INDIAN SUMMER IN TYROL – Fall Colors in the Alpine Regions of Tyrol

High school students investigate different types of senescence in the alpine flora of the Tyrolean mountains

The autumnal disappearance of the green plant pigments in the foliage of deciduous trees is probably one of the most colorful and fascinating natural phenomena, and it is also known as “Altweibersommer” in Austria or “Indian Summer” in North America. Behind all this is a recycling strategy of higher plants to recover essential minerals (such as that of nitrogen). The released chlorophyll appears to be phototoxic and is degraded in a basically controlled process (the “chlorophyll breakdown”).

Every year on earth 109 tons of chlorophyll are degraded in different types of plants. Despite intensive research, parts of this degradation process still remain enigmatic. For instance nothing is known about the influence of different stress factors on the chlorophyll degradation process. Harsh weather conditions (extreme temperature fluctuations including night frosts during the vegetation period and partial overheating at noon) as well as an increased UV irradiation can be observed in the Tyrolean mountains. We wanted to benefit from these unique natural resources nearby and will investigated different types of plant senescence in local alpine flora. The Department of Botany at the University of Innsbruck was our competent partner for plant selection and identification.

Together with our four school partners, we offered high school students a chance to experience state-of-the-art research at the Department of Organic Chemistry of the University of Innsbruck. The collaboration between university and school was implemented in three phases. As an introduction the students were invited to visit the department and learn more of what’s going on in a research institution. Interested students did then get the chance to gain first ‘hands-on’ experiences in our labs. Highly interested students were assigned their own small research project with a good chance of success.

This project has been completed.