NCN (National Science Centre, Poland), grant 2015/17/B/NZ8/02475 (OPUS programme)




Dr Michał Ronikier (with Prof Ryszard Ochyra, Laboratory of Bryology, W. Szafer Institute of Botany PAS)


Antarctic, Biogeography, Cold terrestrial biomes, Mosses, Next-generation sequencing, Phylogeography

Key facts

Antarctica belongs to the most peculiar terrestrial biogeographical regions of the world. It is primarily due to its geographical isolation, the scarcity of available terrestrial habitats and the extreme life conditions (in particular low temperatures and water deficiency) strongly constraining the long-term survival of biota and formation of diversified communities. Currently, only less than 0.5% of the area, covered by the largest ice mass in the globe, remains ice-free and thus available for biological colonization. Even though Antarctica has fascinated generations of life and earth scientists, understanding its current ecosystems and their history remains a great challenge. One of the most promising to this problem is in applying molecular tools to examine the patterns of genetic structure of extant populations and infer past processes.

With our project we would like to contribute to this one of the globally most intriguing and largely unresolved biogeographical problems – the history of the contemporary terrestrial biota of Antarctica. We selected the moss flora as the study object because bryophytes are, apart lichenized fungi, the essential and most prominent constituents of the plant/fungal element in the Antarctic biome. In addition, this group contains a number of the endemic and subendemic elements which define the unique aspect of the biodiversity of the Antarctic flora.

Our research will be based, on the one hand, on exploring one of the richest and taxonomically best revised collections of mosses from this biome in the herbarium KRAM (W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences) in Kraków, and on the other, on applying the most up-to-date tools of DNA analysis (including generating very large data sets via next-generation "genotyping by sequencing" techniques). We aim at understanding the history and range dynamics of the Antarctic mosses through a detailed analysis of their phylogeographical structure, in particular regarding such specific questions:

  • Is the population structure of species in Antarctic and Subantarctic areas characterised by multiple genetic lineages testifying isolation of fragmented range parts despite high dispersal capacities?
  • Was the potential survival of glacial maxima based on single areas which served as sources of dynamic recolonisation or was it based on several refugia across Antarctica which allowed local survival and static long-term persistence of ranges?
  • What are the characteristics of probable refugia (could they be associated with geothermally active areas or rather nunataks and coastal cliffs)?
  • Have some of the studied areas (continental Antarctic, maritime Antarctic, Subantarctic) played a specially important role in the survival of species?
  • Can we observe repeated patterns across species studied suggesting common biogeographical mechanisms influencing the flora?

In parallel, we will explore the evolutionary history of selected Antarctic taxa and resolve several problems regarding the uncertainty of taxonomic status of Antarctic populations through a combined molecular and morphological assessment and contribute to the knowledge of the Antarctic biodiversity and barcoding of Antarctic biota.

Project related news


Saługa M, 2020. At the crossroads of botanical collections and molecular genetics laboratory: a preliminary study of obtaining amplifiable DNA from moss herbarium material. PeerJ 8:e9109. DOI

Ronikier M, Saługa M, Jiménez JA, Ochyra R, Stryjak-Bogacka M, 2018. Multilocus DNA analysis supports Didymodon gelidus (Musci, Pottiaceae) as a distinct endemic of the austral polar region. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 87(4): 3609. DOI

Saługa M, Ochyra R, Żarnowiec J, Ronikier M, 2018. Do Antarctic populations represent local or widespread phylogenetic and ecological lineages? Complicated fate of bipolar moss concepts with Drepanocladus longifolius as a case study. Organisms Diversity & Evolution 18: 263–278 DOI

Wierzgoń M, Suchan T, Ronikier M, 2018. Two additions to the moss flora of the South Shetland Islands in the maritime Antarctic. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 87(4): 3598. DOI

Wojtuń B, Ronikier M, 2018. Polar terrestrial ecosystems: ecology, diversity, and biogeography. Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae 87(4): 3610. DOI

Saługa M, Ochyra R, Suchan T, Ronikier M, 2017. Insights into biogeographical patterns of the Antarctic moss flora inferred from DNA-based phylogeny of southern pan-temperate Drepanocladus longifolius, and pan-Antarctic endemic Syntrichia sarconeurum. Interdisciplinary Polar Studies in Poland, Warsaw, Poland, 17-19 November 2017. Book of abstracts: 70–71.

Ronikier M, Ochyra R, Saługa M, Suchan T, 2016. Evolution and historical range dynamics of the Antarctic terrestrial biota in the light of detailed phylogeographical analysis of endemic moss species: a new project. 57th Meeting of the Polish Botanical Society. Botany – Tradition and Modernity, June 27 – July 3, 2016, Lublin, Poland. Abstracts of oral presentations and posters: 38

Saługa M, Ochyra R, Ronikier M, 2016. Biogeography, morphology and genetic diversity of Drepanocladus longifolius (Mitt.) Paris and D. capillifolius (Warnst.) Warnst. – it is really possible to delimit these morphologically similar species. The 2nd International Symposium on the Evolution and Systematics of Pleurocarpous Mosses. June 9-12, 2016, Bonn, Germany. Program and abstracts: 24

Saługa M, Ochyra R, Ronikier M, 2016. North or south? Biogeography, morphology and genetic diversity of Drepanocladus longifolius (Mitt.) Paris and D. capillifolius (Warnst.) Warnst. 57th Meeting of the Polish Botanical Society. Botany – Tradition and Modernity. June 27 – July 3, 2016, Lublin, Poland. Abstracts of oral presentations and posters: 38

Funding bodies