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You are here: Home staff pages Dr. Julia Bechteler

Dr. Julia Bechteler

Nees-Institut für Biodiversität der Pflanzen • Meckenheimer Allee 170 • D – 53115 Bonn

 

 

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Research interests

My general interest is in understanding adaptive evolutionary processes in land plants and their underlying genetic mechanisms. Shifts in habitats often involve rapid radiations and the evolution of phenotypic traits that provide fitness advantages. Biodiversity assessments and thus molecular phylogenetics including dating approaches provide the starting point for my research on the genetic basis behind such traits and processes. My research focusses on two different but generally extreme environments, desert systems and epiphytic habitats. Currently, I am particularly interested in 1) genetic mechanisms underlying the adaptation of plants to arid desert environments and 2) the evolution of the epiphytic lifestyle in early diverging land plants, particularly liverworts. Past research includes the lichen symbiosis and photobiont diversity.

 

Current and past research areas

  1. Adaptation of angiosperms to desert habitats 

    Deserts, with their extreme climatic conditions, set high demands on their inhabiting species. Plants have adapted to their abiotic stress factors, however, little is known about the underlying genetic mechanisms. My research aims to fill this gap by identifying candidate genes, signatures of selection, and gene expression patterns related to drought stress tolerance in non-model desert dwellers. Currently, I work with the angiosperm family Loasaceae that includes several arid species from two of the driest areas on earth, the Atacama and Namib Deserts. Comparative transcriptomic analyses will give insights into the genetic peculiarities of desert plants that are of great interest in the face of climate change. This research is carried out within the DFG CRC1211: Earth - Evolution at the Dry Limit (https://sfb1211.uni-koeln.de/).

    Loasaceae desert dwellers sharing iridoid secondary compounds

    Loasaceae desert dwellers sharing iridoid secondary compounds. Left: Huidobria fruticosa from the Atacama Desert (photos: T. Böhnert); right: Kissenia capensis from the Namib Desert (photos: D. Quandt).

  2. Evolution and systematics of liverworts with a focus on epiphytes

    Liverworts are a key component of many ecosystems and play important roles as water reservoir and habitat for diverse organisms. Shifts from a terrestrial to an epiphytic lifestyle resulted in rapid radiations of many liverwort lineages, which is displayed in their high biodiversity, especially in humid tropical and subtropical forests. I am interested in understanding the evolution of these epiphytic lineages including their biogeography and character evolution. My current study systems are the simple thalloid Metzgeriaceae and the largest family of liverworts, the leafy Lejeuneaceae. To address my research questions, I use a variety of bioinformatic programs to analyse molecular as well as morphological data from extant and fossil specimens. In this framework, my research also contributes to taxonomic updates on my study systems.

    Epiphytic liverwort diversity

    Epiphytic liverwort diversity. Left: Metzgeria; middle from bottom left to bottom right: Metzgeria, Pictolejeunea, Radula, Leptolejeunea; right: Cololejeunea (all photos: J. Bechteler).

  3. Symbiosis

    My past research includes the lichen symbiosis. In one project, we determined the genetic diversity of the photobionts and mycobionts of Placopsis species in recently deglaciated areas of Antarctic islands. Our results show different ecological preferences of their algal partners and indicate that they play a role in the adaptation of the lichen symbiotic entity to changing environmental conditions. Our research was featured on the title page of the September 2019 issue of SYMBIOSIS (https://link.springer.com/journal/13199/79/1).

    Placopsis 

     

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