Fields of research
1 — Fungal communities
Structure and Functions of Plant-Associated Fungal Communities
Endophytic fungi are capable of inhabiting plant tissue and surface. As endophytes, fungi often affect the host plant itself, as well as the plant's interaction with the environment, sometimes even contributing to their host's protection against phytopathogenic organisms. In order to make these insights applicable for agriculture and forestry it is necessary to identify the factors determining the composition and structure of microbial communities in the different host plants. Phytopathogenic fungi on trees can cause significant economic damage, especially fungal infestations on members of the Rosaceae family can often lead up to high consequential costs. Success of introduced counter-measurements often depends on the timely recognition of infections. Therefore, techniques for an early detection of the causative pathogen are developed through efficient molecular screening methods. The development of a microarray chip, intended to be applied as a diagnostic tool in Germany and some of her neighbouring states, is part of the project “German Barcode of Life II (GBOL II) – Pilze in Obstbau- und Forstwirtschaft”. The design of the microarray probes will be founded on data obtained from high-throughput gene sequencing of fungal communities associated with Rosaceae.
Effects of fungal diversity on microplastic degradation
The kingdom Fungi hosts a range of potential candidates from classes of Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes with microplastic degradation capabilities. Such organisms are essential in remediating environmental hazards caused by the random dispersals of plastics. Parallel approaches applying the use of culture dependent and culture independent methods are integral in adressing the central theme of the project "SFB Mikroplastik". Growth patterns of fungi and their biosynthesized enzyme's ability to degrade microplastics (0-5 mm in size) are evaluated using selective and non-selective culture media and exoenzyme assays, respectively. Culture independent approaches are based on high-throughput sequencing of fungal barcoding gene regions (ITS 1 and 2) from metagenomic analysis, for characterizing fungal diversity from plastic contaminated soils obtained from dumping sites.
Structure and Function of Soil-Inhabiting Fungal Communities
Soils host complex microbial communities, spread on a small scale, in which fungi contribute significantly to the decomposition of biomass and facilitate nutrient availability for uptake by plant roots. Current examinations focus on the diversities and functions of soil-dwelling fungal communities in the savannas of East Africa and temperate forests of Bavaria.
Soil communities in the temperate forests of Bavaria are studied under the project "Hoehen- und Bewirtschaftungsgradient in einem deutschen Mittelgebirge zur Abschätzung von Veränderungen in Waldökosystemen im Klimawandel". Within this study, the distribution of tree species along an altitudinal gradient is one of the primary factors considered for the evaluation of the fungal community metabarcoding results. Additionally, evaluation of funtional guilds of these communities are essential for a wholistic understanding of the interactions between the soil and plants.
The Lambwe Valley project (Kenya, East Africa) aims to gain insights into the how fungal soil communities vary with different land uses. Key land uses include lifestock grazing and cultivation history. This study is principally based on high-throughput sequencing of barcode marker genes.
Halotolerant Fungi in Hypersaline Niches
Compared to the communities of Archaea and Bacteria, relatively little is known about the biodiversity of halotolerant fungi. The East African region is one of the niches that serve as a potential source for unknown extremotolerant organisms. Ongoing studies are primarily concerned with culture-dependent analytical methods. Samples that were isolated from the stone surface of the cave walls are tested referring to their tolerance towards salts and are then analysed according to their marker genes.
2 — Lichen Diversity
Biodiversity and Function of Lichen Communities
Lichens are associations between species of higher fungi and of cyanobacteria or green algae. Many of these so-called lichenised systems are characterised by their ability to colonise extreme niches, their slow growth and the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites in high concentrations. In order to improve the workflow and the reproducibility of surveying practices a monitoring process is developed by means of a survey of lichens collected from the Heinersreuther Forst, west of city of Bayreuth in Upper Franconia, Germany. Collected samples are preliminarily identified by sequencing of marker genes. Using GPS-backed digital pictures of UUIDs at the collection site and preyed data transformations, identity and origin of the samples are secured. The resulting reproducibility of data is aimed to serve as a standard model for consultant activities in the context of field mapping projects.
4 — Biodiversity Informatics
Biodiversity and Ecoinformatics, Work- and Dataflows
The compilation, modelling, processing, analysis, sustainable archiving and the re-appropriation of biodiversity data is currently moving into the center of attention of ecological research activity. Organisms and their identity, properties (including morphological and anatomical characteristics, furthermore natural compounds and behavior), occurrence, origins (“space-time-acquisition”), alternating relations and their effect on the environment are the respective subject-matters. There exist a number of information systems, respectively internet platforms, storing and analyzing biodiversity data of different institutions, initiatives and research projects. The field of ecoinformatics is dedicated to the development of IT-concepts and -applications to administer and analyze ecological data on an ecosystem level. Hereby, also a multitude of quantitative data is being acquired next to the descriptive qualitative data. Within the framework of the projects “BMBF-BIOTA” and “GBIF-Germany”, the EU-project “4D4 Life” and the DFG-project “DiversityMobile, I-B-F, Teilprojekt I-B-F Eco” database applications and interfaces or tools for data analysis have been and still are being developed and implemented in cooperation with the IT-Center of the “Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns”. The aim is to process and publish primary research data online. Our group takes part in the setup of the following applications, information systems and data portals:
6 — Nucleic acid analysis methods