Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants

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Research group Prof. Bechteler

Research interests

  • Molecular phylogenetics/-genomics
  • Land plant evolution
  • Bryophyte diversity and evolution
  • Ecological transcriptomics
  • Plant adaptation to aird habitats

Current projects

Evolution, ecology, and systematics of bryophytes
Bryophytes, with mosses, liverworts, and hornworts, are one of the most species rich land plant lineage (ca. 20,000 species) and play important functional roles in a wide range of ecosystems, e.g., in primary succession as pioneer plants or in primary production or water storage. They played a key role in the terrestrialization of land by plants and although their origin goes back to the Ordovician, more recent radiations from the Cretaceous onwards shaped today’s biodiversity of bryophytes in various habitats. Shifts from a terrestrial to an epiphytic lifestyle resulted in rapid radiations of many bryophyte lineages, which is displayed in their high biodiversity, especially in humid tropical and subtropical forests. We areinterested in understanding the evolution and ecology of these epiphytic lineages including their biogeography and character evolution. Our current study systems are the simple thalloid Metzgeriaceae and the largest family of liverworts, the leafy Lejeuneaceae. We use a variety of bioinformatic programs to analyse molecular as well as morphological data from extant and fossil specimens. In this framework, we are also contributing to taxonomic updates on our study systems.

Our current research mainly focuses on the biology of epiphytic liverworts, such as the Metzgeriaceae (left: Metzgeria) or the Lejeuneaceae (right: Cololejeunea).


Plant adaptation to arid 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. Our 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, we 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 and genomic analyses will give insights into the genetic peculiarities of desert plants that are of great interest in the face of climate change. For more information, please visit the webpage of our project "B07: Desert transcriptomics" (PIs Prof. Dr. Julia Bechteler, LMU, Prof. Dr. Dietmar Quandt, University of Bonn, Prof. Dr. Thomas Wiehe, University of Cologne). This research is carried out within the DFG CRC1211: Earth - Evolution at the Dry Limit.

Huidobria chilensis from the Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the key species in our project on genetic adaptation mechanisms to arid environments.


Biodiversity and biogeographic history of desert plant communities
Arid deserts harbor a plethora of plant species despite the harsh environmental conditions (e.g., temperature extremes, high UV radiation). The Atacama in Chile and the Namib in southern Africa, two of the most arid deserts on earth, each comprise about 750-1000 plant species and are ideal comparative study areas, as both are west coast deserts in the southern hemisphere. We are interested in how desert species with different life history traits evolved and which factors caused their current distribution patterns. Associated to the DFG-funded CRC1211 B01 project and the BMBF-funded project FRAMe (Farmer Resilience and Melon Crop Diversity in Southern Africa), we are currently involved in population genetic research questions and phenotyping studies, mainly focusing on Loasaceae and Cucurbitaceae (melon) species.

From left to right: Kissenia capansis from the Namib Desert and Huidobria fruticosa from the Atacama Desert, both members of the Loasaceae. Far right: the melon species Citrullus ecirrhosus in the Namib Desert.


Group members

Bechteler, Julia; Prof. Dr. +49 89 17861-280 233, 2nd. floor
Morales, Paloma
Neumann, Anina +49 89 17861-196 32, ground floor
Uribe-Holguin, Camila +49 89 17861-227 128, 1st. floor


Kruchen, Stephanie +49 89 17861-257
Fax: +49 89 172638
126, 1st. floor