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Allelochemical arms race in peatlands: the role of polyphenols in aboveground-belowground interactions (SPHAGNOL)

English title Allelochemical arms race in peatlands: the role of polyphenols in aboveground-belowground interactions (SPHAGNOL)
Applicant Buttler Alexandre
Number 149807
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Laboratoire des systèmes écologiques EPFL - ENAC - IIE - ECOS
Institution of higher education Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research - WSL
Main discipline Ecology
Start/End 01.01.2015 - 31.12.2016
Approved amount 204'022.00
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All Disciplines (2)


Keywords (8)

Climate warming; Drought; Sphagnum mosses; Soil enzymes; Competition; Peatlands; Soil microbes; Allelochemicals

Lay Summary (Italian)

Il ruolo dei polifenoli nel regolare le interazioni piante-microorganismi del suolo in torbiera
Lay summary

In sintesi

I polifenoli sono dei composti secondari prodotti dagli organismi vegetali. E’ conosciuta la loro azione come sostanze allelopatiche in grado di regolare le interazioni fra la piante che li procedute e gli altri organismi vegetali o animali per quel che riguarda la difesa dall’erbivoria o l'acquisizione di nutrienti. La maggior parte degli studi sulle proprietà allelopatiche dei polifenoli si riferiscono alle piante vascolari (piante dotate di radici, fusto e foglie), mentre sono ancora poche le informazioni riguardanti il ruolo dei polifenoli nei muschi, quel gruppo di piante piu’ primitivo che negli ambienti di torbiera costituisce pero’ la gran parte della biomassa vegetale.

Soggetto e obiettivo

L’obiettivo di questo progetto è: 1) caratterizzare chimicamente i polifenoli prodotti da specie diversi di muschi di torbiera (sfagni); 2) testare se i polifenoli di sfagni di specie diverse agiscono diversamente sull’attività dei microorganismi del suolo e sulla competizione piante/piante e piante/microorganismi per l’acquisizione di nutrienti; 3) comprendere se una modificazione delle condizioni climatiche (temperatura, aridità) possono influenzare la produzione dei polifenoli da parte dei muschi di torbiera.

Contesto socio-scientifico

Questo progetto di ricerca permetterà di meglio comprendere la risposta delle torbiere, importanti ecosistemi per lo stoccaggio di carbonio, ai cambiamente climatici partendo dalla risposta allelochimica della componente vegetale piu’ importante (gli sfagni) e i conseguenti effetti sulla biogeochimica di questi ecosistemi.

Parole chiave

Polifenoli, allelochimica, sfagni, muschi, suolo, attività enzimatica, batteri, funghi, piante vascolari, riscaldamento climatico, aridità, torbiere, metabolomica.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.10.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Effects of Sphagnum Leachate on Competitive Sphagnum Microbiome Depend on Species and Time
Hamard Samuel, Robroek Bjorn J. M., Allard Pierre-Marie, Signarbieux Constant, Zhou Shuaizhen, Saesong Tongchai, de Baaker Flore, Buttler Alexandre, Chiapusio Geneviève, Wolfender Jean-Luc, Bragazza Luca, Jassey Vincent E. J. (2019), Effects of Sphagnum Leachate on Competitive Sphagnum Microbiome Depend on Species and Time, in Frontiers in Microbiology, 10(2042), 1-17.
Loss of testate amoeba functional diversity with increasing frost intensity across a continental gradient reduces microbial activity in peatlands
Jassey VEJ, Lamentowicz M, Bragazza L, Hofsommer M, Mills RTE, Buttler A, Signarbieux C, Robroek BJM (2016), Loss of testate amoeba functional diversity with increasing frost intensity across a continental gradient reduces microbial activity in peatlands, in European Journal of Protistology, 55, 190-202.
Peatland vascular plant functional types affect dissolved organic matter chemistry
Robroek BJM, Albrecht RJH, Hamard S, Pulgarin A, Bragazza L, Buttler A, Jassey VEJ (2016), Peatland vascular plant functional types affect dissolved organic matter chemistry, in Plant and Soil, 407, 135-143.


