Our research in a nutshell


Research topics

Microorganisms contribute to ecosystem processes sustaining our live on earth. Yet we know very little on how they will react to changes emerging from increased anthropogenic impacts. Soils are threatened by multiple global change factors including drought, salinity and pollutants.

Our research focuses on:
  • the capacity of microbes to adapt to single and combined global change factors.
  • the impact of these transitions on soil functions and plant health.
  • the ability of microbes to modulate the response of plants to environmental changes.
  • the use of ecological concepts to improve the adaptive capacity of (agro)ecosystems.

To establish causality between drivers and response, we perform experiments in synthetic microbial ecosystems, soil microcosms and in the field using stable isotope labelling, chemical imaging, time-lapse microscopy and -omics approaches. In collaboration with the Department of Ecological Modelling, we also combine our experimental approaches with ecological models to expand the testable scenarios and gain a mechanistic understanding of how microbial ecosystems will function in the future.

Current projects

Fate and effects of antibiotics in agricultural soils

(starting in autumn 2020)
antibiotics in soils Antibiotics comprise a wide range of structurally diverse compounds used to treat bacterial infections in humans and animals, and to prevent and control disease events in livestock production. However, antibiotics are only partially metabolized by humans and animals, and their extensive use has led to the introduction of large amounts into various ecosystems including agricultural soils. In soils, they are subject to transformation processes, but at the same time affect microbial activity, community structure and functioning.

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Selection for antibiotic resistance in multistress environments

(since 01/2020)
antibiotics in soils Understanding the fate of antibiotic resistance requires a holistic approach taking into account the relationships between humans, animals and the environment. This is necessary as bacteria and bacterial genes can move between all three compartments, in any direction. To address the environmental fate of antibiotic resistance, it is crucial to understand how resistance is stabilized in bacterial populations and in particular under environmentally relevant conditions.

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Functional stability of microbial ecosystems

(since 2013)
antibiotics in soils Microbial ecosystems experience environmental fluctuations that can be classified as stresses or disturbances. Both can have severe impacts on microbial communities and the ecosystem services they provide. We seek to understand how (a)biotic factors (e.g. stress/disturbance type and characteristics, microbial interactions) affect the functional resistance and recovery of microbial ecosystems by looking at different traits (e.g. motility, growth, metabolic activity) relevant for the process.   

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PhD Students

Maria Greulich


Maja Hinkel


Kristina Scholz (research assistant with FULLREMOVAL; Leipzig University)