Project groups


Project leader:
Prof. Dr. Imke Schmitt

Most, if not all, plants in natural ecosystems are associated with fungal symbionts, e.g. mycorrhizae and endophytes. These fungal symbionts can have profound effects on plant ecology, fitness, and evolution, shaping plant communities, and the community structure and diversity of associated organisms. In the current project we want to assess whether endophytic fungi influence range limits and distribution of their symbiotic host plant. Our hypothesis is that leaf associated fungal communities influence their host plant’s adaptation to marginal habitats and microclimates, thus shaping historical and contemporary species ranges. The central questions we want to answer include: What are the differences in fungal species richness, diversity and community structure associated with cold adapted and warm adapted populations of balsam poplar? Is there evidence of coevolution between the host plant and its fungal microbiome? What is the influence of host genotype versus geographic locality on fungal community assembly in the phyllosphere? Can we infer ancestral microbiomes and their reaction to past climate change, and can we predict species distributions of host and symbionts under future climate scenarios?
Our study system, Populusbalsamifera L. is a dioecious species with a range from Newfoundland to Alaska at latitudes from 42°N to nearly 70°N. It is a key component of boreal forests, with natural populations in the Arctic, further north than any other North American tree. Phylogeographic evidence suggests large-scale range expansion since the last glacial maximum c. 18000 years ago, and migration from the Center of northern North America into the North and East. Additionally, a small number of individuals have apparently experienced contemporary immigration, evidenced by genotypes significantly different from their resident populations (Keller et al. 2010, Mol. Ecol. 19:1212-1226). Here we use the phylogeographic data to assess potential coevolution between the host plant and its fungal microbiome, and to understand the role of fungal communities in local adaptation of the host tree.



Dr. Jürgen Otte, Head of Laboratory
Dr. Miklós Bálint, Researcher
Dr. Sunil Mundra, Researcher


Bálint, M., Bartha, L., O'Hara, R.B., Olson, M., Otte, J., Pfenninger, M., Robertson, A. & I. Schmitt (2015) : Relocation, high-latitude warming and host genetic identity shape the foliar fungal microbiome of poplars. - Molecular Ecology 24, 235–248

Balint, M., Dénes, A.L., Popescu, O. & L. Ujvárosi (2011) : European phylogeography of Rhyacophila tristis Pictet (Trichoptera: Rhyacophilidae): preliminary results. - Zoosymposia 5: 11-18.

Bálint, M., Tiffin, P., Hallström, B., O’Hara, R.B., Olson, M.S., Fankhauser, J.D., Piepenbring, M. & I. Schmitt (2013) : Host genotype shapes the foliar fungal microbiome of Balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera). - PLoS ONE 8: e53987.

Ballhorn, D.J., Kautz, S., Jensen, M., Schmitt, I., Heil, M. & A.D. Hegeman (2011) : Genetic and environmental interactions determine plant defences against herbivores. - Journal of Ecology 99(1): 313–326.

Bazzicalupo, A.L., Bálint, M. & I. Schmitt (2013) : Comparison of ITS1 and ITS2 rDNA in 454 sequencing of hyperdiverse fungal communities. - Fungal Ecoogy 6: 102-109.

Brachmann, A.O., Kirchner, F., Kegler, C. Kinski, S.W., Schmitt, I. & H.B. Bode (2012) : Triggering the production of the cryptic blue pigment indigoidine from Photorhabdus luminescens. - Journal of Biotechnology 157: 96-99.

Dal Grande, F., Alors, D., Divakar, P.K., Bálint, M., Crespo, A. & I. Schmitt (2014) : Insights into intrathalline genetic diversity of the cosmopolitan lichen symbiotic green alga Trebouxia decolorans Ahmadjian using microsatellite markers. - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 72, 54-60.

Dal Grande, F., Beck, A., Cornejo, C., Singh, G., Cheenacharoen, S., Nelsen, M.P. & C. Scheidegger (2014) : Molecular phylogeny and symbiotic selectivity of the green algal genus Dictyochloropsis s.l. (Trebouxiophyceae): a polyphyletic and widespread group forming photobiont-mediated guilds in the lichen family Lobariaceae. - New Phytologist 202: 455-470.

Dal Grande, F., Beck, A., Singh, G. & I. Schmitt (2013) : Microsatellite primers in the lichen symbiotic alga Trebouxia decolorans (Trebouxiophyceae). - APPS 1:1200400.

Magyari, E.K., Major, A., Bálint, M., Nédli, J., Braun, M., Rácz, I. & L. Parducci (2011) : Population dynamics and genetic changes of Picea abies in the South Carpathians revealed by pollen and ancient DNA analyses. - BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 66.

Meiser, A., Bálint, M. & I. Schmitt (2014) : Metaanalysis of deep-sequenced fungal communities indicates limited taxon sharing between studies and presence of biogeographic patterns. - New Phytologist 201: 623-635.

Navarro Benatti, M., Gernert, M. & I. Schmitt (2013) : Parmotrema hydrium, a new species of Parmeliaceae in southeastern Brazil. - Acta Botanica Brasilica 27: 810-814.

Sadowska-Des, A.D., Bálint, M., Otte, J. & I. Schmitt (2013) : Assessing intraspecific diversity in a lichen-forming fungus and its green algal symbiont: Evaluation of eight molecular markers. - Fungal Ecology 6: 141–151.

Schoch, C.L., Seifert, K.A., Huhndorf, S., Robert, V., Spouge, J.L., Levesque, C.A., Chen, W. & Fungal Barcoding Consortium (2012) : Nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region as a universal DNA barcode marker for Fungi. - PNAS 109: 6241-6246.

Singh, G., Dal Grande, F., Cornejo, C., Schmitt, I. & C. Scheidegger (2012) : Genetic basis of self-Incompatibility in the lichen-forming fungus Lobaria pulmonaria and skewed frequency distribution of mating-type idiomorphs: Implications for conservation. - PLoS ONE 7, e51402.

Singh, G., Divakar, P.K., Dal Grande, F., Otte, J., Parnmen, S., Wedin, M., Crespo, A., Lumbsch, H.T. & I. Schmitt (2013) : The sister-group relationships of the largest family of lichenized fungi, Parmeliaceae (Lecanorales, Ascomycota). -Fungal Biology 117: 715-721.