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