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Dr. Katrin Heer

Research interests

Bild Katrin

My research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of tree species.

I specialized in genetic and genomic approaches to address questions regarding the local adaptation and acclimation of forest tree species and the impact of plant-animal interactions on gene flow.

Using next-generation sequencing approaches as well as classical marker approaches I search for signatures of selection in forest tree populations, the imprint of gene flow on population structure and I tackle the association between genotype, phenotype, and the environment. For the latter, I apply a variety of methods to characterize the phenotype and environment of trees. Also, my research on plant adaptation brought my attention to the potential importance of epigenetic effects. Epigenetic mechanisms might critically impact the response of a plant to local and changing climatic conditions, but the importance of epigenetics in ecology and evolution is thus far little understood.

My research is mainly focused on European, and Southern and Central American tree species, including Abies albaFagus sylvaticaPicea abiesPinus sylvestris, Populus nigra, Nothofagus pumilioLeonia cymosa and Ficus (and not to forget - one liana species - Marcgravia longifolia).

Here, you find detailed information on

My personal website can be found here.  

Current Projects

Phenology of tropical tree species

Phenology of tropical tree species – environmental cues, molecular mechanisms, and consequences for plant-animal interactions (2020 – 2026)

In the project, we will investigate the causes and consequences of regular and synchronized phenological transitions in tropical tree species. Investigating tropical tree phenology requires an integrative approach that takes into account the monitoring of tree phenology, molecular methods to study gene expression, and ecological approaches to study plant-animal interactions.

The study will be carried out in the montane humid forests and the seasonally dry tropical forest of Southern Ecuador, at the research stations Estacíon Científica San Francísco and Estacíon Científica Laipuna. Here, available data from previous and ongoing projects (most importantly from the research unit RESPECT) and continuous measurements of important parameters such as climate and carbon flux provide an ideal basis for realizing a study on tree phenology. During this project, we will simultaneously monitor phenological transitions, changes of gene expression, stem diameter variation, optical properties of canopies in four tree species and link this to carbon fluxes and climatic parameters. Thereby, this project will provide insights on how phenological transitions are triggered, which gene regulatory networks are involved in phenological transitions, and how these influence plant growth and carbon sequestration. Further, we will study the interdependencies of trees and their mutualistic and antagonistic partners in the light of phenological transitions. First, we will investigate pollinator assemblages, pollen-mediated gene flow, seed set, and germination rates. Second, we will investigate associated herbivore assemblages and rates of herbivory over time. Overall, this project will make important contributions to future predictions of the impact of climate change on montane rainforests.

The project is funded as an Emmy Noether research group by the DFG (HE 7345/8-1).

Local adaptation and acclimation of trees

EpiDiverse - Epigenetic Diversity in Ecology (2018 - 2021)

In European Training Network (ETN) EpiDiverse, we study the naturally occuring epigenetic variation in Fragaria vescaThlaspi arvense and Populus nigra. Together with Dr. Lars Opgenoorth, I supervise the PhD project of Bárbara Díez Rodríguez where we focus on methylation patterns of the clonal P. nigra italica that is planted all across Europe. We have established a common garden with about 500 poplar trees that we will phenotype and epi-genotype in the next years. The main focus will be on traits related to growth, phenology, and herbivory.

The ETN is funded by Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Actions and coordinated by Dr. Koen Verhoeven (NIOO, Netherlands). Detailed info on the project can be found on the project website and updates on twitter @EpiDiverse and ResearchGate.

Local adaptation of Nothofagus pumilio along the latitudinal gradient of the Andes (2019 - 2021)

In this project, we aim to investigate the local adaptation of Nothofagus pumilio along extreme latitudinal, elevational, and precipitation gradients. We will gather genetic and dendrophenotypic data along the latitudinal gradient of the Andes, and investigate gene flow in two intensive study sites. For the exome capture design, we will use a transcriptome we assembled based on RNAseq data from a preliminary study with seedlings grown under different temperatures and day length conditions. Here, we seek to determine whether genes involved in the regulation of circadian clock are differentially expressed in N. pumilio seedlings grown under different temperature regimes. Fieldwork has already been terminated by the PhD student Jill Sekely, and we are working o the genetic data and dendrophenotypic data sets.

The collaboration with the team from INTA Bariloche was funded by the DAAD and Trees4future, and is currently funded by the DFG (HE 7345/6-1). More info on the project can be found here.

FORGENIUS - Improving access to FORest GENetic resources Information and services for end-Users (2020 - 2024)

In this project, a European consortium with 19 partners from 12 countries, we will develop methods and tools providing greater insight into the characteristics and the value of all forest-relevant GenRes collections presently existing in 35 European countries. The overall goal of FORGENIUS is to produce a new high-throughput quantitative assessment of conserved forest genetic resources and make it accessible to end-users by developing general standards, tools, and services for better characterization and management of the entire GCU collection. 
The H2020 project is coordinated by Ivan Scotti (INRAE Avignon, France).

Genetic resources for forest trees

I am a collaborator in genome sequencing projects for Abies alba carried out by AForGeN (Alpine Forest Genetics Network) and for Fagus sylvatica coordinated by Ivan Scotti (INRA). 

Plant-animal interactions

Vertical stratification of plant-animal interactions and their impact on pollination and seed dispersal within a single Neotropical plant species (2018 - 2021)

This study focuses on a neotropical liana species, Marcgravia longifolia, that produces flowers and fruits across all strata in the forest, and interacts with a large number of different nectarivores and frugivores. We seek to study these plant-animal interactions in detail, with a specific focus on the vertical stratification of these interactions and the consequences on dispersal, and ultimately, gene flow. Since June 2018, Sarina Thiel is conducting her PhD thesis in this project. In 2018 and 2019 we have collected data on visitation rates, assemblages of nectarivores and frugivores, nectar and fruit quality, and quantity and gene flow across the forest strata and are now in the middle of the data analysis.

The project is carried out in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Eckhard Heymann (DPZ) and Prof. Dr. Marco Tschapka (University of Ulm), and funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG HE7345/5-1).

Metabarcoding of fecal samples of flying foxes from Mt. Kilimanjaro

In collaboration with Dr. Marco Tschapka and Anna Vogeler (both University of Ulm), we use a metabarcoding approach to determine which plant species have been eaten by by flying foxes that were captured across a land use gradient on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

Past Projects

GenTree - Optimising the management and sustainable use of forest genetic resources in Europe (2016 - 2020)

GenTree seeks to provide the European forestry sector with better knowledge, methods, and tools to improve the conservation and use of adapted and genetically diverse FGR in European forests in the context of global environmental change and evolving societal demands for a diversified range of forest products. In Marburg, we were involved in sampling of F. sylvaticaA. albaP. abies and P. nigra, and in the development of the phenotyping protocols. Further, we participated in a germination trial that tests the quantitative genetics of early fitness traits in Pinus sylvestris and Betula pendula. Currently, we contribute to the analysis of exome capture data of F. sylvatica and Q. robur. GenTree was funded under the EU H2020 program. For more information on the project, please have a look at the website and on twitter @GenTree.

Effect of primate seed dispersal on spatial genetic structure of a neotropical tree species (2014 - 2017)

In this study, we investigate the effects of primate seed dispersal on the spatial genetic structure of the neotropical understorey tree species Leonia cymosa. The study is conducted in collaboration with Prof. Eckhard Heymann and Tiziana Gelmi (both DPZ) and funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG HE7345/2-1).

Do long-lived conifers react to environmental stress by somatic epigenetic priming? (2014 - 2017)

In this project, we aimed to investigate whether changes in climatic conditions lead to changes in the methylation of genes. Therefore, we studied methylation in clones of Norway spruce by means of exome capture and bisulfite sequencing. This project was funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG HE7345/2-1).

