Project groups


Vegetation dynamics and ecosystem processes are strongly linked. Therefore, we develop models that simulate the coupled dynamics of both, integrating processes acting at spatial and temporal scales across several orders of magnitude, from the leaf (e.g. photosynthesis) to the biosphere (e.g. global cycles of carbon, water and nutrients). Other important processes in the models include vegetation dynamics, such as successional changes in forests, and disturbances, for example by wildfires, as well as those that govern the distribution of vegetation types or, at the global level, so-called biomes. One important model type are Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs). We also couple our DGVMs to climate models in order to investigate the role of the terrestrial biosphere in the climate system (see project group E1). In this type of modelling, biodiversity commonly does not refer to numbers of species, but rather to the functional diversity that is represented by the Plant Functional Types (PFTs) that are used in the models to represent the variety of species. However, as ecosystems form the habitats for all species, the modelling results are also relevant for species-based  distribution modelling (see project group E2.2). Data from all PBs is used to parameterize and test the models, or to combine data and modelling experiments for hypothesis testing. Often the model results are strongly linked to important ecosystem services, such as biomass production and carbon storage.

Selected Publications

Higgins, S.I. & S. Scheiter (2012) : Atmospheric CO2 forces abrupt vegetation shifts locally, but not globally. - Nature, doi:10.1038/nature11238.

Hickler, T., Vohland, K., Feehan, J., Miller, P., Fronzek, S., Giesecke, T., Kuehn, I., Carter, T., Smith, B. & M. Sykes (2012) : Projecting tree species – based climate- driven changes in European potential natural vegetation with a generalized dynamic vegetation model. - Global Ecology & Biogeography 21: 50-63.

Werner, C., Haas, E., Grote, R., Gauder, M., Graeff-Hönninger, S., Claupein, W. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2012) : Biomass production potential from Populus short rotation systems in Romania. - GCB Bioenergy 4: 642-653.

Scheiter, S., Langan, L. & S.I. Higgins (2013) : Next generation dynamic global vegetation models: learning from community ecology. - New Phytologist 10: 1111-12210. (In Press)

Feurdean, A., Spessa, A., Magyari, E.K., Willis, K.J., Veres, D. & T. Hickler (2012) : Trends in biomass burning in the Carpathian region over the last 15,000 years. - Quaternary Science Reviews 45: 111-125.

Huntley, B., Allen, J.R.M., Collingham, Y.C., Hickler, T., Lister, A.M., Singarayer, J., Stuart, A.J., Sykes, M. & P.J. Valdes (2013) : Millennial climatic fluctuations key to structure of last glacial ecosystems. - PloS ONE 8:e61963.

Former Members:

Prof. Dr. Steven Higgins
Maria Dolores Delgado Cartay


Dr. Angelica Feurdean, Researcher
Dr. Matthew Forrest, Researcher
Dr. Mirjam Pfeiffer, Researcher
Dr. Simon Scheiter, Researcher
Dr. Jörg Steinkamp, Researcher
Dr. Claus Weiland, scientific programming
Dr. Christian Werner, Researcher
Camille Gaillard, Ph.D. student


Blagodatsky, S.A., Grote, R., Kiese, R., Werner, C. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2011) : Modelling of microbial carbon and nitrogen turnover in soil with special emphasis on N-trace gases emission. - Plant and Soil 346: 297–330.

Börner, J., Higgins, S.I., Scheiter, S. & J. Kantelhardt (2013) : Approximating Optimal Numerical Solutions to Bio-economic Systems: How Useful is Simulation-optimization? - Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture 52: 179-198.

Cameron, D.R., Van Oijen, M., Werner, C., Butterbach-Bahl, K., Haas, E., Heuvelink, G.B.M., Grote, R., Kiese, R., Kuhnert, M., Kros, J., Leip, A., Reinds, G.J., Reuter, H.I., Schelhaas, M.J., De Vries, W. & J.Yeluripati (2013) : Environmental change impacts on the C- and N-cycle of European forests: a model comparison study. -  Biogeosciences 10: 1751–1773.

De Kauwe, M.G., Medlyn, B.E., Zaehle, S., Walker, A.P., Dietze, M.C., Hickler, T., Jain, A.K., Luo, Y., Parton, W.J., Prentice, I.C., Smith, B., Thornton, P.E., Wang, S., Wang, Y.-P., Wårlind, D., Weng, E., Crous, K.Y., Ellsworth, D.S., Hanson, P.J., Seok Kim, H., Warren, J.M., Oren, R. & R.J. Norby (2013) : Forest water use and water use efficiency at elevated CO2: a model-data intercomparison at two contrasting temperate forest FACE sites. - Global Change Biology 19: 1759-1779.

De Kauwe, M.G., Medlyn, B.E., Zaehle, S., Walker, Dietze, M.C., Wang, Y.P., Luo, Y.Q., Jain, A.K., El-Masri, B., T. Hickler et. al. (2014) : Where does the carbon go? A model-data intercomparison of vegetation carbon allocation and turnover processes at two tem- perate forest free-air CO2 enrichment sites. - New Phytologist 203: 883- 899.

