Matthew ROBSON, Ph.D.

Instituce University of Helsinki
Pozice Researcher
Adresa University of Helsinki
Department of Biosciences
Plant Biology
P.O. Box 56 (Viikinkaari 9)
Kontaktní email
Osobní web
Popis Research Interests
1. Physiological and morphological response of species to stress combinations to illustrate differences in strategy
Understanding differences in the strategies of similar species towards stress tolerance and resource capture is an important area of physiological and community ecology. When stresses such as shade and drought are combined, physiological and morphological trade offs make it impossible for plants to optimise for both factors. This field of research is particularly interesting from a theoretical standpoint since it questions the basis for niche differentiation and succession processes. It also has practical importance because climate change at the southern European boundaries of species range is increasing temperature and water stress so changing the established relationships among species in communities.
I have developed this research across many different plant communities in natural and controlled environments. I have compared Betula pendula and B. pubescens seedling response to UV-B under controlled conditions (M Sc work, Aphalo & Robson, BES, 1998). I also studied the response to drought cycles of seedlings of 3 species with contrasting strategies, Fagus sylvatica, Quercus ilex, & Q suber, grown in hydroponic solution under different light regimes (Robson et al., BES, 2008), and in a common-garden trial of different families. I followed up this work with a field-trial of Fagus physiological and trait-based response to shade and drought combinations in a natural forest understorey (Robson et al., Tree Phys 2009, and Rodriguez-Calcerrada et al., 2009)
This analysis of stress combinations can also be applied to plant communities. In grasslands where land use change alters the dynamics of shade, drought, and nutrient stress in mown and unmown fields shifts in dominant functional strategies can be seen (e.g. Gross et al., 2008).

2. Range shift projections for forest tree species and the potential role of genetic diversity
Climate change across Europe is expected to drive northwards species boundaries. To guard against the loss of ecosystem function through catastrophic decline of dominant forest trees, a better understanding of the genetic basis for the control of particular fitness-related traits is needed. If intra-specific genetic variability can be harnessed and used to maintain or introduce favourable traits into populations to mitigate future climate changes, range shift and biodiversity loss can be buffered. However, without research into the intra-specific genetic variability and phenotypic plasticity of species potentially valuable diversity will be lost.
Using reciprocal field trials and common-garden experiments I have tested the performance of provenances spanning the distribution of several species whose northern and southern distributional limits fall within the Iberian Peninsula (Q. ilex, Q. suber, F. Sylvatica). I have emphasized phenological and physiological trait responses of Fagus populations across Europe, as this species is expected to show particular sensitivity to climate change (Robson et al., Congreso Forestal Espanol 2009). Within the framework of an EU Cost Action (E52) I have assimilated a database of traits under genetic control for use in spatial models and climate envelop modelling.

3. Linking land use change and ecosystem function through plant functional traits in comparable grassland plant communities.
Marginal grasslands are falling out of agricultural use due to economic pressures, but paradoxically these ecosystems are often highly valued for other services that they provide. Making the connection from plant communities-and-ecosystem-processes to ecosystem function-and-services, can be helped by construction of a formal framework for assessment. In turn this allows for the production of better guidelines for the management and conservation of natural resources.
I tested a framework which uses plant functional traits to mediate the effects of land use change in a subalpine grassland (Díaz et al., 2007; Robson et al., SBB. 2007). I followed this with an in-depth investigation into the effects of land use on N cycling in these grasslands, using 15N isotopic pool dilution (Robson et al., J Ecol, 2009), through the soil, plant and microbial pools to illustrate the processes controlling ecosystem function. Likewise, I assessed the influence of water stress on grass species dynamics in the plant community of this system, and cross-validated a model of competition for water among dominant species (Gross et al., New Phyto, 2008)

4. Scaling species effects to ecosystem level
It is often difficult in plant ecology to scale between direct mechanistic affects the physiological and organismal scales and long-term holistic affects at the ecosystem or community scale. When global change issues are considered, ecosystem responses are usually of the most general interest.
Investigating the effects of the Antarctic ozone hole over Tierra del Fuego, I scaled between a hierarchy of responses across a peatland ecosystem, from leaf and growth effects on plants, through fungi and microfauna, and biogeochemical cycling to obtain an integrated view of the peatland (Robson et al., New Phyto 2003, Oec 2004, SBB 2005) and heath (Pancotto et al., GCB 2003, GCB 2005).

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