Actualia (engl.) · Conference Report

Symposium “Plant evolution in a changing world”

Almost 100 participants joined the Symposium and gathered for the group photo in front of the greenhouses in the Botanical Garden of the University of Gießen. Photo: Annalena Kurzweil
Keynote speaker Gitte Petersen (right) was introduced by Elvira Hörandl (left) in the lecture hall of the Hermann Hofmann Academy. Photo: Annalena Kurzweil
The Poster exhibition presented almost 30 scientific research results. Photo: Annalena Kurzweil
Volker Wissemann presented the public evening lecture with the title: “Der Garten von Gießen”. Photo: Anna Kurzweil
Impressions from the tour in the Botanical Garden. Photo: Elvira Hörandl

The symposium of our Section Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology took place from 23rd to 26th August 2023 at the University of Gießen in the lecture halls of the Hermann Hoffmann Academy.  Altogether 94 scientists participated (only 4 last-minute cancellations), 34 of them students. With two international keynote speakers the organizers Prof. Dr. Volker Wissemann, Prof. Dr. Elvira Hörandl, Dr. Anže Žerdoner Čalasan, and Dr. Natalia Tkach welcomed a European audience; with most participants from Germany. The programme encompassed 19 talks and 21 posters from students. Gender balance was a 2:2 male:female ratio with the invited keynote speakers, and 17 female compared to 13 male speakers, reflecting a strong presence of females at early career stages in systematics. Elvira Hörandl summarizes the scientific highlights, names the awardees and reports about the Section’s meeting and elections.

Highlights about parasitic and alpine plants, island biogeography, and reproductive systems

The four plenary keynote talks were highlights of the symposium. Gitte Petersen (Stockholm) focused on genome interactions in parasitic plants, presenting exciting new results on the impact on plant mitochondrial genomes. Peter Schönswetter (Innsbruck) reported many case studies on polyploidy in alpine plants and unexpected results from a big ploidy screening project in the Alps. Alexander Zizka (Marburg) showed us new statistical approaches to answer old questions in island biogeography and presented integrative, artificial-intelligence supported methods for nature conservation. Christiane Ritz (Görlitz) focused on evolution of reproductive systems, with new results on hemisexuality in dogroses and dioecy in strawberries. The keynote talks stimulated intense discussions.

We had five symposia with altogether 30 contributed talks, focussing on

  1. conflict of genome data,
  2. polyploidy and analysis of paralogs,
  3. the use of – omics data in systematics,
  4. biogeography, and
  5. use of artificial intelligence in systematics.
  6. The open topic session finally included only one talk (due to last minute cancellations) on plant evolution in deserts.

Scientific highlights of the symposia

All talks were given in front of the full audience. Most contributions presented phylogenomic and population genomic data and methods, and addressed evolutionary processes like hybridization, polyploidy, taxonomic history, but also trait evolution and ecology. The biogeography section had most contributions, dealing with diversification of plants in space and time with various model systems. The use of next-generation sequencing methods has become standard in the research field. The highest novelty was probably presented in the artificial intelligence section with three contributions on methods and applications of machine learning and deep learning; the progress predicts a revolution of the classification process with the help of artificial neuronal networks. In the 2-hour poster session 29 posters were presented. Additionally to the above-mentioned symposium topics we had many open topic contributions, ranging from floristics, nature conservation, and history of science.

Awards for scientific posters and talks

We organized student prices by election of the best poster and talk by all participants. Both prices include free participation in one of the next DBG meetings. The student price for the best talk was awarded to Loudmila Jelinscaia Lagou (Munich), for the talk “Phylogenomics of the slipper orchid genus Cypripedium using target enrichment data”. The challenges studying orchids and the nice presentation impressed the audience. The student price for the best poster was awarded to Maria-Anna Vasile (Bonn) for the poster: “Unravelling Boraginales: an updated phylogeny based on the Angiosperms353 probe set”. Here the importance of the study on this difficult order and the nice graphical presentation, including morphological structures, were appreciated.

We enjoyed several social events. The conference included an ice-breaker and many coffee breaks for discussion and socializing. Before the conference dinner we had an inspiring public evening lecture on the History of Botanical Gardens, held by organizer Prof. Dr. Volker Wissemann. The conference dinner was organized in the Botanical garden and was free (without additional fees) for all participants, which allowed also all students to participate and to enjoy the dinner in the nice atmosphere. After the scientific program, voluntarily guided tours to the Botanical garden and some nature reserves near Gießen completed the program.

Our topic “plant evolution in a changing world” was addressed in many different ways, including the many evolutionary topics, the contributions to past and present climatic change, and the challenge of the use of artificial intelligence, which will probably change also the future scientific world.

Election of the Section’s spokespersons

The conference included also the annual meeting of members of the section Biodiversity and evolutionary biology. The spokespersons reported about membership status (increasing), activities of the last year, and budget status (stable). The team of spokespersons were re-elected for another period of two years. We then had discussions on how to attract more members at early career stages. The student poster and talk prices will be a permanent part of the section meetings and will be made more visible with naming the prices after a reputed Botanist. It was encouraged to submit symposia to DBG’s scientific journal Plant Biology, and to think of more activities and submissions of projects at the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Altogether the symposium can be regarded as successful to report scientific progress of our research field, and a nice get-together of young and experienced scientists. We thank Volker Wissemann and his team for the organization of this wonderful event and the German Society for Plant sciences for financial support.

Prof. Dr. Elvira Hörandl, University of Goettingen, Albrecht-von-Haller Institute for Plant Sciences, Department of Systematics, Biodiversity and Evolution of Plants (with Herbarium), Göttingen, Germany