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Research groups

IUT20-32 Evolutionary and contemporary processes in populations of mammals and their pathogens (1.01.2014−31.12.2019). Principal investigator senior researcher Urmas Saarma.

This project aims to develop novel approaches and methods to bring new insights into the past and contemporary processes influencing populations of ecologically and epidemiologically important mammals and their pathogens. To identify congruent and specific population processes among mammals and their pathogens we will evaluate the influence of historical, environmental, geographical and anthropogenic factors on the formation of global and local population genetic patterns. Risk assessment will also be used to identify temporal and spatial contacts that may influence the transmission of infectious diseases from wild mammals to domestic animals and humans. The project will be highly relevant from a scientific perspective and will have great applied value for nature conservation, management and healthcare: its results will be used to help government institutions develop conservation and management plans for mammals, and health-care strategies against zoonotic diseases.

IUT20-33 Comparative approaches to evolutionary ecology of insects: from phylogenies to applied population dynamics (1.01.2014−31.12.2019). Principal investigator prof. Toomas Tammaru.

We propose a synergistic set of multi-species studies on insects ranging from phylogenetic reconstructions to conservation ecology. The core is formed by studies on evolutionary ecology of fundamental traits such as body size, growth rate and body colouration, with numerous hypotheses pertaining to each question. An original hypothesis about ordination of life histories (capital vs income breeding) will be developed. Explicitly phylogenetic analyses will be predominantly applied. These will largely rely on original phylogenetic work on the moth family Geometridae. The scarcity of phylogenetic information has formerly precluded such analyses on insects - this project will participate in the breakthrough. As a unifying conceptual aspect, we are going to pay specific attention to the possibility of explanations other than adaptive ones. Comparative approaches will also be applied to traits of relevance to population dynamics, which adds a conservation-ecological dimension to our work.

IUT20-29 Dark diversity: taxonomic, phylogenetic, functional and genetic levels in dynamic plant communities (1.01.2014−31.12.2019). Principal investigator prof. Meelis Pärtel.

Biodiversity is associated with a variety of ecosystem functions that have a direct effect on human well-being. We have introduced the concept of dark diversity – absent species in a region that can potentially inhabit a local habitat – in order to elucidate better biodiversity patterns and processes. We now expand the dark diversity concept from taxonomic to phylogenetic, functional and genetic diversity; identify processes that produce observed and dark diversity; elaborate methods to quantify dark diversity, and provide practical tools for biodiversity conservation and invasive species control. We explore the temporal patterns of dark diversity with respect to the phenomena of extinction debt and colonization credit in dynamic plant communities. We focus on plants, but our approach is applicable to all ecosystems and taxonomic groups. Our project will lead to major advances in our understanding of biodiversity patterns and provide vital tools for conservation. 

IUT20-30 Big data – integrated study of fungal species and their interactions (1.1.2014−31.12.2019). Principal investigator prof. Urmas Kõljalg.

The main aims of the project are to produce fundamental progress in sequence-based taxonomy and identification of fungi and high-throughput DNA sequencing based analyses of fungal communities. For this we combine our expertise in: 1) taxonomy of selected fungal taxa; 2) fungal community studies with high-throughput sequencing and 3) bioinformatics.

IUT34-7 Novel ecosystems and ecological restoration in the context of sustainable management  (1.1.2015−31.12.2020). Principal investigator senior researcher Asko Lõhmus.

Project explores fundamental reorganizations of species assemblages in exploited natural ecosystems, its consequences and implications at different scales. We develop, and test in the field, basic concepts of novel ecosystem dynamics with an emphasis on the ‘reshuffling’ of native species pool over multiple trophic levels. Our objectives include describing how novel ecosystems are formed (comparative studies), how resilient they are (ecosystem experiments), what determines their long-term development (repeated measurements) and biotic regulation (population experiments). In applied terms, we develop the assessment and management tools for the environmental values of novel assemblages. That would allow optimization of resource allocation between the widespread mitigation measures and spatially restricted expensive protection (ecological restoration, reserve management) in the increasingly human-dominated world.

IUT34-8 Explaining mechanisms and functions of individual covariation of behaviour, signal traits and immunity in the context of the pace-of-life-syndrome (1.1.2015−31.12.2020). Principal investigator prof. Peeter Hõrak.

The Pace-of-Life-Syndrome (POLS) hypothesis proposes that life-history traits have coevolved in close association with suites of behavioural and physiological characteristics such as metabolic rates, immune function and animal personalities. Applying neurophysiological, endocrinological and immunological approaches, and modern molecular and nanotechnology methods in the realm of behavioural ecology, this project aims at assessment of the POLS hypothesis by (1) elucidating the mechanisms responsible for emergence of covariation between different components of POLS, (2) measuring the selection on different sets of POLS components and (3) expanding the whole hypothesis to integrate the variation in signal traits with POLS components. Research involves establishing external and internal (developmental, genetic, age- and disease-related) constraints on emergence of POLS and measuring the functional importance of these constraints in different bird and insect species.

IUT20-28 The role of arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) in shaping plant community
patterns and plant interactions
(1.1.2014−31.12.2019). Principal investigator prof. Martin Zobel.

The potential effect of AM fungi on plant community diversity and composition has been long discussed, but the actual role of mycorrhiza remains uncertain. Symbiotic fungi influence the growth and reproduction of experimental plants, and affect experimental plant communities, but field evidence is limited. The current study program will address co-variation of AMF and plant communities, and assembly rules in AM fungal communities. In addition, we will address how interactions between plants are mediated by mycorrhizal fungi. We will study the abovementioned patterns and processes along a natural productivity gradient, and a gradient in land use intensity. In addition, we will address the role of mycorrhiza in restoration of grassland biodiversity, on overgrown and degraded land. We aim to understand the overall effect of AM fungi on plant community structure. We anticipate that the role of mycorrhiza might be more important than previously assumed.

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