Döll, P., Hoffmann-Dobrev, H., Portmann, F.T., Siebert, S., Eicker, A., Rodell, M., Strassberg, G. & B.R. Scanlon (2012) : Impact of water withdrawals from groundwater and surface water on continental water storage variations. - Journal of Geodynamics 59-60: 143-156.

Elbert, W., Weber, B., Burrows, S., Steinkamp, J., Büdel, B., Andreae, M.O. & U. Pöschl (2012) : Contribution of cryptogamic covers to the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen. - Nature Geoscience 5: 459-462, doi:10.1038/ngeo1486.

Feurdean, A., Liakka, J., Vanniere, B., Marinova, E., Hutchinson, S.M., Mosbrugger V. & T. Hickler (2013) : 12,000-Years of fire regime drivers in the lowlands of Transylvania (Central-Eastern Europe): a data-model approach. - Quaternary Science Reviews 81: 48-61.

Feurdean, A., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J., Birks, J.H.B., Lischke, H. & T. Hickler (2013) : Tree migration-rates: narrowing the gap between inferred post-glacial rates and projected rates. - PlosOne. DOI-71797

Feurdean, A., Parr, C.L., Tantau, I., Farcas, S.,Marinova, E. & I. Persoiu (2013) : Biodiversity variability across elevations in the Carpathians: parallel change with landscape openness and landuse. - The Holocene 23: 869-881.

Feurdean, A., Persoiu, A., Pazdur, A. & B.P. Onac (2011) : Evaluating the palaeoecological potential of pollen recovered from ice in caves: a case study from Scărişoara Ice Cave, Romania. - Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 165: 1-10.

Feurdean, A., Spessa, A., Magyari, E.K., Willis, K.J., Veres, D. & T. Hickler (2012) : Trends in biomass burning in the Carpathian region over the last 15,000 years. - Quaternary Science Reviews 45: 111-125.

Feurdean, A., Tamas, T., Tantau, I. & S. Farcas (2012) : Elevational variation in regional vegetation responses to late-glacial climate changes in the Carpathians. - Journal of Biogeography 39(2): 258-271.

Feurdean, A., Tantau, I. & S. Farcas (2011) : Holocene variability in the range distribution and abundance of Pinus, Picea abies, and Quercus in Romania; implications for their current status. - Quaternary Science Reviews, 30, 3060-3075.

Geanta, A., Galka, M., Tantau, I., Hutchinson, S.M. & A. Feurdean (2014) : High mountain region of the Northern Romanian Carpathians responded sensitively to Holocene climate and land use changes: A multi-proxy analysis. - The Holocene (in press).

Gharahi Ghehi, N., Werner, C., Cizungu Ntaboba, C., Mbonigaba Muhinda, J.J., Van Ranst, E., Butterbach-Bahl, K., Kiese, R. & P. Boeckx (2012) : Spatial variations of nitrogen trace gas emissions from tropical mountain forests in Nyungwe, Rwanda. - Biogeosciences 9: 1451-1463.

Gharahi Ghehi, N., Werner, C., Hufkens, K., Kiese, R., van Ranst, E., Nsabimana, D., Wallin, G., Klemedtsson, L., Butterbach-Bahl, K. & P. Boeckx (2013) : Detailed regional predictions of N2O and NO emissions from a tropical highland rainforest. - Biogeosciences Discussions 10: 1483–1516.

Gharahi Ghehi, N., Werner, C., Hufkens, K., Kiese. R., van Ranst, E., Nsabimana, D., Wallin, G., Klemedtsson, L., Butterbach-Bahl, K. & P. Boeckx (2014) : N2O and NO emission from the Nyungwe tropical highland rainforest in Rwanda. - Geoderma Regional 2-3: 41–49.

Giesecke, T., Bennett, K.D., Birks, H.J.B., Bjune, A.E., Bozilova, E., Feurdean, A., Finsinger, W., Froyd, C., Pokorný, P., Rösch, M., Seppä, H., Tonkov, S., Valsecchi, V. & S. Wolters (2011) : The pace of Holocene vegetation change - testing for synchronous developments. - Quaternary Science Reviews 30: 2805-2814.

Haas, E., Klatt, S., Fröhlich, A., Kraft, P., Werner, C., Kiese, R., Grote, R., Breuer, L. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2013) : LandscapeDNDC: A process model for simulation of biosphere-atmosphere-hydrosphere exchange processes at site and regional scale. - Landscape Ecology 28(4): 615-636.

Hartig, F., Dyke, J., Hickler, T., Higgins, S.I., O’Hara, R.B., Scheiter, S. & A. Huth (2012) : Connecting dynamic vegetation models to data – an inverse perspective. - Journal of Biogeography 39: 2240–2252. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2012.02745.x

Hickler, T., Vohland, K., Feehan, J., Miller, P.A., Smith, B.H., Costa, L., Giesecke, T., Fronzek, S., Carter, T.R., Cramer, W., Kühn, I. & M.T. Sykes (2012) : Projecting the future distribution of European potential natural vegetation zones with a generalized, tree species-based dynamic vegetation model. - Global Ecology and Biogeography 21: 50-63.

