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Understanding natural variation in urban Arabidopsis thaliana populations – the AraPop project

Tiny but tough: Young Arabidopsis thaliana plants (rosette stage) growing under natural conditions on a wall top in Cologne – they are even smaller than the moss


Background: Scientists have developed exquisite methods and technologies to describe in detail how genes impact plants in laboratory conditions. But the real laboratory in which these functions should be studied is the world, and all too often our knowledge from the laboratory does not help us predict where a given species can grow and how long, because each habitat patch is a mixture of various environmental conditions. 

We really need to extend functional genomics (the study of functions encoded in the genome) into the realm of ecological studies to understand the molecular underpinnings of plant growth and reproduction in real, complex environments.

Aims: Focusing on urban populations of Arabidopsis thaliana, we aim to understand the influence of real-world environmental conditions (such as stress and disturbances) on plant fitness and population structure. We are particularly interested in genetic mechanisms responsible for adaptation to urban habitats with their small-scale heterogeneity in environmental harshness.

Approach: In our interdisciplinary team of plant ecologists and geneticists at the Botanical Institute (University of Cologne), we investigate demographic, phenological and genetic patterns of variation, both among and within urban populations of Arabidopsis thaliana. Our study populations are located in Cologne, Germany. We mainly compare functional and phenological traits under natural and controlled conditions.

[Click here for details on our interdisciplinary research approach]

Persons in charge

Prof Dr Juliette de Meaux (Evolutionary Genetics)
PD Dr Anja Linstädter (Plant Functional Ecology)

Persons involved

Dr Anke Frank (Plant Functional Ecology)
Dr Gregor Schmitz (Evolutionary Genetics)
Dr Andrea Schrader (Developmental Genetics)


Since 05/2016 (ongoing)


Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences (CEPLAS)
European Research Council (ERC)

Fully controlled: Arabidopsis thaliana plants in a growth chamber