TipTree: Scenarios for forest biodiversity dynamics under global change: Identifying microevolutionary scale tipping points driven by tree adaptive potential (2013 - 2016)

In this project, I was employed as a postdoctaral researcher. We investigated the response of tree species to changing climatic conditions with a special focus on local adaptation. We currently analyze data to identify adequate candidate genes that vary along environmental gradients and test whether younger cohorts differ genetically from the cohort of their parental trees at these candidate loci with the goal of determining whether recent climatic changes already provoked shifts in allele frequency at adaptive genes. Further, we studied the genetic basis of dendrophenotypes that provide information on the response of individual trees towards environmental conditions (e.g. the reaction of silver fir towards SO2 pollution in the 70s and 80s, see publications below). Further, we focus on gene flow and reproductive success in the investigated populations. We closely collaborate with Martin Lascoux and Martin Källman (University of Uppsala), Bruno Fady (INRA Avignon), and Giovanni Vendramin and Andrea Piotti (Italian National Research Council). The project was funded by ERA-NET BiodivERsA and the BMBF to Sascha Liepelt, Lars Opgenoorth and Birgit Ziegenhagen.

Workshops and Conferences

New Phytologist Symposium: Plant epigenetics - from mechanisms to ecological relevance (Vienna, 2017)

As a follow up to the sEpiDiv Workshop, we seek to foster the discussion about the ecological and evolutionary relevance of epigenetics among researchers from different disciplines. Registration will open in autumn 2016. The symposium is funded by the New Phytologist. https://www.newphytologist.org/symposiumpages/index/71

sEpiDiv - Towards understanding the causes and consequences of epigenetic diversity (Leipzig, 2015)

Epigenetic diversity is a hidden component of natural biodiversity about which little is known. To better understand the ecological significance of epigenetic diversity, the field of ecological epigenetics has to be advanced. During the first workshop we identified the most urgent questions, outlined an application for a European Training Network, sketched out the way forward in ecological epigenetics (published in Ecology Letters) and applied for a New Phytologist Symposium. The workshops were funded by sDiv. https://www.idiv.de/?id=150


I am teaching in several courses for BSc and MSc students at the Philipps University Marburg and supervise BSc and MSc theses which are usually closely related to ongoing research projects. Please contact me, if you are interested!


In the summer semester, I am teaching a course on "Citizen Science in Ecology and Conservation". Students learn about citizen science, explore ongoing projects, prepare seminar talks on different topics linked to CS, and most importantly, work on their own CS projects. Currently ongoing projects collect data on neobiota and FFH species in Hesse in close collaboration with the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG). Current projects include the collection of data on the invasive Asian hornet and other invasive species, or the European mantis that expands its distribution range northwards with climate change. Further, we also collaborate with the project Natur4.0 where the participation of citizen scientists is foreseen.

Further, I am involved in the seminar of the MSc course on "Forest conservation and management" where we focus on conflicts that arise among the various stakeholders in forest conservation and management.


In the winter semester, we teach a course on "Conservation biology". In the seminar, students present publications relevant in the context of conservation biology. In the course, students learn how genetic methods can be applied in conservation biology. We work with serveral data sets, and students learn how to analyze, illustrate and interpret the data in the context of conservation biology.


Google Scholar & Publons profiles

(21) Solé-Medina A, Heer K, Opgenoorth L, Kaldewey P, Danusevicius D, Notivol E, Robledo-Arnuncio JJ, Ramírez-Valiente JA (accepted). Genetic variation in early fitness traits across European populations of silver birch (Betula pendula). AOB Plants Journal, 12(3), plaa019. https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/plaa019
(20) Avanzi C, Heer K, Büntgen U, Labriola M, Leonardi S, Opgenoorth L, Piermattei A, Urbinati C, Vendramin GG, Piotti A (accepted). Individual reproductive success in Norway spruce natural populations depends on growth rate, age and sensitivity to temperature. Heredity, 124, 685-698. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41437-020-0305-0
(19) Martínez-Sancho E, Slámová L, Morganti S, Grefen C, Carvalho B, Dauphin B, Rellstab C, Gugerli F, Opgenoorth L, Heer K, Knutzen F, von Arx G, Valladares F, Cavers C, Bruno Fady [54 authors on alphabethical order] Fonti P (2020) The GenTree Dendroecological Collection, tree-ring and wood density data from seven tree species across Europe. Sci Data 7, 1. doi:10.1038/s41597-019-0340-y
(18) Estravis-Barcala M, Mattera MG, Soliani S, Bellora N, Opgenoorth L, Heer K, Arana MV (2019) Molecular bases of responses to abiotic stress in trees. Journal of Experimental Botany, erz532, https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erz532

