HerbAdapt - Adaptation of understorey herbs to forest management


Charlotte Møller, Niek Scheepens (PI), Pieter De Frenne


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


April 2020 - March 2023

In short

In this project we investigate adaptation of understorey herbs to forest management.

Project description

Plant adaptation to land use has commonly been studied within the context of managed grassland ecosystems, whereas studies on the adaptation of forest understorey herbs to forest management are lacking. This is surprising because of the strong impact of forest management on the forest understorey environment, especially on light and soil moisture conditions, which are likely to exert strong constraints on forest understorey herbs. We predict that this environmental variation acts as divergent selection pressure causing phenotypic trait differentiation and local adaptation of forest understorey herbs to forest management.

In our project HerbAdapt, embedded in the Biodiversity Exploratories, we perform two common garden experiments – one of them including a light and drought treatment – as well as a reciprocal transplant experiment to test this prediction for multiple common forest understorey herbs (four forbs, two grasses) varying in colonization rate. Besides performance and functional traits, we will investigate flowering phenology, because of its correlation with forest management for observational field data. We will correlate phenotypic trait means and trait responses to experimental treatments, obtained from the common garden experiments, with forest structure and microclimatic variables. With the reciprocal transplant experiment we will explicitly test for adaptation to forest management by adopting an Exploratory-scale transplant design along a management intensity gradient.

Concluding, our project will contribute to understanding the impact of forest management on phenotypic trait variation in forest understorey herbs. Being an important level of biodiversity, phenotypic trait variation in forest understorey herbs forms the basis for adaptation to future changes in forest management and global climate.


Møller CMarch-Salas M, Kuppler J, De Frenne P, Scheepens JF (2023) Intra-individual variation in Galium odoratum is affected by experimental drought and shading. Annals of Botany 131(3):411-412. Link

Møller C, De Frenne P, March-Salas M; Vanneste T, Verheyen K & Scheepens JF (2023). Forest management drives evolution of understorey herbs. Forest Ecology and Management, 548, 121390Link

Møller CMarch-Salas M; De Frenne P & Scheepens JF (2023). Forest understorey herbs show little evidence of genetic adaptation but strong plastic responses to forest management intensities. EcoEvorxiv (under review in J. Ecology).