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Université de Genève - Phytochemistrylab Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
University of Ferrara Italy (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Laboratory of Chrono-Environment UMR-CNRS 6249, University of Franche-Comté, Montbéliard France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Store Mosse National Park Sweden (Europe)
- Research Infrastructure
Ecology and Biodiversity Group, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University Netherlands (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Ecosummit Talk given at a conference Warming reduces Sphagnum and microbial carbon uptake in peatlands 29.08.2016 Montpellier, France Jassey Vincent; Buttler Alexandre;
British Ecological Society meeting Talk given at a conference Bryophyte secondary metabolites control microbiota in peatlands 13.12.2015 Edinburgh, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Jassey Vincent;
Rhizosphere4 Talk given at a conference Do Sphagnum secondary metabolites drive C and nutrient cycling in peatlands? 21.06.2015 Maastricht, Netherlands Jassey Vincent;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
164095 NMR 600MHz for metabolomics and biomarker identification for life sciences, chemical biology and medical projects at the University of Geneva 01.01.2016 R'EQUIP


In most terrestrial ecosystems, plants release secondary chemicals (allelochemicals) which can inhibit the growth and establishment of competing plants. Research efforts on allelochemical interactions mostly involved vascular plants, although bryophytes (non-vascular plants) represent a widespread group of plants that also produce allelochemicals. Among bryophytes, peat mosses of the genus Sphagnum are of particular interest because their litter is very slowly decomposed so that “peat” can be deposited. As a result, peatlands store most of the world’s terrestrial carbon (C) and represent key ecosystems for atmospheric C sequestration. The extent to which Sphagnum mosses affect C sequestration may, however, depend on the identity of the dominant species. Consequently, changes in the composition of Sphagnum species are likely to affect the functioning of peatlands. Much research has been performed on the competition between Sphagnum mosses, but very few information, if nothing, is available about the effects of Sphagnum ‘secondary compounds’ (= polyphenols) on interspecific plant competition and on soil microbes. We envisage that polyphenols play a significant role in controlling aboveground-belowground interactions in peatlands. More specifically, we hypothesize that species-specific polyphenols invoke a ‘home-advantage’ for the producing moss species by hampering growth or growth-related processes of competing species and by regulating the activity of soil microbes. The aims of this project are: (i) to determine if Sphagnum species-specific polyphenols are allelopathic to competing species; (ii) to understand if species-specific polyphenol released by dominant species can directly/indirectly affect the growth of competing species. It is hypothesised that this effect is achieved by two key processes: direct inhibitory effects on photosynthesis rates and impacts on microbial diversity and activities, which in turn will affect Sphagnum competitive strength. Finally, we will determine (iii) if climate change affects the allelochemical arms race in Sphagnum communities; we hypothesize that drought and warmer climate can lead to a modification of the Sphagnum-Sphagnum and Sphagnum-microbe interactions due to direct effects on polyphenol synthesis. Natural model systems which combine Sphagnum mosses and their associated microbial communities will be used to study the role of polyphenols in aboveground-belowground interactions. To this aim, we will use monocultures and mixed cultures of representative Sphagnum species (in particular S. fallax and S. magellanicum) to test our hypotheses using a set of coherent methods across different scales involving mesocosm experiments and field experiments. The effects of temperature increase and drought event on Sphagnum mosses will be achieved using open-top-chambers and reduced precipitation, respectively. In a first set of experiments, the specific Sphagnum-plant and Sphagnum-microbe interactions will be studied to disentangle the role of polyphenols in interspecific competition. In a second approach, we will manipulate Sphagnum competition in mesocosms by taking into account the presence of vascular plants as third competitors. This will allow us to encompass the results of the first approach in the context of multi-competition between mosses and vascular plants. Finally, we will work on the effects of temperature and drought on the allelochemical interactions in interspecific competition between mosses and the effect on soil microbial community in order to gain a mechanistic understanding of the potential feedback of peatlands to climate change.