Disturbances in Ecosystems

landslide animation
Animation of forest growth impacted by a landslide event.

Many ecosystems are influenced by disturbances such as e.g. land-use, fragmentation, fire, floods or storms. Despite the fundamental relevance of these disturbances for the dynamics, structure, diversity and functioning of these ecosystems we still lack a comprehensive understanding how vulnerable and sensitive disturbed ecosystems are to changes in their disturbance regime. In particular the interaction of different disturbances and between disturbances and other stress factors (such as habitat loss, pollution or temperature change) is not yet well understood and studied. However, alterations or combinations of disturbances and multiple stresses are highly relevant in the face of climate change.

The last decades have shown that many species up to communities and ecosystems are not able to cope with such combined changes. In addition, it has been shown that different ecological communities respond in different ways and with different, positive or negative, consequences.

disturbance pattern
The intermediate disturbance hypothesis predicts high biodiversity at intermediate disturbances.
Therefore understanding the complex interplay of multiple stressors and disturbance interactions within the ecological communities, in particular with respect to their structure and interspecific interactions is pivotal. It is the basis for nature conservation, risk assessment and the development of possible management strategies and policy advice for disturbed landscapes.

Our department meets these challenges by adressing the following issues:

  • Analysis of multiple disturbances (logging, fire, landslides, storms, fragmentation) and climatic stressors (drought, CO2, increased temperatures) on the structure and dynamics of forests
  • Impact of management (mowing, fertilization, irrigation) and climatic stressors (drought, CO2, increased temperatures) on the structure and dynamics of grasslands
  • Geographic range shifting of species and communities in dynamic landscapes
  • Impact of environmental stress and disturbances on the stability and functioning of microbial ecosystems
  • Modelling the isolated and combined effect of stressors on honeybee colonies
  • Population and community dynamics under different disturbance regimes
  • Functional resilience of aquatic ecosystems under multiple stressors
  • Ecological-Economic Modelling for grassland species conservation impacted by land use

Selected Publications

  • Fetzer, I., Johst, K., Schäwe, R., Banitz, T., Harms, H., Chatzinotas, A., (2015):
    The extent of functional redundancy changes as species’ roles shift in different environments
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112 (48), 14888 - 14893
    full text (pdf)
  • Horn, J., Becher, M.A., Kennedy, P.J., Osborne, J.L., Grimm, V., (2016):
    Multiple stressors: using the honeybee model BEEHAVE to explore how spatial and temporal forage stress affects colony resilience
    full text (pdf)
  • Dantas de Paula, M., Groeneveld, J., Huth, A., (2015):
    Tropical forest degradation and recovery in fragmented landscapes — Simulating changes in tree community, forest hydrology and carbon balance
    Global Ecology and Conservation 3 , 664 - 677
    full text (pdf)
  • Fischer R, Bohn F, Dantas De Paula M, Dislich C, Groeneveld J, Gutiérrez AG, Kazmierczak M, Knapp N, Lehmann S, Paulick S, Pütz S, Rödig E, Taubert F, Köhler P, Huth A (2015) Lessons learned from applying a forest gap model to understand ecosystem and carbon dynamics of complex tropical forests. Ecological Modelling. DOI 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2015.11.018
  • Pütz, S., Groeneveld, J., Henle, K., Knogge, C., Martensen, A.C., Metz, M., Metzger, J.P., Ribeiro, M.C., Dantas de Paula, M., Huth, A., (2014):
    Long-term carbon loss in fragmented Neotropical forests
    Nat. Commun. 5 , art. 5037
    full text (pdf)
  • Fischer, R., Armstrong, A., Shugart, H.H., Huth, A., (2014):
    Simulating the impacts of reduced rainfall on carbon stocks and net ecosystem exchange in a tropical forest
    Environ. Modell. Softw. 52 , 200 - 206
    full text (pdf)
  • Zinck, R.D., Pascual, M., Grimm, V., (2011):
    Understanding shifts in wildfire regimes as emergent threshold phenomena
    Am. Nat. 178 (6), E149 - E161
    full text (pdf)
  • dos Santos, F.A.S., Johst, K., Grimm, V., (2011):
    Neutral communities may lead to decreasing diversity-disturbance relationships: insights from a generic simulation model
    Ecol. Lett. 14 (7), 653 - 660
    full text (pdf)
  • Banitz, T., Huth, A., Grimm, V., Johst, K. (2008):
    Clumped versus scattered: how does the spatial correlation of disturbance events affect biodiversity?
    Theoretical Ecology 1 (4), 231-240