Comparative seed biology of deep shade forest herbs: exploring evolutionary and ecological aspects of seed germination and seedling establishment for the development of predictive models to support woodland restoration

ESR 9C - Cristina Blandino

I completed a Bachelor's in Natural Sciences at Palermo University (Italy) and I have a  MSc  in Biodiversity and Nature Conservation from the University of Siena (Italy). During the MSc I won an Erasmus grant that enable me  to spend 10 months in Tenerife (Spain)  writing a dissertation on the effects of biotic homogenization on oceanic islands. Then for two years I gained valuable work experience  with different research institutions and environmental NGOs across Europe, through internships and volunteering positions. To this point my main research interests were paleobotany, island biogeography and invasive species ecology, but I always developed strong interests in forest ecology and conservation.

Under the NASSTEC project I have started  my own research on forest ecology, with a particular focus on the regeneration niche of herbaceous understory plants. In Europe, reforestation interventions have focused mostly on restoration of the tree layer while forest herbs have been often neglected. Due to land use change many species regarded as Ancient Woodland Indicator (AWI) are experiencing a reduction  in area and, since natural colonisation of the ground layer in a restored woodland can take many years, it may be necessary to reintroduce those herbaceous species typical of mature woodlands, especially if the restored forest is isolated from sources of natural colonization. I am currently reviewing  the germination strategies of European AWIs herbs, with the objective of linking the different regeneration strategies within this group of species with habitat preferences. A gap analysis has already identified a group of less studied species and these are already the subject of lab-based assessments of germination efficiency. Complementary vegetation surveys in woodlands of different, known ages and land use history, are accounting for species presence (including regeneration) and abundance across all seasons.

The impact of my research  will be realised in two main ways: 1) through the provision of  information to land use agencies on which species to use in the restoration of the understory layer of European woodlands; and 2) by informing  seed producers on how to increase  successful plant establishment.

Being part of the NASSTEC project has proven to be an excellent way to learn from and contribute to a new network of researchers with diverse professional skills studying  various aspects of the seed ecology of European plants. I am inspired by this international research environment!