(17) Heymann EW, Culot L, Knogge C, Smith AC, Tirado Herrera ER, Stojan-Dolar M, Lledo Ferrer Y, Petra Kubisch, Kupsch D, Slana D, Koopmann ML, Ziegenhagen B, Bialozy R, Mengel C, Hambuckers J, Heer K (2019) Small Neotropical primates promote the natural regeneration of anthropogenically disturbed areas. Scientific Reports 9, 10356. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-46683-x. 

(16) Gelmi-Candusso TA, Slana D, Zarata-Gomez R, Heymann EW, Heer K (2019) Estimating seed dispersal distance: a comparison of methods using animal movement and plant genetic data. Ecology and Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5422

(15) Mosca E, Cruz F, Gómez-Garrido J, Bianco L, Rellstab C, Brodbeck S, Csilléry K, Fady B, Fladung M, Fussi B, Gömöry D, González-Martínez SC, Grivet D, Gut M, Hansen OK, Heer K, Kaya Z, Krutovsky KV, Kersten B, Liepelt S, Opgenoorth L, Sperisen C, Ullrich KK, Vendramin GG, Westergren M, Ziegenhagen B, Alioto T, Gugerli F, Heinze B, Höhn M, Troggio M, Neale, DB (2019) A reference genome sequence for the european silver fir (Abies alba mill.): a community-generated genomic resource. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics, 9(7), 2039-49. https://doi.org/10.1534/g3.119.400083

(14) Avanzi C, Piermattei A, Piotti A, Buntgen U, Heer K, Opgenoorth L, Spanu I, Urbinati C, Vendramin GG, Leonardi S (2019) Disentangling the effects of spatial proximity and genetic similarity on in situ growth performances of Picea abies. Science of the Total Environment 650 (1) 493-504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.348


(13) Ammer C, Fichtner A, Fischer A, Gossner MM, Meyer P, Seidl R, Thomas FM, Annighöfer P, Kreyling J, Ohse B, Berger U, Feldmann E,  Häberle KH, Heer K, Heinrichs S, Huth F, Krämer-Klement K, Mölder A, Mund M, Opgenoorth L, Schall P, Scherer-Lorenzen M, Seidel D, Vogt J, Wagner S (2018) Key ecological research questions for Central European forests. Basic and Applied Ecology 31, 3-25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2018.07.006

(12) Heer K*, Ullrich KK*, Hiss M, Liepelt S, Schulze-Brüning R, Zhou J, Opgenoorth L Rensing SA (2018) Detection of somatic epigenetic variation in Norway spruce via targeted bisulfite sequencing. Ecology and Evolution 2018, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4374

(11) Heer K*, Behringer D*, Piermattei A, Bässler C, Brandl R, Fady B, Jehl, H, Liepelt S, Lorch S, Piotti A, Vendramin GG, Weller M, Ziegenhagen B, Büntgen U, Opgenoorth L (2018) Linking dendroecology and association genetics in natural populations: Stress responses archived in tree rings associate with SNP genotypes in Abies alba (Mill.) Molecular Ecology 27(6), 1428-1438. doi:

(10) Heer K, Mounger J, Boquete MT, Richards CL, Opgenoorth L (2018) The diversifying field of plant epigenetics. New Phytologist 217(3). 988–992. PDF. The definitive version is available at available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1469-8137.


(9) Gelmi-Cardusso TA, Heymann EW, Heer K (2017) Effects of zoochory on the spatial genetic structure of plant populations. Molecular Ecology 26(21):5896-5910. doi: 10.1111/mec.14351

(8) Torroba-Balmori P, Budde KB, Heer K, González-Martínez SC, Olsson S, Scotti-Saintagne C, Casalis M, Sonké B, Dick CW, Heuertz M. (2017) Altitudinal gradients, biogeographic history and microhabitat adaptation affect fine-scale spatial genetic structure in African and Neotropical populations of an ancient tropical tree species. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0182515. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182515

(7) Richards CL, Alonso C, Becker C, Bossdorf O, Bucher E, Colome-Tatche M, Durka W, Engelhardt J, Gaspar B, Gogol-Döring A, Grosse I, Gurp TP van, Heer K, Kronholm I, Lampei C, Latzel V, Mirouze M, Opgenoorth L, Paun O, Prohaska S, Rensing SA, Stadler P, Trucchi E, Ullrich K, Verhoeven KJF (2017) Ecological plant epigenetics: Evidence from model and non-model species, and the way forward. Ecology Letters 20: 1576–1590. PDF. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12858

(6) Villalobos-Chaves D, Spínola-Parallada M, Heer K, Kalko EKV, Rodríguez-Herrera B (2017) Implications of a specialized diet on the foraging behavior of the Honduran white bat Ectophylla alba. Journal of Mammalogy 98(4) 1193–1201. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyx044

2016 and before

(5) Heer K*, Ullrich KK*, Liepelt S, Rensing SA, Zhou J, Ziegenhagen B, Opgenoorth L (2016) Detection of SNPs based on transcriptome sequencing in Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst). Conservation Genetics Resources, 8:105-107. doi: 10.1007/s12686-016-0520-4

(4) Heer K, Kalko EKV, Albrecht L, García-Villacorta, R, Staeps FC, Herre EA, & Dick CW (2015). Spatial scales of genetic structure in free-standing and strangler figs (Ficus, Moraceae) inhabiting neotropical forests. PloS one, 10(7), e0133581. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0133581

(3) Heer K*, Helbig-Bonitz M*, Fernandes RG, Mello, MAR, Kalko EKV (2015) Effects of land use on bat diversity in a complex plantation-forest landscape in northeastern Brazil. Journal of Mammalogy 69(4) 720–731. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyv068

(2) Heer K, Machado CA, Himler AG, et al. (2012) Anonymous and EST-based Microsatellite DNA markers that transfer broadly across the fig tree genus (Ficus L. Moraceae). American Journal of Botany 99, e330-e333. doi:

(1) Heer K, Albrecht L, Kalko EKV (2010) Effects of ingestion by neotropical bats on germination parameters of native free-standing and strangler figs (Ficus sp., Moraceae). Oecologia 163, 425-436. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1600-x

*authors with equal contributions


since 2016       Postdoctoral researcher in the working group Conservation Biology (Prof. Dr. Birgit Ziegenhagen), Philipps University Marburg

2013 - 2016     PostDoc in the TipTree project with Prof. Dr. Birgit Ziegenhagen (Conservation Biology) & Dr. Lars Opgenoorth (Department of Ecology), Philipps University Marburg

2009 - 2013     PhD in Biology, University of Ulm (Plant-animal interactions and gene flow in Neotropical rainforets)

2003 - 2008     Diploma in Biology, University of Ulm


At university:

Dr. Katrin Heer
Philipps-University of Marburg
Faculty of  Biology - Conservation Biology
Karl-von-Frisch-Str. 8
35032 Marburg

Area: C 2
Room: 2062a
Consultation hours: by arrangement 



Telefon: +49(0)6421/2823374
Fax:      +49(0)6421/2826588
email: katrin.heer[at]uni-marburg[dot]de

Zuletzt aktualisiert: 02.07.2020 · Galina Bauer

Fb. 17 - Biologie

Naturschutzbiologie, Karl-von-Frisch-Straße 8, D-35043 Marburg
Tel. +49 6421/28-23499, Fax +49 6421/28-22052, E-Mail: Fb-17Biologie@uni-marburg.de

URL dieser Seite: https://www.uni-marburg.de/fb17/fachgebiete/naturschutz/naturschutzbiologie/staff/academic-staff/katrin

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