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Department of Geography

 

 

Terrestrial ecology, carbon, and climate

Terrestrial ecosystems are currently absorbing about 30% of fossil fuel plus land use CO2 emissions, greatly reducing the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon and hence climate change. However, the mechanisms behind this sink are poorly understood, as are the potential impacts of rising CO2 and climate change on global ecosystems. Research within this theme uses observations from field experiments on how plants and soils respond to their environment, and insights from plant physiology, to build models of vegetation and ecosystems processes in order to test hypotheses and make predictions of the future behaviour of terrestrial ecosystems, including managed croplands, and their feedbacks on the global climate system.

Research projects

Research projects currently being undertaken on this theme include:

Linking European fungal ecology with climate variability

Linking European fungal ecology with climate variability

Although the fungal kingdom represents important components of many of the Earth’s ecosystems, our understanding of its role under environmental and climatic changes is still limited. The new Euro-FC project of the SNSF will therefore analyse the largest and most comprehensive collection of around 7 million fungal records. Based on a unique data basis and the application of innovative, cross-disciplinary methodologies, we will analyse a multitude of spatiotemporal dynamics of fungal fruiting over Europe and the last decades.

NSFDEB-NERC: Addressing the plant growth C source-sink debate through observations, experiments, and modelling

NSFDEB-NERC: Addressing the plant growth C source-sink debate through observations, experiments, and modelling

Fossil fuel burning is causing atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas CO₂ to rise, the main driver of man-made climate change. However, the rate of CO₂ rise is much slower than emissions suggest it should be. It appears that the land surface and oceans are together absorbing about 50% of annual CO₂ emissions. Some field studies indicate that a large portion of the land surface uptake is due to increasing tree growth. However, the causes, locations, and future behaviour of this CO₂ uptake remain highly uncertain. In this project, we propose to significantly improve our understanding of this fundamental issue using a unique combination of observations, experiments, and modelling.

Tracing the origin of the Black Death (TRADE): Using tree rings to reconstruct historical re-introductions of plague from Asia to Europe

Tracing the origin of the Black Death (TRADE): Using tree rings to reconstruct historical re-introductions of plague from Asia to Europe

Newly emerging zoonotic infectious diseases entering human populations are often only weakly understood and thus exceptionally dangerous, because most of our public health measures depend on a certain level of familiarity with any given pathogen. Devastating pandemics can cause health disasters at continental, hemispheric and even global scales. Improving our understanding of the ecology, epidemiology and pathophysiology of zoonotic infectious diseases and how climate may also contribute to human pandemics, describes a well-timed cross-disciplinary research task.

Illuminating the mysterious truffle kingdom across Europe

Illuminating the mysterious truffle kingdom across Europe

Despite increasing global demands for truffles (Tuber spp), large gaps remain in our understanding of the fungus’ biology and ecology. This project aims at exploring the complex biology and ecology of different truffle species in various parts of Great Britain, southern Germany, Switzerland and northeastern Spain.

Improving dynamic global vegetation models to better represent ecological processes

Improving dynamic global vegetation models to better represent ecological processes

This research is focusing on implementing environmental factors into HYBRID9, a dynamic global vegetation model. This will be done to then aid the modelling of sink-limited growth in response to these factors. The aim is to better model the mechanisms of environmental influences on balanced sink-limited growth. The outcome will be a better projection on the amount of future carbon captured by the terrestrial biosphere.

The Tundra-taiga interface

The Tundra-taiga interface

The interface between the boreal forest and the arctic tundra is the Earth's greatest vegetation transition. It is over 13,000 km long, occupies around 5% of the vegetated surface of the Northern Hemisphere and represents major gradients in key climatological parameters such as carbon flux, water flux and albedo. The position of this interface region, and the species composition of the northern boreal forest, have undergone major shifts since the last glacial maximum. Modelling predicts northward shifts in boreal vegetation distributions in response to global warming, with roughly half to two thirds of the present tundra being displaced by forest by the end of the 21st century. Such changes would have major climatological implications through the probable increase in CO2 absorption and decrease in CH4 emission, decrease in regional albedo and alteration of the hydrological cycle. The processes that determine the northern limit of trees are, however, complex and not fully understood. Systematic monitoring data are scarce, and provide scant evidence for the northward shift predicted by models.

Earlier projects