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.

Members of the Terraform team take part in the first Irish Paleo Forum (IPF) in Cork

The first Irish Paleo Forum (IPF) - Cork, January 2024

On January 18th, our lab members, Antonietta Knetge, Catarina Barsboa and William Matthaeus joined fellow Irish palaeontologists for the first Irish Paleo Forum (IPF) meeting at University College Cork. The organisation of the IPF was proposed by Prof. Maria McNamara, Dr. Chris Mays, and our own, Prof. Jennifer McElwain. The forum aims to enhance the palaeontology community in Ireland by offering an open space for current research, communication and innovation. Members of Trinity College Dublin’s Plant Climate Interaction lab look forward to participating in future IPF meetings, making history in Ireland for the bright future of palaeontology.

How to bring extinct plants ‘Back to Life' - publication by Will Matthaeus and Jenny McElwain

How to bring extinct plants ‘Back to Life.’

An obvious question to many might be “why study plant fossils?” Of course, some people just think they are amazing on their own. But there are ways that plant fossils can help us understand how Earth’s different systems work together. One framework for this approach is described by the recent review A Systems Approach to Understanding How Plants Transformed Earth’s Environment in Deep Time by TERRAFORM postdoc Will Matthaeus and PI Jenny McElwain among others. First, the plant fossil record tells us that at least part of Earth has been covered by plants since they evolved nearly half-a-billion years ago, even though the climate has been very different at times. The fossil record also shows that plants have changed so much since their start that at times they may have been nearly alien to our modern eyes. Finally, using ecosystem process models to incorporate measurements from plant fossils with climate simulations, we can estimate how extinct plants may have performed in the climates they experienced hundreds of millions of years in the past. Reaching so far back requires the expertise of several different kinds of scientists all working closely together to carefully develop solutions to a diverse array of challenges, and will allow us to understand the whole story of how the Earth we know came to be.

Copyright © 2022 Matthaeus, Montañez, McElwain, Wilson and White.
Citation: Matthaeus WJ, Montañez IP, McElwain JC, Wilson JP and White JD (2022) Stems matter: Xylem physiological limits are an accessible and critical improvement to models of plant gas exchange in deep time. Front. Ecol. Evol. 10:955066. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2022.955066

Open Access Publication

Workshop held at the Botany Lecture Theatre on Overcoming Barriers to Fen Restoration

Workshop held at the Botany Lecture Theatre on Overcoming Barriers to Fen Restoration

On October 25th, a workshop on “Overcoming Barriers to Fen Restoration” took place at Trinity College Dublin’s Botany Department. The event was organised by Dr Sate Ahmad and Adam Bates, as part of the IRC-funded DIVE2STORE project, to offer a collaborative space for individuals involved with all facets of peatland-related work. The workshop discussed the diversity of peatland ecosystems in Ireland with a focus on fens (groundwater-fed peatlands), the pros and cons of rewetting peatlands, and how restoration efforts should consider social aspects along with an acknowledgement of gaps in technical knowhows. Highlighted talks on these topics include those of Prof. Gerald Jurasinski (University of Greifswald, Germany) and Dr Shane Regan (National Parks and Wildlife Service) discussing The Power of Long-term Monitoring to Understand the Climate Effect of Peatland Rewetting, and EU Just Transition Wetlands Restoration Project – Fen Management, respectively. The workshop also focused on the societal aspects of fen restoration, how people interact with these landscapes and the significance they hold for the locals neighbouring these areas. To cover these points, Dr Mícheál Callaghan from the Community Wetlands Forum (CWF) presented the Lessons and Experiences of the CWF and its members. All talks were followed by productive discussions and debates on potential restoration and monitoring solutions integrating responsible management schemes to address potential negative externalities, as well as setting restoration goals based on peatland type (eg. climate mitigation vs. biodiversity). The importance of the involvement of local communities in restoration and monitoring efforts was highlighted along with the need for providing incentives for fen restoration. Attendees included members of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Community Wetlands Forum, Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, Bord na Móna, BEC Consultants, Green Restoration Ireland, Ó Ceallaigh Ecology, FarmPEAT Project, iCRAG, University of Galway, University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin (Departments of Botany, Geography, Zoology, and Environmental Engineering).

Dr Richard Nair awarded SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship

Dr Richard Nair awarded SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship

RODEO: Root Dynamics for Ecosystem Observation is a SFI-Royal Society University research fellowship awarded to Dr Richard Nair. RODEO is an 8-year project where Richard and the interdisciplinary RODEO team will build on his previous work building instruments and AI methods to understand root phenology (seasonal cycles) and use this to understand the links between root and shoot phenology. Phenology is important because it affects how much CO2 is taken up by vegetation and thus how plant life can buffer climate change. But most phenology information is only above ground, so if the changing environment causes differences in root and leaf activity, we cannot understand this from above-ground observations only leading to uncertainty in future predictions. RODEO will allow the team to study the links between whole plant phenology and CO2 uptake and release under real field conditions, and help improve forecasts, adaptions, and management of climate change.


