Description of the research
Scientific works in ecology and environmental protection are focused on the following research topics:
- Biodiversity in evaluating and forecasting the state of the environment
The subject of the research is the diversity of the flora, vegetation/plant communities and fauna of various natural, semi-natural and anthropogenic types of habitats as well as plants and animals (in selected benthos groups) in water bodies related to their diversified genesis as related to the appearance of inter-species relations and of the pace of their transformations. These researches allow the biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to be identified at the split level of their organisation including the deterministic and stochastic processes that influence their formation and development. The presence or absence of species that can act as indicators is used to evaluate the quantitative and qualitative changes of the natural environment.
Creating and updating scientific databases of the identification and monitoring of natural habitats and plant and animal species that are important for the conservation of nature in the European Union as well as the endangered and rare species in southern Poland are the foundation for the conservation of nature and management of the environment (e.g. project HabitARS).
The results of long-term environmental studies performed in southern Poland were the origin of the development of a regional information system and Open-access Bio- and Geodiversity Database of the Silesia Voivodeship, which is an integral part of the Open-access Regional Spatial Information System that is dedicated to both the animate and inanimate components of nature (under the auspices of the BIOGEO-SILESIA ORSIP group). Those data will be used to process and analyse environmental information scientifically. Moreover, they can be an effective tool that can be used in the management of natural resources, which may encourage the active involvement of society (among others drafting land use/management plans or environmental impact assessments). The new platform will also encourage cooperation in collecting and sharing spatial data both internally, within the public administration bodies of the Silesia Voivodeship, and externally, by sharing the data with independent institutions or citizens (http://biogeo.us.edu.pl/).
Another important aspect of the research is to identify and perform risk assessments of the threats that are posed by alien plants and animals, in particular invasive species, to native biodiversity and functioning of the ecosystem. It is important to continue these studies, which may help to develop effective methods to limit the spread of and to completely eradicate invasive species (e.g. Alien plants in Poland…).
- Ecological processes in natural and anthropogenic environments
These studies focus on a variety of ecological processes, i.e. the succession involving model plant and animal species and the role of the microevolution processes of plants, which occur under the influence of environmental factors, with a special emphasis on analyses of the phenotypic variation and genetics of the organisms that colonise different types of habitats. Research, which is conducted in natural and anthropogenic habitats, including post-industrial ones, takes into account the co-evolutionary interrelationships of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms and the role of animals in the transfer of diaspores, as well as the relationship between species of indigenous and alien origins with particular attention being paid to biotic and abiotic parameters.
Other important aspects of the ecological investigations are the analyses of the age and origin of forests as well as their historic and current distribution in the landscape. Such knowledge plays an important role in the proper diagnosis of the reasons for the current biotic diversity of forests and the undergoing ecological processes. A key role in these studies is played by the groups of species that are typical for forests with continuous existence in the landscape, the so-called ancient woodland indicator species. Their current distribution is a reliable measure of the mechanisms that govern the biotic diversity of wooded landscapes.
The aim of the studies is to describe effective methods for the restoration, regeneration and creation of habitats that are based on existing patterns in natural systems on post-agricultural and post-fire sites and in areas that have been converted from industrial activities.
- The ecophysiological responses of plants and animals
The research focuses on the transfer of biogenic and toxic elements, including heavy metals, along the food chain. The scientific interests also cover growth, life-history as well as the strategies of energy allocation and feeding of the terrestrial invertebrates that inhabit degraded, agricultural and forest habitats. An important aim of the studies is to elucidate the behavioural and physiological differences that enhance the tolerance of exposed organisms to various environmental stressors. The analyses include determining the soil biological activity, geochemical stability and tolerance to heavy metals.
Another aim of the research is to elaborate and implement effective methods of biological remediation that use plants and bacteria (e.g. the ABTOW project) and to reclaim the dumping grounds of the toxic waste that was the by-product of non-ferrous metal ores processing.
The following research methods are used in the investigations:
Methods used to collect data in the field
- quantitative methods and qualitative assessments of the species composition of plant communities and groups of animals, cartographic methods
- standardised methods of the collection and measurements of the physical and chemical characteristics of water, soil and bottom deposits
- long-term observations of permanent plots
- classical methods of animal and plant breeding (in greenhouse and garden conditions)
Methods used for field and laboratory data analysis
- identification of the biological material of plants and animals
- analysis of terrestrial and aquatic communities using biocenotic indicators and multivariate analysis
- multifaceted analysis of floristic and phytosociological materials
- analysis of the phenotypic variability in the populations of different taxa
- GIS and spatial data analysis
- methods of physical and chemical analyses of water, soil and bottom sediments
- methods of atomic absorption spectrometry and Variomax for C, N, S determination
- immunochemical and spectrometric methods for enzymatic assays and to determine oxidative stress indices, stress proteins, chlorophyll and other components of living organisms
- BIOLOG method to assess/measure microbial activity
- biotests, e.g. seed germinating power, genotoxicity, acute and chronic toxicity (MARA, Daphtoxkit, Algaltoxkit, Ostracodtoxkit, Phytotoxkit), tests for the rapid detection of hormone-like substances, cosmetics and chemical products in the environment (e.g. XenoScreen YES/YAS).
- luminometry and cytometry to analyse cell energy potential
- respirometry to measure energy metabolism, and calorimetry and microcalorimetry to analyse tissue energy content and organism energy budget
- flow cytometry
- molecular techniques – AFLP, SSR, chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) markers to assess genetic diversity in plants, comet assay