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 :

  • Zhang H., Chuine I., Regnier P., Ciais P., Yuan W. 2022. Deciphering the multiple effects of climate warming on the temporal shift of leaf unfolding.  Nature Climate Change, DOI: s41558-021-01261-w



Changes in winter and spring temperatures have been widely used to explain the diverse responses of spring phenology to climate change. However, few studies have quantified their respective effects. Using 386,320 in situ observations of leaf unfolding date (LUD) of six tree species in Europe, we show that accelerated spring thermal accumulation and changes in winter chilling explain, on average, 61% and 39%, respectively, of the advancement in LUD for the period 1951–2019. We find that winter warming may not have delayed bud dormancy release, but rather it has increased the thermal requirement in reaching leaf unfolding. This increase in thermal requirement and the decreased efficiency of spring warming for thermal accumulation partly explain the weakening response of leaf unfolding to warming. Our study stresses the need to better assess the antagonistic and heterogeneous effects of winter and spring warming on leaf phenology, which is key to projecting future vegetation–climate feedbacks..

Link to the full article