The Variable Light and Atmosphere Laboratory Launch

The Variable Atmosphere and Light (VAL) Lab Launch

At the beginning of February, we celebrated the launch of the Variable Atmosphere and Light (VAL) Laboratory at the Trinity Technology and Enterprise Centre in Dublin. The laboratory co-funded by the Science Foundation Ireland and Trinity College Dublin, comprises six walk-in experimentally controlled climate chambers with full control of light intensity and spectra, temperature, humidity, atmospheric composition and the diurnal cycle. The CONVIRON PGC20 plant growth chambers are instrumented with an infra-red phenotyping platform, full solar spectrum LED lights and many other state-of-the-art environmental sensors and control systems, that can simulate past, present or future climatic, atmospheric and light environments of Earth or other planets, for experimentation in plant science, geology, material sciences, engineering and astrobiology.

The grand opening of the laboratory marked the securing of the  SFI Infrastructure award back in 2015 by Prof. Jennifer McElwain, allowing the performance of high-quality scientific research and collaboration with other institutions and disciplines.

The event, attended by over 50 people, was highlighted by the speech from Ankit Verma, the Scientific Infrastructure Programme Manager at SFI, emphasizing the importance of the major founding agency in Ireland, enabling the researchers across the country to access some of the best equipment for the delivery of high-quality science. Prof. Sinéad Ryan, the Dean of Research, brought to attention the possibilities for collaboration within Trinity College and beyond, allowing excellence in innovation and research development.

For more information on the VAL Lab launch and the planned future experiments conducted in the climate-controlled plant growth chambers, see here.

Are plants Ecosystem Engineers?

Will Matthaeus presents a case to the International Biogeography Society in Prague

In the frosty early days of January, Dr Will Matthaeus went to Prague to deliver a talk at the Ecosystem Engineering Symposium organized by Kate Lyons and Amelia Villaseñor at the 11th Biennial Conference of International Biogeography Society (IBS). In a session covering everything from Edicarian bioturbation to anthropogenic impacts and rewilding—500 million years of ecosystem engineering—Will presented plants as a foundational aspect of terrestrial ecosystems and classic examples of ecosystem and landscape reorganization with plant evolutionary changes (e.g., ‘The Devonian Plant Hypothesis’). The earliest plants were little more than ‘green slime.’  These small, prostrate organisms that were limited to wet environments may still have impacted global ecosystems by altering atmospheric oxygen concentrations.  Over the course of the evolutionary transformations that led from green slime to boreal forests and savannahs, plants have likely increased the diversity and maximum effect in their impact on ecosystems. Synthesis of paleo-plant traits, among other paleontological techniques, may provide insight into this function over periods of change, upheaval, and extinction in terrestrial environments that are informative for our future. However, understanding these changes requires expertise in a broad variety of disciplines; IBS meetings are a valuable opportunity for developing the frontiers of paleoecology through new collaborations.