RootCheck: Image-Based Root Health Assessment Tools for Sustainable Agriculture

RootCheck is a SFI-funded National Challenge Fund project, led by Dr Richard Nair with co-PI Dr Saoirse Tracy at University College Dublin. Health and physiological syndromes can affect roots and leaves differently, but there are no tools to help assess root health under field conditions. Generally, roots are much more difficult to measure than leaves, but root health status may not be visible above-ground. RootCheck will develop new tools for rapid and non-destructive in-field assessment of root health status using a combination of cheap sensors and artificial intelligence methods. RootCheck will build an interdisciplinary team to approach this challenge with an end-user focus. The output of RootCheck will help ensure data parameterized agricultural systems, helping ensure long-term agricultural sustainability and productivity in uncertain future conditions.

Adam Bates attends the Power to the Peatlands conference, Antwerp, Belgium

Adam Bates attends the Power to the Peatlands conference, Antwerp, Belgium

On the 19-21 September, lab member Adam, a Research Assistant to the Dive2Store project, attended the Power to the Peatlands conference, held at the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Presenting a poster on Dive2Store’s recent fieldwork, Adam was able to discuss the ongoing study with peat experts from across Europe and beyond.

Rewetting, restoration, and conservation of peatlands are currently at the forefront of environmental concern in Ireland and Europe, with significant implications for climate goals and policy, relating to carbon stores, emissions, and mitigation.

Siobhán McDonald captures landscapes at tipping points - The Boglands Are Breathing exhibition

'Siobhan McDonald communicate complex science in a visual way — reaching out to people with their heartstrings’

Siobhán’s latest exhibition – ‘The Boglands Are Breathing’ blends scientific and creative processes to make sculptures, videos, works on paper, paintings and sound pieces. The exhibition gathered numerous collaborators, bringing together scientists, conservators, musicians, philosophers, perfumers and celestial phenomena, all of whom collectively take part in the evolution of the work. Our shared boglands are positioned as the protagonists of an unseen drama, and this work makes visible the collective memory that is held in the rich repository that exists within the thin layer between the soil and the rocks.  An installation entitled ‘A library of lost smells,’ consisting of plant species, gathered from numerous bog sites across Ireland acts as a slow distillation of deep time created from plants and mineral-rich bog waters, that explores links between smell & memory. The installation holds an assortment of hand-blown glass bottles containing scents from eight of the most important notes. Some of the vessels contain scent-infused remnants that were buried deep in a bog for over 20 years alluding to the low oxygen levels and unusual smells derived from the preservation conditions.

Find out more about Siobhán’s exhibition, which took place at Model Arts Centre in Sligo, from the Irish Times article.

Click below to see the short documentary on the exhibition.

Second year of the monitoring program at Trinity College Botanic Garden

Trinity College Botanic Garden successfully run the second year of its long-term monitoring program

Trinity College Botanic Garden successfully run the second year of its long-term monitoring program. From the 26th to the 30th of June visiting researcher Midori Yajima, Dr Christos Chondrogiannis and research assistant Orla Banting daily measured trees’ physiological parameters in the garden, to add to the growing dataset to be used to assess tree responses to climate change in the long run. Lab analyses of trees’ ability to intercept particulate pollution are also underway, thanks to the collaboration with the iCRAG lab, and herbarium specimens are in the making for the year 2023, to be hosted in Trinity College Herbarium for future research questions. After the first year of testing the monitoring is growing into being a well-established project, attracting the interest from realities within and outside College.

Following the ethics of open science, all the resources for the monitoring have been published online in an accessible way, including protocols on the platform, accessible through management in the database DMP online, and datasets in the Dryad database, accessible through, and will be regularly updated.

Antonietta Knetge Attends Specialised Training at University Claude Bernard

Antonietta Knetge Attends Specialised Training at University Claude Bernard

A member of our lab, PhD researcher Antonietta Knetge, has recently returned from two weeks of training with Prof. Bernard Gomez at the University Claude Bernard 1 in Lyon, France. 

From the training, she learned cuticle preparation techniques on Cretaceous fossil material. The training covered: the extraction of plant material from water-soluble sediment, sorting of dried plant material by taxa, chemical preparation, and dissection of foliar cuticle for light microscopy and SEM analysis. 

All materials prepared were from Cretaceous localities in France with a principal focus on gymnosperms and particularly the conifer Frenelopsis, to determine its habit and ecology.