Ensminger Lab - Research in Molecular Plant Physiology, Global Change Biology & Photosynthesis for Productive and Resilient Forests


See the list of currently funded projects and find more details about our ongoing research here


Environmental stress physiology of plants - How do plants adapt and acclimate to environmental change?

Research in the Ensminger lab is focusing on the physiology of plants to understand the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms underlying adaptation and acclimation of plants to their environment. In particular we are interested in the mechanisms by which environmental change impacts trees and forests from molecular to species and ecosystem levels. The understanding of these mechanisms is not simply for scientific interest. It addresses some of the fundamental questions in global change research and is indispensable to the justification of how plants will respond to climate change.

How will climate change affect future forests - Will elevated temperature increase the carbon sink of conifer forests?

Current projects in Ingo Ensminger's lab assess the molecular and physiological acclimation of photosynthesis and carbon metabolism in trees and specifically in boreal conifers to abiotic stress. For Canada the response of conifer forests to climate change is an important ecological and economic issue, as it holds 25% of the world’s boreal conifer forests. It is proposed that climate change might increase e.g. the carbon sink of conifer forests. However, some of these forests might also be negatively affected by increased land surface air temperatures. This is due to e.g. the disruption of regulatory processes or water stress and hence an incomplete exploitation of the increased length of the growing season. Changes in growth and productivity of these ecosystems will directly affect e.g. their economic value, their ability to sequester carbon as well as sustainable management practice or biofuel production.

Pinus sylvestris

Scots pine forest near Zotino (Central Siberia) in February. Temperatures are well below -25°C at this time of the year. Photosynthesis and carbon metabolism are surpressed under such low temperature conditions. However, chlorophyll molecules of the gree needle tissue continue to absorb light energy. This energy must be dissipated safely in order to prevent photo-oxidative damage of the needle tissue. We study these processes and the regulation of the so-called cold hardening and de hardening of conifers. We aim to understand how climate change will affect these processes and thus fitness  and survival of trees in a future warmer climate. (Photograph Ingo Ensminger)

Response of photosynthesis and carbon metabolism to low temperature - Evergreen trees are an amazing model system

Boreal pine trees cope with clear sunny skies and freezing temperatures. While pigments absorb vaste amounts of solar energy, this energy cannot be used metabolically during most of the cold winter when trees are largely inactive. However, once solar energy has been absorbed by green needle tissue, this energy must be safely removed to avoid bleaching and severe damage to the tissue. We study the highly efficient and fascinating physiological, biochemical and molecular mechanisms by which evergreen conifers adjust their photosynthetic machinery to changing environmental conditions in order to avoid photoinhibition and severe damage to the green needle tissue.


Research Lab

Room 4033 William G. Davis Building
Lab Phone: (905) 569-4235
University of Toronto at Mississauga, 
Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6


Room 3050 William G. Davis Building
Office Phone: (905) 569-4599
Fax: (905) 828-3792
E-mail: ingo.ensminger[at]utoronto.ca


Related links

The University of Toronto's Koffler Scientific Reserve at Joker's Hill, an internationally recognized site for cutting-edge research and education in biodiversity, ecology and conservation biology. This is where we study plant response to future climate using experimental warming arrays in the field.

Adaptation to drought in conifers: The DougAdapt project studies adaptation of forest trees to climatic change and aims to understand the diversity of drought responses in Douglas-fir provenances.