Functional Ecology

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Research activities

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 :

  • Beugnon R, Le Guyader N, Milcu A, Lenoir J, Puissant J, Morin X, Hättenschwiler S. 2024. Microclimate modulation: An overlooked mechanism influencing the impact of plant diversity on ecosystem functioning. Global Change Biology, 30:e17214DOI: 10.1111/gcb.17214 



Changes in climate and biodiversity are widely recognized as primary global change drivers of ecosystem structure and functioning, also affecting ecosystem services provided to human populations. Increasing plant diversity not only enhances eco-system functioning and stability but also mitigates climate change effects and buffers extreme weather conditions, yet the underlying mechanisms remain largely unclear. Recent studies have shown that plant diversity can mitigate climate change (e.g. reduce temperature fluctuations or drought through microclimatic effects) in different compartments of the focal ecosystem, which as such may contribute to the effect of plant diversity on ecosystem properties and functioning. However, these potential plant diversity-induced microclimate effects are not sufficiently understood. Here, we explored the consequences of climate modulation through microclimate modification by plant diversity for ecosystem functioning as a potential mechanism contributing to the widely documented biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships, using a combination of theoretical and simulation approaches. We focused on a diverse set of response variables at various levels of integration ranging from ecosystem-level carbon exchange to soil enzyme activity, including population dynamics and the activity of specific organisms. Here, we demonstrated that a vegetation layer composed of many plant species has the potential to influence ecosystem functioning and stability through the modification of microclimatic conditions, thus mitigating the negative impacts of climate extremes on ecosystem functioning. Integrating microclimatic processes (e.g. temperature, humidity and light modulation) as a mechanism contributing to the BEF relationships is a promising avenue to improve our understanding of the effects of climate change on ecosystem functioning and to better predict future ecosystem structure, functioning and services. In addition, microclimate management and monitoring should be seen as a potential tool by practitioners to adapt ecosystems to climate change.

Link to the full article


Associated subject published the same day: 

Luan J, Li S, Liu S, Wang Y, Ding L, Lu H, Chen L, Zhang J, Zhou W, Han S, Zhang Y, Hättenschwiler S. 2024. Biodiversity mitigates drought effects in the decomposer system across biomes. PNAS, 121:e2313334121DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2313334121 LINK


Press release and discussions about the two articles: