Microbial Ecosystem Analysis

Microorganisms play key roles in many ecosystems and contribute to crucial processes such as nutrient cycling, chemicals’ degradation, biofuel production, or greenhouse gas emission and consumption.

Therefore, we use ecological models to analyse the structure, dynamics and stability of microbial ecosystems, their functioning and the provision of ecosystem services. Microcosms are also efficient tools for testing ecological theories and model predictions under well-controlled conditions at small spatial and temporal scales, to the benefit for both ecology and microbiology.

Microbial ecosystems are analysed with particular focus on their functioning and services. Laboratory experiments are combined with ecological models to study the mechanisms and environmental conditions that determine ecosystem dynamics, structure and performance. Our research considers and contributes to current microbiological as well as ecological theory.

Integration of theory, modelling and experiments enables us to study population and community dynamics under different environmental conditions and to assess resulting ecosystem functioning. This is done in close cooperation with the Department of Applied Microbial Ecology.

In our spatially implicit or explicit modelling approaches, we combine concepts of microbial kinetics, organismic ecology (dispersal, consumer-resource dynamics, energy budgets), abiotic drivers (spatial heterogeneities, disturbances, environmental change and stress) and biodiversity research (species coexistence and interactions). In particular, we focus on the interplay of abiotic and biotic processes, the relation between structural and functional characteristics of ecosystems including their functional resilience, and appropriate management interventions to stabilize and enhance ecosystem functioning and services.

Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in microcosm experiments depend on the environmental context. Communities of up to 12 bacterial species were exposed to three different environments, which strongly influenced species‘ roles and functional redundancy. Insets show estimated species interactions, indicating context-dependent changes and, particularly, complex potential interdependencies in one of the three environments (Fetzer et al. (2015), reference below).

Selected Publications