Evolution, biodiversity and conservation of indigenous plant species of the Balkan Peninsula

Project ID: ERA 49
Funding including national funding and EC funding:
Total costs: 246,850 € SEE-ERA.NET PLUS funding: 133,582 €
Project duration: 01.10.2010 / 30.09.2012

The Balkan flora is not only the richest in Europe but comprises also many endemics. Preservation of indigenous species and their habitats is therefore not only of national, but also of international importance. While species richness is still the most widely used measure for biodiversity assessments, recent molecular studies have shown that much of the “hidden”, intraspecific diversity is neither adequately reflected in taxonomy nor used in nature conservation. Another source of biodiversity is polyploidy (multiplication of chromosome sets), which was not only involved in the origin of most crop plants but is also considered one important mechanism allowing sympatric speciation. Ploidy level differences are not restricted to the species level, but also occur frequently within species. Polyploids have been shown to originate recurrently and to be successfully maintained, emphasising their evolutionary significance. Applying a wide array of molecular techniques in combination with flow-cytometry, we aim to unravel the spatiotemporal evolution of three polyploid plant groups scattered throughout the tree-of-life in order to uncover general mechanisms that contributed to the high levels of biodiversity of the Western Balkan countries. Among the taxa proposed to be investigated is the Balkan endemic Cerastium dinaricum, a Natura 2000 species, and thus a priority species for EU-wide conservation efforts. Our team comprises scientists from the Universities of Innsbruck (Austria), Beograd (Serbia) and Zagreb (Croatia). While the Austrian partners have a long-term experience in the application of molecular techniques to unravel intraspecific biodiversity and polyploid complexes, the Croatian and Serbian partners have only recently set up molecular laboratories or are currently on the way to do so. Consequently, they would greatly profit from the transfer of know-how with respect to molecular techniques, advanced data analyses and effective publication strategies.

Partners involved:

Universitaet Innsbruck
Institute of Botany / Department of Systematics, Palynology and Geobotany
Innrhein 52
6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Dr. Peter Schoenswetter peter.schoenswetter@univie.ac.at

University of Belgrade, Faculty of Biology
Institute of Botany and Botanical Garden “Jevremovac”, Department of Plant Ecology and Phytogeography
3, Studentski Trg
11000 Belgrade, Serbia
Prof. Dmitar Lakusic dlakusic@bio.bg.ac.rs

Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb
Department of Botany, Division of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb
20/II Marulicev trg
10000 Zagreb, Croatia
Dr. Antun Alegro antun@botanic.hr