University of Bayreuth

Addressing the World of Tomorrow

Experimental Ecology in Climate-Change Research
Author: Christian Wißler,

How will ecosystems cope with increasing magnitudes of summer drought, heavy rainfall, and winter warm spells? Scientists from the Disturbance Ecology lab at the University of Bayreuth are setting out to assess the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on biodiversity and ecosystem functions. The international team of postdocs and PhD students around Professor Anke Jentsch has set up field experiments on the Bayreuth campus, which are embedded into a network of sites and scientists in numerous countries across six continents.

Professor Anke Jentsch holds the first and only professorship of disturbance ecology in Germany. Her scientific interest and expertise are in vegetation science, disturbance ecology and ecosystem dynamics, plant biodiversity and community ecology, experiments on effects of climate change and extreme weather events, ecosystem functions, resilience, biogeography, dynamics in protection areas, and ecological novelty.
Fieldwork retrieving grassland turfs from alpine areas down to Bayreuth, thereby simulating climate change.

“It is a fantastic experience to contribute local data to a global community of scientists,” says PhD student Max Schuchardt. Justyna Giesztowt, a postdoc from New Zealand, shares the lab with other international fellows, such as Yujie Niu from China, Mohamed Arfin Khan from Bangladesh, Mani Shresta from Australia, and Björn Reu from Columbia. “We truly enjoy the international experience and all our joint activities within the Disturbance Ecology lab,” says Giesztowt.

Collaborative Research Approaches to Complex Problems

In the twenty-first century a new approach has been emerging in ecology: collaborative, distributed experiments and surveys (CDE). In this approach, a network of scientists or sites applies a well-established standardized research design to tackle research questions across climatic and altitudinal gradients. They test global hypotheses in ecology, thereby using the power of geographically distributed replication.

Being integrated into research consortia across continents broadens your scientific understanding. International career plans can also arise.
Max Schuchardt, PhD Student

At the University of Bayreuth, research benefits from merging approaches in experimental climate-change research and disturbance ecology: the team and their collaborators are highly active in producing research on biodiversity, vegetation dynamics, ecosystem functions, and landscape system dynamics. The Disturbance Ecology lab at Bayreuth University is among the most stimulating teams implementing a new generation of climate-change experiments—tackling events, not trends. These include experiments on the effects of extreme weather events on diversity and ecosystem functioning.

Ongoing Research Projects at the Disturbance Ecology Lab

Disturbance Dynamics in Wilderness and Cultural Landscapes

One of humanity’s deepest interests is in understanding and managing recurrent pulse dynamics in natural and cultural landscapes. Thus, the Disturbance Ecology lab’s scientific interest and expertise are in advancing the frontiers of disturbance theory and ecosystem dynamics. Thereby, the lab always works “glocally” when, for example, the local impacts of global climate change are being investigated in Alpine or Mediterranean ecosystems.

Research training in vegetation science with students in the European Alps.
Flame-like flowers of Lotus pyranthus, an extremely endangered species endemic to the Canary Island of La Palma.

Researchers travel to remote landscapes to study disturbance-driven plant biodiversity ecosystem functioning, mechanisms of resilience, ecological novelty, and dynamics in protection areas. Outdoors, students can experience the joy of scientific inspiration paired with physical challenges, when participating in science schools and field trips to remote islands or high-elevation ecosystems to learn about disturbance regimes, vegetation dynamics, and ecosystem services.

I would urge young researchers to develop a passion for an emerging research field and then persevere. Be so free as to stay in the area of your true personal interest.
Prof. Dr. Anke Jentsch, Professor of Disturbance Ecology

Networking Research, Transcending Boundaries

The Disturbance Ecology research group is an active member of the Bayreuth Center for Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER), a research center of the University of Bayreuth. BayCEER bundles the competencies of about 30 working groups in the biosciences and geosciences, and supports interdisciplinary research through central facilities and services. Moreover, it enhances knowledge transfer to the general public and maintains a wide variety of international relationships with well-renowned partners, including universities and NGOs.

Bridging the Gap between Academia and Governance

“The Disturbance Ecology lab on the Bayreuth campus is well-connected within the international scientific community, jointly producing outstanding scientific insights. Ultimately, our research results will serve the science-policy interface by delivering timely and highly relevant information to policymakers and stakeholders, addressing, for example, the European agri-environmental schemes and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with a special focus on extreme events. By enhancing our knowledge about the mechanisms of ecosystem resilience and the indicators of tipping points in the face of climate extremes, we support future-oriented legislative frameworks and policies that are adequate to the challenges humanity faces through policy briefs,” says Jentsch.

Young scholars from all over the world are always welcome to join in for extended research stays. Please apply via IAESTE and RISE internship program.

For more information about the Disturbance Ecology Lab at the University of Bayreuth, contact Prof. Dr. Anke Jentsch by email or telephone: +49 (0)921 55-2290.

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