Sensory and physiological ecology of plants. Bridge the gap between laboratory-based research and field applications.

Research summary

We aim at elucidating how plants acquire and use information about their abiotic and biotic environment. Perception of visible and ultraviolet regions of the daylight spectrum and the acclimation responses triggered by these cues are the main focus of our current research. Understanding cross-acclimtaion mechanisms can be used to develop new environmentally-friendly crop management strategies based on environmental cues, such as the light spectrum and/or temperature, replacing applications of chemical growth regulators and of some pesticides. Another application is enhancement of post-harvest shelf life of cut flowers, and leafy vegetables.


Sensory ecology: Plants are capable of sensing their physical, chemical and biological environment. They perceive signals containing information. This information is used by plants to adjust growth and morphology, and to trigger development. We are interested not only on the physiology of these processes (how they are implemented in the plant) but in their role in the adaptation and acclimation of individual plants, and in their role in plant-plant interactions such as competition and facilitation.

Sensory photobiology: Light is both a source of energy and a source of information for plants. Through photosynthesis plants capture solar energy. This energy is absorbed by chlorophylls and accessory pigments. Through other pigments that are in very small quantities in the plant, small amounts of energy are absorbed. This energy is not important as such but rather as a source of information about the environment. This is “light sensing” like that done by our eyes. This can be thought as a very different kind of vision than ours, but anyway a light sensory mechanism to acquire information about the environment.

Information and resources: Resources are consumed or made unavailable when they are used (soil mineral nutrients, soil water, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, light as a source of energy). Environmental signals and cues can be sources of information (the spectrum of light, metabolites released by other individuals or organisms, temperature fluctuations, speed and direction of change of nutrient concentrations in the soil). For humans food is a resource, and light perceived through our eyes is a source of information.

Resources are strong modulators of plant growth. However, we contend that resource availability and direct effects of stress are not always the main and direct driver of the most important plant-plant and plant-environment interactions. In fact we think that the acquisition of information, and the “use” of this information to adjust growth, morphology, development, and metabolism, are central to achieving fitness.

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Research info

Research title
Sensory and physiological ecology of plants. Bridge the gap between laboratory-based research and field applications.

Research timeline
1.1.2000 - 1.7.2017

acclimation agriculture Alnus Arabidopsis Betula birch CRY drought Fagus forestry genomic horticulture Legumes Light Medicago. metabolomics Nothofagus phenomics PHOT photomics photoreceptors PHY plant growth plant morphology Tilia tolerance trees ultraviolet radiation UVR8 Vicia visible radiation

Latin America

Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom

University of Helsinki
Helsinki, Finland

Head of research
Pedro J. Aphalo

Research team
Pedro J. Aphalo, Sari Siipola, Fang Wang, Neha Rai, Yan Yan (HU); Åke Strid (ÖU), Gareth I. Jenkins (GU), Andreas Albert (HZM), Susanne Neugart (IGZ), Otmar Urban (CZG), Victor O. Sadras (SARDI), Tarja Lehto (UEF), Anders Lindfors (FMI).

Universidad de Buenos Aires, Örebro University, Glasgow University, Helmholz Centre Munich, IGZ Großbeeren, CZECHGLOBE, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), University of Eastern Finland, Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Contact information
Pedro J. Aphalo
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