatica
Q Quercus spp.

rt: Christoph Dobe¨
Contact: Marianne Schreck

Projekt partners:
University of Vienna, University of Innsbruck, Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid

Christoph Dobe¨ works as geneticist at BFW. Within his project HistoArt he is researching how various scrub species developed since the last glacial period 15.000 years ago. With this knowledge he can reconstruct the evolution of forest communities related to beech groves.

During the ice age, the European landscapes were dominated by plain tundra and steppe. Deciduous tree growth was limited to small refugia in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. The phylogeography of deciduous trees meanwhile has been investigated extensively, which provides us with numerous insights into the geographical distribution of genetically defined lineages, i.e. the location of ice age refugia and postglacial recolonization routes out of these refugia. Much less is known about the phylogeography of herbaceous forest understory species. Within the FWF-project, the postglacial range formation of six herbaceous species is examined. These species are strongly associated to beech (Fagus sylvatica), the main Central European tree species: Aposeris foetida, Cardamine trifolia, Euphorbia carniolica, Festuca drymeia, Hacquetia epipactis, and Helleborus niger.

Historical Ecology and Present Age | As an overall aim the historical ecology is investigated, meaning whether beech forest understory species have reacted to climate change during and since the last ice age as plant communities or in species-specific manners. But this question is generally still not answered for most forest types. The project particularly proposes to provide deeper insights into 1) the strength of ecological interdependences between forest species, which support the forest ecosystems, 2) to clarify whether the spread of the beech forest understory species have slowed down after the last ice age as compared to the beech itself (which has a much larger distribution range than their herbaceous companies), or if their ecological niches are narrower than that of beech. The dispersal potential as well as habitat requirements thus potentially explain why most of the beech forest understory species are restricted to parts of the beech distribution range.  The results of this study will finally give further insights to the location of refugia of deciduous trees, particularly during the last ice age, and will explain their role in the genesis of today’s biodiversity.

Science on tour | Work began in May 2017, with the introduction of the study on beech wood, as the prelude. Again, in order to understand the area development of the six species in detail, it is necessary to collect their high-density area. Approximately 500 occurrences were sampled and documented at the same time in 20 of the Central and South Eastern European countries. In order to facilitate the identification of the species in the investigation area measuring approximately half a million km2 and to ensure the smoothest possible completion of the work, an intensive preparation and planning phase had preceded the process. In addition, the legal provisions of the Nagoya protocol, which has been in force since autumn 2014 (regulating the access and benefit sharing of genetic resources as an extension of the Convention on Biological Diversity), have been fully implemented for the first time. All these activities made it possible to intensify contact sharing with national research institutes in countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.


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