Functional Ecology

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The understanding of the functional basis of how organisms interact with each other and with their environment is a key research objective of our department. Trait approaches are used to characterize functional community structure, to quantify the effects of organisms on ecosystem functioning, and for the parameterization of models on species distribution and ecosystem carbon and water balance. A particularly strong research focus lies on the impact of global change factors such as increasing drought and land use change on biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Using field and laboratory experiments and modeling approaches, we study mainly terrestrial ecosystems with a focus on Mediterranean systems, but also including tropical ecosystems mainly in South America, and temperate and alpine ecosystems.


Head of the department: Stephan HÄTTENSCHWILER


Key words

Biogeochemical cycles | Climate change | Community structure | Functional diversity | Functional traits | Global change | Mechanistic modelling | Mediterranean ecosystems | Plant-soil interactions | Soil ecology | Terrestrial ecosystems | Water relations


New publication :

  • Gillespie LM, Fromin N, Milcu A, Buatois B, Pontoizeau C, Hättenschwiler S (2020). Higher tree diversity increases soil microbial resistance to drought. Communications Biology, 3, 377.


Predicted increases in drought frequency and severity may change soil microbial functioning. Microbial resistance and recovery to drought depend on plant community characteristics, among other factors, yet how changes in plant diversity modify microbial drought responses is uncertain. Here, we assessed how repeated drying-rewetting cycles affect soil microbial functioning and whether tree species diversity modifies these effects with a microcosm experiment using soils from different European forests. Our results show that microbial aerobic respiration and denitrification decline under drought but are similar in single and mixed tree species forests. However, microbial communities from mixed forests resist drought better than those from mono-specific forests. This positive tree species mixture effect is robust across forests differing in environmental conditions and species composition. Our data show that mixed forests mitigate drought effects on soil microbial processes, suggesting greater stability of biogeochemical cycling in mixed forests should drought frequency increase in the future.

Link to the full article


See Lauren's contribution to "behind the paper" of Nature's EcoEvo community