University of Tartu Associate Professor of Plant Ecology Marina Semchenko has won a prestigious grant from the European Research Council (ERC to study the effect of land use change on interactions between plants and soil organisms, the resulting evolutionary changes of which affect a soil's fertility, drought resistance and carbon sequestration capacity.
"I'm extremely pleased that I can finally work with an issue that has fascinated me for quite some time already," Semchenko said. "The prestige and funding of the grant will help me establish a research group that will move research forward faster and more surely than if I were working alone — that is every researcher's dream."
The associate professor also credited her alma mater, supportive colleagues and her homeland of Estonia for her success.
"Of course I also feel a great responsibility for using this grant wisely," she continued. "Together with my group, I will improve our understanding of how human activity impacts the vital functions of plants and soil organisms, and how we can work to improve the situation for both us and them."
The goal of her research, she noted, is evidence-based knowledge that will help make wiser choices in habitat restoration.
"A better understanding of how plants regulate soil biota could also be useful in crop breeding and improving soil health, for example," she added.
The biodiversity of the world's ecosystems is depleting at an accelerating rate, which is why biodiversity and landscape restoration is one of the major goals of the United Nations and the European Commission for the near future, the University of Tartu said in a press release. Semchenko's research project will provide essential information for improving the efficiency of the restoration work. The research will focus on grasslands in different regions of Europe and will determine how evolutionary changes in plant populations affect soil processes and their resilience to drought.
While the negative impacts of grassland fertilization and shrub encroachment on biodiversity are well known, far less research has looked into genetic changes within species, which may be critical for species survival under climate change. Nor is it known how land use-induced changes in plant populations affect the functioning and drought resilience of the entire ecosystem. These are the issues Semchenko is on in her research project.
Semchenko's research project, which has a budget of nearly €2 million, will run through September 2027.
Editor: Aili Vahtla