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Plant Ecology and Biogeochemistry
The research unit investigates biogeochemistry, and functional and evolutionary ecology of terrestrial ecosystems, especially in response to disturbance by man. In particular, our expertise concerns mineral nutrients in the soil-plant system, and adaptations of plants to soil mineral nutrient stress (heavy metal contaminations, ...).
Ecology and evolution of heavy metal tolerance and accumulation by plants
1. Evolutionary ecology of a zinc hyperaccumulator. We address the evolutionary and adaptive significance of heavy metal hyperaccumulation in plants. Thlaspi caerulescens, a zinc/cadmium hyperaccumulator is used as a model species. More specifically, we test the hypothesis that hyperaccumulation may have evolved as a chemical defense against herbivores. We also examine the mechanisms by which that species is able to cope with a broad range of soil mineral element composition (i.e. phenotypic plasticity and/or local adaptation). 2. Ecology and evolution of copper/cobalt tolerance in the flora of Katanga (Dem Rep Congo). Natural outcrops of rocks rich in copper/cobalt exist in Katanga. A restricted number of plant species have evolved the ability to tolerate these extreme habitats. In particular, we investigate evolutionary and ecological significance of heavy metal accumulation in some of those species. We also examine the possibility to use some of those plants to reclaim soils contaminated by heavy metals due to mining activities (phytostabilization).