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Theoretical Ecology Group - Research

The aim of the Theoretical Ecology group is to understand how diversity on different levels impacts ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services.


To assess future ecosystem functioning and the supply of ecosystem services, it is essential to understand how variability on different levels influences the dynamics of an ecosystem.
We look at variability on the trait to landscape level. For this, we use different modelling approaches to simulate the dynamics of populations and ecosystems. By including variability on different levels, we can assess the importance of diverse structures in an ecosystem.

But we are also interested in the role of species interactions, in community dynamics under stress and in modelling other system dynamics.

Projects in drylands

African savannas under climate change

Savannas as characterised by highly variable precipitation and the risk of degradation is high. We use the ecohydrological model EcoHyD to assess the coupled dynamics of water and vegetation in savannas. Understanding these is a prerequisite to predict the impacts of climate change and land use on the ecosystem. The following projects analyse long-term savanna dynamics:

Ongoing projects on savannas

Options for sustainable land use adaptations in savanna systems: ORYCS

Past projects on savannas

1. Causes and consequences of biodiversity in savannas
2. Sustainable water management in savannas
3. Past dynamics of savanna systems

Ecosystem services through restoration: Improving restoration outcomes through trait-based modelling

The project aims at assessing the linkage between plant traits and the provision of ecosystem services and trade-offs among them under the impact of environmental change to improve future restoration outcomes in Mediterranean-type ecosystems. 

Stabilising and destabilising effects of vegetation on soil water under climate change

The project aims at analysing whether climate change induced shifts in vegetation cover stabilize or destabilze soil moisture in drylands with the ecohydrological model SOILWAT. 

Multiscale effects of biological soil crusts on dryland hydrology – a modelling framework to assess the impacts of global change

The project aims at assessing the influence of biological soil crusts on dryland hydrology on different spatial scales with a modelling approach. A special focus is put on the impacts of future environmental changes on these interactions. This allows for the assessment of long-term ecological processes and landscape development under future climate change conditions.

Biodiversity in space and time

Disentangling the geometric and demographic effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity across spatial scales

The project goals are to advance the mechanistic understanding of fragmentation effects on biodiversity and improve predictions of biodiversity changes in anthropogenically modified landscapes. We employ a novel approach where two types of fragmentation effects are distinguished: geometric and demographic while accounting for the scale-dependence of fragmentation effects.

Projects focusing on community dynamics

Priming in fungi – towards understanding priming at the level of the community

As part of the Collaborative Research Centre 973: ‘Priming and Memory of Organismic Responses to Stress’, this project focusses on the simulation and modelling of the dynamics within microbial communities of different species compositions under the influence of heat stress.

Aboveground-belowground coupling in grasslands

As part of the BIBS project: This project focusses on the impact of limited above- and below-ground resources on plant interactions in grasslands.

Past projects

Ecosystem resilience towards climate change – the role of interacting buffer mechanisms in Mediterranean-type ecosystems 

The project aims at evaluating buffer mechanisms on different levels of an ecosystem in the species-rich Mediterranean-type shrublands by an ecohydrological modeling approach.

Effects of grazing and functional trait diversity on productivity of alpine grasslands along environmental gradients across the Northern Tibetan Plateau

The project aims to understand the role of grazing on community assembly at zonal alpine grasslands (meadow, steppe and desert-steppe) in the perspectives of growth form composition and functional trait diversity, and to determine effects of changes in alpine growth form composition or plant functional trait diversity on the spatial productivity variation of alpine grasslands.

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Impact of trait variability in process-based models on net primary production

The project aims at figuring out whether the current representation of grass species in models is sufficient to estimate the response of grasslands to climate change or whether the representation of more trait variability and thus biodiversity is required.

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Predicting the fate of a community from initial conditions and the structure of the metacommunity

Using trophic network analysis to reveal impacts of plant diversity loss on above- and below-ground functions and ecosystem stability

Integrating the holistic trophic-network approach into the framework of biodiversity-ecosystem functions relations by using an Ecological Network Analysis (ENA) tools applied to the empirical long-term and large-scale biodiversity experiment data on grassland ecosystems. With this study, we will elucidate the hidden effects of biodiversity loss on material and energy flows through the above- and below-ground trophic networks and ultimately its impacts on ecosystem stability.

Impacts of climate change on European ecosystems/forests (in cooperation with IIASA, EU funded project ClimateCost)

ClimateCost (the Full Costs of Climate Change) is a major research project on the economics of climate change, funded from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme.
The objective of the project is to advance knowledge in three areas:

  • Long-term targets and mitigation policies.
  • Costs of inaction (the economic effects of climate change).
  • Costs and benefits of adaptation.

Within ClimateCost, we assessed the impacts of various climate change scenarios on various ecosystems to contribute to the integrated assessment approachment