Botanical Research Group

Head of the research group

Members of the research group

  • Ferenc Barla
  • Péter Farkas
  • dr. András Halbritter, PhD
  • Zsolt Molnár
  • Mrs. Tibor Petz
  • Krisztina Szabó
  • dr. Péter Szabó, PhD

Subject and objective of the research

The main research field of the Botanical Research Group is the botanical examination of the areas of serpentine soil in Austria. The soil forming rock of serpentine soils is the magnesium-rich metamorphic serpentinite derived from the Earth’s mantle. The particular chemical relations of this rock cause the characteristic elemental composition of serpentine soils. These soils give rise to edaphic plant communities (mainly due to the nature of the soil, not determined by the climate), often with many indigenous species (because of the faster speciation). A granular-skeletal structure with relatively high level of rock effect (usually rendzina soils in which there is a detrital C horizon after the 5-10 cm thick humus topsoil) is characteristic of these soils. Chemical characteristics: low Ca:Mg ratio, the lack of macroelements (N, P, K), and very often high concentration of heavy metals. These factors may cause intensive stress which determines which plant species are competitive there (e.g., fir, chestnut oak) and which plant species are ousted (e.g., beech). One part of our botanical examination aims at such phytotomical and phytocoenological features which might be the outcomes of the chemical stress presented by the serpentine soil and the resulting selection pressure. It is therefore essential to verify that these soil chemistry stressors really occur in the sample areas. On the other hand, the vegetation also affects the soil forming factors and the soil itself. The vegetation directly influences the quality of soil with the physical and chemical, basic rock weathering effect of the roots, the uptake of plant nutrients, the decomposing above ground (leaf litter) and under ground (root system) biomass. The organic matter of the soil is primarily affected by the amount of biomass getting into it. If the area and the basic rock are identical but land relief differs, dissimilar plant communities will emerge. Their disparate soil forming effects may result in disparate soils. With the decreasing basic rock effect, the original stress factors may lessen in such soils. Our goal is thus the comparative examination of the soils under the typical plant communities in the sample areas (including the control areas with non-serpentine soils) which covers the basic pedological characteristics (profile description, pH, boundness) and contained elements (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, microelements, toxic heavy metals).

There are such indigenous plant species near ore beds, in metal-rich, so-called metalliferous or serpentine soils which can accumulate heavy metals (e.g. zinc, nickel, cadmium, lead, manganese, copper and cobalt) in enormous quantities in their above ground parts. This accumulation mainly takes place in the shoots. A plant is said to be a hyperaccumulator if the metal concentration exceeds 1,000 mg/kg of dry weight in its organ involved. More than 400 species are ascertained to have hyperaccumulating tendency. We look for species among the plant communities of serpentine soils (including pioneer and weed communities) which are natural hyperaccumulators of heavy metals. If such species also grow fast, with a great quantity of biomass, they are also capable of removing heavy metal contaminants (soil remadiation, phytoextraction).


Research partner:

Faculty of Sciences, University of West Hungary


Applications won:

TÁMOP 4.2.1.B