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 :

  • Bergmann J., Weigelt A., van der Plas F., Laughlin D.C., Kuyper T.W., Guerrero-Ramirez N., Valverde-Barrantes O.J., Bruelheide H., Freschet G.T., Iversen C.M., Kattge J., McCormack M.L., Meier I.C., Rillig M.C., Roumet C., Semchenko M., Sweeney C.J., van Ruijven J., York L.M., Mommer L. 2020. The fungal collaboration gradient dominates the root economics space in plants. Science Advances, 27, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3756



Plant economics run on carbon and nutrients instead of money. Leaf strategies aboveground span an economic spectrum from “live fast and die young” to “slow and steady,” but the economy defined by root strategies belowground remains unclear. Here, we take a holistic view of the belowground economy and show that root-mycorrhizal collaboration can short circuit a one-dimensional economic spectrum, providing an entire space of economic possibilities.Root trait data from 1810 species across the globe confirm a classical fast-slow “conservation” gradient but show that most variation is explained by an orthogonal “collaboration” gradient, ranging from “do-it-yourself” resource uptake to “outsourcing” of resource uptake to mycorrhizal fungi. This broadened “root economics space”provides a solid foundation for predictive understanding of belowground responses to changing environmental conditions.

Link to the full article