A number of plants and fungi rely on wind to transfer their pollen or spores in the reproduction process. However, this is a resource demanding strategy with high risk for loss of genetic material before reaching its target.
Airborne pollen has major impact on environment and ecosystem and its monitoring and modeling provide deep insights into a number of phenomena: plant distribution, gene flow, various health issues related to allergies, and many more.
BioSense researchers sample biological particles from the atmosphere and study their emission and dispersion.
Pollen from wind pollinated plants is produced in large quantities and released in clouds from male flowers as seen in the case of pollen dispersed from a pine.
“Top-down” Ambrosia pollen source inventory for Austria
Airborne pollen is a “fingerprint” of wind pollinated plants and could be used as a tool to understand the flowering season variability including the trends resulting from environmental changes (such as land use or climate change). BioSese researchers applied total annual airborne pollen amount as a proxy for its source abundance. By proposing a top-down approach for producing pollen source inventories we have succeed to develop a tool particularly valuable for inventorying distribution and abundance of annual weed populations (such as common ragweed) on a larger scale. The tool was successfully applied for inventorying the source of ragweed pollen over Pannonian plain (image), France and Austria.
The role of pollen in reproduction (in particular fertilization) gives us possibility to model the yield in some wind pollinated crops (i.e. olives, grapes and even seed production of forest species, such us oaks or birch). Since the amount of airborne pollen recorded over the cropping area relates to to the amount of pollen available for fertilization (more successful fertilizations results into higher fruit production), we have successfully applied this approach to build the model for prediction of the walnut yield in the Province of Vojvodina.
On the other hand, with the development of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, the need for monitoring the potential gene flow is of immense interest. In that context, aerobiological expertise at BioSense supports the development of new methods for prediction of the concentration of viable pollen as a function of distance from the source. This will provide guidelines for policy makers to define distances required to prevent gene flow between crop fields.
By using a combination of pollen and spore traps, meteorology sensors and advanced mathematical models, BioSense researchers are working on mechanistical description of pollen emission processes in order to improve the existing prediction models.
It is important to emphasize that pollen from a number of plants induce allergic reactions, thus information on pollen exposure is valuable tool for management of allergy symptoms, such as planning the start of the therapy or preventive activities. In order to provide this information, aerobiological knowledge is coupled with atmospheric models and big data analytics. The results of long term airborne pollen monitoring are utilized to develop and interpret pollen calendars which show time and intensity of exposure to allergenic pollen in a given.
BioSense researchers have successfully analyzed air mass movement and ragweed pollen transport over Europe by using HYbrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory model and measurements of airborne pollen concentrations.
Pollen calendars help allergic individuals and medical professionals to answer where and when to expect exposure to airborne pollen, and what will be the intensity.
We at BioSense are ready to apply the knowledge accumulated in pollen related aerobiological studies for studying other particles suspended in air. Similar to pollen, fungal spores are commonly suspended in the atmosphere. Since many of them cause health problems both in humans and plants, the information about their atmospheric behavior is needed to analyze and forecast onset and distribution of plant diseases in agricultural areas.
The Holy Grail in sensing environment is real time or near-real time data collection. Application of IT solutions for development of airborne pollen and spores sensors are prerequisite for providing timely information about the exposure to these biological particles. BioSense teams are investigating various technologies for rapid identification and quantification of sampled airborne particles (e.g. laser, image processing and recognition, spectral analysis). In this way, we strive to improve the assessment of exposure to pathogens and allergens leading to better disease management.