Ecological Theory and Concepts

A central element of the department’s research is the development and testing of ecological theories and concepts. Stability concepts are underlying most of our projects, for example the viability of small populations, the sustainability of harvesting regimes in rain forests, or the resilience of ecological and socio-ecological systems. Another main focus are the ecological consequences of disturbance events and multiple stressors.

Originally starting from population ecology, the department now has also a strong focus on theories and concepts related to communities and ecosystems. In particular, the relationship between biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and stability properties is addressed using both conceptual and structurally realistic models. Questions addressed include the role of stochasticity for species coexistence (sNiche workshop), ecosystem responses to environmental change (Singer et al. 2016), their predictability and the resulting challenges to modeling (Grimm and Berger 2016, Grimm et al. 2017), the effects of stressors on biodiversity and ecosystem functions (Radchuk et al. 2016), or global patterns of forest fragmentation (Taubert et al. 2018).

successional stages of benthic communities
Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in microcosm experiments depend on the environmental context. From environment 1-3, the environment is getting harsher in terms of stress. Communities of up to 12 bacterial species were exposed to these different environments, which strongly influenced species‘ roles and functional redundancy. Insets show estimated species interactions, indicating context-dependent changes and, particularly, complex potential interactions in one of the three environments (Fetzer et al. 2015).

We are also increasingly integrating modelling and analyses of data from experiments or observations to test theories. For example, using experiments with microbial communities, the role of seemingly redundant species in species-rich communities could be elucidated: they can become key species when environmental conditions are getting harsher (Fetzer et al. 2015; see Figure).

An underlying theme of virtually all theories and concepts in the department’s research are multiple patterns, or regularities, generated by ecological systems at different scales and hierarchical level. These patterns are key to decoding the internal organization of ecological systems (“pattern-oriented modelling”, Grimm et al. 2005).

Selected Publications

  • Taubert, F., Fischer, R., Groeneveld, J., Lehmann, S., Müller, M.S., Rödig, E., Wiegand, T., Huth, A., (2018):
    Global patterns of tropical forest fragmentation
    Nature 554 (7693), 519 - 522
    full text (url)
  • Grimm, V., Ayllón, D., Railsback, S.F., (2017):
    Next-generation individual-based models integrate biodiversity and ecosystems: yes we can, and yes we must
    Ecosystems 20 (2), 229 - 236
    full text (url)
  • Groeneveld, J., Müller, B., Buchmann, C.M., Dressler, G., Guo, C., Hase, N., Hoffmann, F., John, F., Klassert, C., Lauf, T., Liebelt, V., Nolzen, H., Pannicke, N., Schulze, J., Weise, H., Schwarz, N., (2017):
    Theoretical foundations of human decision-making in agent-based land use models – A review
    Environ. Modell. Softw. 87 , 39 - 48
    full text (url)
  • Lucas, R., Groeneveld, J., Harms, H., Johst, K., Frank, K., Kleinsteuber, S., (2017):
    A critical evaluation of ecological indices for the comparative analysis of microbial communities based on molecular datasets
    FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 93 (1), fiw209
    full text (url)
  • Schlüter, M., Baeza, A., Dressler, G., Frank, K., Groeneveld, J., Jager, W., Janssen, M.A., McAllister, R.R.J., Müller, B., Orach, K., Schwarz, N., Wijermans, N., (2017):
    A framework for mapping and comparing behavioural theories in models of social-ecological systems
    Ecol. Econ. 131 , 21 - 35
    full text (url)
  • Cipriotti, P.A., Wiegand, T., Pütz, S., Bartoloni, N.J., Paruelo, J.M., (2016):
    Nonparametric upscaling of stochastic simulation models using transition matrices
    Methods Ecol. Evol. 7 (3), 313 - 322
    full text (url)
  • Grimm, V., Berger, U., (2016):
    Structural realism, emergence, and predictions in next-generation ecological modelling: Synthesis from a special issue
    Ecol. Model. 326 , 177 - 187
    full text (url)
  • Radchuk, V., De Laender, F., van den Brink, P.J., Grimm, V., (2016):
    Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning decoupled: invariant ecosystem functioning despite non-random reductions in consumer diversity
    Oikos 125 (3), 424 - 433
    full text (url)
  • Singer, A., Johst, K., Banitz, T., Fowler, M.S., Groeneveld, J., Gutiérrez, A.G., Hartig, F., Krug, R.M., Liess, M., Matlack, G., Meyer, K.M., Pe'er, G., Radchuk, V., Voinopol-Sassu, A.-J., Travis, J.M.J., (2016):
    Community dynamics under environmental change: How can next generation mechanistic models improve projections of species distributions?
    Ecol. Model. 326 , 63 - 74
    full text (url)
  • 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 (url)
  • May, F., Huth, A., Wiegand, T., (2015):
    Moving beyond abundance distributions: neutral theory and spatial patterns in a tropical forest
    Proc. R. Soc. B-Biol. Sci. 282 (1802), art. 20141657
    full text (url)
  • Topping, C.J., Alrøe, H.F., Farrell, K.N., Grimm, V., (2015):
    Per aspera ad astra: through complex population modeling to predictive theory
    Am. Nat. 186 (5), 669 - 674
    full text (url)