The W. Szafer Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences represents the field of natural sciences and discipline of biological sciences. Currently, it conducts research in the following areas: 1) molecular biogeography and systematics; 2) evolution and organismal interactions; 3) functional and evolutionary ecology; 4) palaeobotany and palaeoenvironment.
During nearly 70 years of its history, the W. Szafer Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences has gained wide recognition among Polish scientific institutions engaged in research work in the classical botanical disciplines. Currently, with its staff of 45 researchers, the Institute is a modern institution, conducting interdisciplinary studies of vascular plants, bryophytes, algae, fungi (including lichens) and protista, in cooperation with foreign partners. Our researchers are strongly interested in ecological phenomena occurring at different levels of organization, from molecular level, through organismal, population and ecosystem levels, to global level. The Institute is an important centre of research on biodiversity and its changes over the past ca. 250 million years, registered in palaeobotanical records, and identification of natural and/or anthropogenic drivers of these changes. One of the strategic goals of the Institute is documenting the taxonomic diversity of modern and fossil floras and mycobiota of the world; this goal is pursued through among others participation in multidimensional studies on the world's biota (in Europe, the two Americas, Asia, Arctic, Antarctica and Africa) and building up the largest national botanical collections. The IB PAS activities combine the tradition of assembling and elaborating botanical collections with current research trends, developing studies based on molecular techniques, e.g. studies within the scope of museum genomics and ecochemistry. Studies are carried out using modern research tools, such as next generation sequencing, analyses of the content of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in fossil materials, quantitative analysis of peptides in plant extracts, using MALDI-MSI (matrix assisted laser desorption ionisation mass spectrometry imaging) and labelling peptides with nitrogen isotope 15N, or high-efficient liquid chromatography in studies on cyanide and algal toxins.
Only in 2020 our researchers published more than 90 scientific papers in internationally renowned journals (see: Publications). These papers dealt with among others: the systematics of plants and fungi (including the proposed new classification of the kingdom of fungi), the phylogenesis of different groups of organisms, the phylogeography of mountain species, the effects of Cyanophyceae toxins, a new protocol for isolation and amplification of DNA from very small samples of slime moulds, the effect of global warming on annual tree increment, the limited applicability of models used for determination of future changes in xylem increment, as an effect of climate change, changes in ecosystems caused by invasive species, the importance of ecological non-trophic interactions between plants and animals for forest functioning, the role of dead wood in managed forests, the impact of hunter-gatherers and prehistoric agricultural communities on vegetation, the evolution of the European Mesozoic flora and paleoclimatic implications resulting from changes in vegetation composition.
The Institute is entitled to confer academic degrees of doctor (PhD) and habilitated doctor (DSc) in exact and natural sciences, in the discipline of biological sciences. For 20 years it has educated PhD students, conducting the Doctoral Studies in Natural Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences in cooperation with the Institute of Animal Systematics and Evolution PAS, with the assistance of two other PAS institutes (Institute for Nature Conservation and Institute of Plant Physiology). From 2019 the Institute has run, as a co-ordinating body, the Doctoral School of Natural and Agricultural Sciences in partnership with four other institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The Institute hosts and develops the largest national scientific botanical collection containing more than 1.5 million inventoried items. Because of its unique documentary value, a wide variety of the collected modern and fossil specimens, and the growing importance of these resources for research using genetic, isotope and radiocarbon techniques, the Institute collection has been included in the "Polish Map of Research Infrastructure", under the name of National Biodiversity Collection of Recent and Fossil Organisms at W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences (NBC IB PAS). The start of the digitization of its collections, so as to provide open on-line access to these resources, was an important event for the IB PAS. To this aim, the Institute has become a partner in two consortia on two projects: Open Resources in Digital Repository of Scientific Institutes (OZwRCIN), concerned with providing access to collections via the on-line platform Digital Repository of Scientific Institutes (RCIN), and Integration and mobilization of data on the biotic diversity of Eukaryota in resources of Polish scientific institutions (IMBIO). The two consortia are composed of ten-twenty scientific institutions each, including the institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences and universities.
The Institute hosts one of the greater Polish Botanical Libraries, holding ca. 113,200 volumes. It has also its own Publishing House, publishing works concerning different branches of botany, including many monographs. There are also published two internationally renowned botanical journals: Acta Palaeobotanica and Plant and Fungal Systematics.
In 2017 the IB PAS have acquired the logo HR Excellence in Research, acknowledging its commitment to providing a stimulating and favourable working environment and conducting research in accordance with international professional standards.
On the initiative of Władysław Szafer, an eminent scientist and professor of the Jagiellonian University, the Scientific Secretariat of the Polish Academy of Sciences, by resolution of October 5, 1953, designated the Department of Botany as an independent all-Polish scientific-research unit with a seat in Kraków. The Department was reorganized into the Institute of Botany by a resolution passed by the Presidium of the Government of the Polish People’s Republic on March 5, 1956, and it was given the name of W. Szafer by resolution of the Scientific Secretariat of PAS of June 10, 1986.
The Institute originated from the centre of botanical studies developed for over 100 years at the Physiographic Commission of the Polish Academy of Learning. Its scientific base was the Department of the Plant Systematics and Geography of the Jagiellonian University; the Department's researchers composed the first staff of the Institute. The first Director of the Institute, professor Władysław Szafer (1953–1960) and its Deputy Director and next Director, professor Bogumił Pawłowski (1961–1968) simultaneously held executive positions at the Department, which reflects strong ties between the Institute and the Jagiellonian University. Professor W. Szafer planned to set up an important research centre for studies in plant systematics, plant geography and palaeobotany, in Kraków. For many years these were the main areas of the Institute's scientific activity. Initially, the Department of Botany PAS was composed of three laboratories: Laboratory of Polish Flora (vascular plants), Laboratory of Bryology and Laboratory of Paleobotany but as early as 1954, new laboratories were created. They included Atlas of Polish Flora (in Wrocław), Algology, Variability and Historical Evolution, and next Mycology and Lichenology laboratories.