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Particulate matter from road traffic: a threat to flora and fauna? – Bayreuth research projects launched

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University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 073/2020, 11 May 2020

High concentrations of particulate matter in some German cities have given rise to considerable concern over recent years. The main cause of this particulate matter is road traffic. While damage to human health has been proven, the effects on plants and animals have not been investigated to any great extent so far. This gap in our knowledge is now being closed by an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Bayreuth as part of the new project network “BayÖkotox - Ecotoxicology in Bavaria", funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection. The University of Bayreuth will receive a total of € 685,000 for the project over the next three years.

The "BayÖkotox - Ecotoxicology in Bavaria" project network aims to elucidate more thoroughly the effects of environmental pollutants on terrestrial ecosystems. Two of the seven projects involved in the project network are located at the University of Bayreuth. Here, five research groups from the biology department and engineering sciences, as well as the Bavarian Environmental Agency (LfU), are jointly investigating the effects of traffic-related particulate matter on plants and insects. For the first time, this previously largely neglected topic is now being systematically researched in an interdisciplinary collaboration. Bavaria's Environment Minister, Thorsten Glauber, today gave the official go-ahead for the project network: "This new project network is setting out to show whether and how certain substances affect the environment. I am very pleased that the University of Bayreuth, a highly competent project partner, has come on board. It means cutting-edge technical expertise is going to be combined here in a completely new way."

Particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter are referred to as "particulate matter". Depending on their origin, the chemical composition of the particles varies widely. In road traffic, they are released in particular by braking and fuel combustion processes. Their harmful effects on living organisms can be caused by their small size on the one hand, and by their chemical composition on the other. Particulate matter is not only ingested with food and absorbed by the respiratory organs, but can also penetrate into tissues and trigger harmful reactions there. Particulate matter could thus also be one cause of the massive decline in the number and diversity of insects, the so-called "insect armageddon". 

The research projects carried out at the University of Bayreuth will contribute to understanding the effects of particulate matter emissions on plants and insects. They will also provide impetus for the ongoing development of environmentally compatible technical solutions. The close interdisciplinary cooperation on the Bayreuth campus is crucial in this context. In the teams led by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dieter Brüggemann and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Walter Krenkel, engineering scientists generate particulate matter from braking processes and combustion in motors in the laboratory, and characterize its components with regard to size and chemical composition. The effects of the particulate matter on plants and animals will then be investigated by teams of biologists led by Prof. Dr. Stephan Clemens, Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, and Prof. Dr. Heike Feldhaar, initially under laboratory conditions. Further characterization of the particles is to be performed at the LfU.

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The LfU hosted the kick-off event of the project network on 11 May 2020 - thanks to COVID-19, via video conference. Bavaria's State Minister for the Environment and Consumer Protection, Thorsten Glauber, officially launched the new project network with his welcoming address.

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Heike Feldhaar
Animal Ecology I
University of Bayreuth
95440 Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-2645
E-Mail: feldhaar@uni-bayreuth.de


Editorial office:

Christian Wißler
Science Communication
University of Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356
E-mail: christian.wissler@uni-bayreuth.de

Translation:

Ralph Reindler

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