Higgins, S.I. & S. Scheiter (2012) : Atmospheric CO2 forces abrupt vegetation shifts locally, but not globally. - Nature 488: 209-212.

Higgins, S.I., Scheiter, S. & M. Sankaran (2010) : The stability of African savannas: insights from the indirect estimation of the parameters of a dynamic model. - ECOLOGY 91: 1682-1692.

Higgins, S.I., Bond, W.J., Combrink, H., Craine, J.M., February, E.C., Govender, N., Lannas, K., Moncrieff, G.R. & W.S.W. Trollope (2012) : Which traits determine shifts in the abundance of tree species in a fire-prone savanna? - Journal of Ecology 100: 1400-1410.

Jeltsch, F., Blaum, N., Brose, U., Chipperfield, J.D., Clough, Y., Farwig, N., Geissler, C.H.G., Grimm, V., Hickler, T., Huth, A., May, F., Meyer, K.M., Pagel, J., Reineking, B., Rillig, M.C., Shea, K., Schurr, F.M., Schröder, B., Tielbörger, K., Weiss, L., Wiegand, K., Wiegand, T., Wirth, C. & D. Zurella (2013) : How can we bring together empiricists and modellers in functional biodiversity research? - Basic and Applied Ecology 14(2): 93-101.

Jerneck, A., Olsson, L., Ness, B., Anderberg, S., Baier, M., Clark, E., Hickler, T., Hornborg, A., Kronsell, A., Lövbrand, E. & J. Persson (2011) : Structuring sustainability science. - Sustainability Science 6(1): 69-82.

Kattge, J., Diaz, S., ..., Hickler, T., Higgins, S.I. et al. (2011) : TRY – a global database of plant traits. - Global Change Biology 17(9): 2905-2935.

Kiese, R., Heinzeller, C., Werner, C., Wochele, S., Grote, R. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2011) : Quantification of nitrate leaching from German forest ecosystems by use of a process oriented biogeochemical model. - Environmental Pollution 159: 3204–3214.

Kuemmerle, T., Hickler, T., Olofsson J., Schurgers, G. & V.C. Radeloff (2012) : Reconstructing range dynamics and range fragmentation of European bison for the last 8000 years. - Diversity and Distributions 18(1): 47-59.

Mîndrescu, M., Cristea, A.I., Hutchinson, S.M., Florescu, G. & A. Feurdean (2013) : Interdisciplinary investigations of the first reported laminated lacustrine sediments in Romania. - Quaternary International 293: 219-230.

Moncrieff, G.R., Scheiter, S., Bond, W.J. & S.I. Higgins (2014) : Increasing atmospheric CO2 overrides the historical legacy of multiple stable biome states in Africa. - New Phytologist 201: 908-915.

Müller, U.C., Fletcher, W.J., Milner, A.M. & S. Scheiter (2013) : Interhemispheric anti-phasing of orbitally driven monsoon intensity: Implications for ice-volume forcing in the high latitudes. - Earth and Planetary Science Letters 377: 34-42.

Pachzelt, A., Rammig, A., Higgins, S. & T. Hickler (2013) : Coupling a physiological grazer population model with a generalized model for vegetation dynamics. - Ecological Modelling 263: 92-102.

Paul, A.G., Hammen, V.C., Hickler, T., Karlson, U.G., Jones, K.C. & A.J. Sweetman (2012) : Potential implications of future climate and land-cover changes for the fate and distribution of persistent organic pollutants in Europe. - Global Ecology and Biogeography 21: 64-74.

Rahn, K.-H., Butterbach-Bahl, K. & C. Werner (2011) : Selection of likelihood parameters for complex models determines the effectiveness of Bayesian calibration. - Ecological Informatics 6: 333–340.

Rahn, K.-H., Werner, C., Kiese, R., Haas, E. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2012) : Parameter-induced uncertainty quantification of soil N2O, NO and CO2 emission from Höglwald spruce forest (Germany) using the LandscapeDNDC model. - Biogeosciences 9: 3983-3998.

Scheiter, S. & S. I. Higgins (2009) : Impacts of climate change on the vegetation of Africa: an adaptive dynamic vegetation modelling approach (aDGVM). - Global Change Biology 15, 2224–2246.

Scheiter, S. & S.I. Higgins (2012) : How many elephants can you fit into a conservation area. - Conservation Letters 5: 176-185.

Scheiter, S. & S.I. Higgins (2013) : Intermediate coupling between aboveground and belowgroundbiomass maximises the persistence of grasslands. - PLOS ONE 8,e61149.

Scheiter, S., Higgins, S.I., Osborne, C.P., Bradshaw, C., Lunt, D., Ripley, B.S.,Taylor, L.L. & D.J. Beerling (2012) : Fire and fire-adapted vegetation promote C4 expansion in the late Miocene. - New Phytologist 195: 653-666.

Scheiter, S., Langan, L. & S.I. Higgins (2013) : Next generation dynamic global vegetation models: learning from community ecology. - New Phytologist 198: 957-969.

Schurgers, G., Arneth, A. & T. Hickler (2011) : Effect of climate-driven changes in species composition on regional emission capacities of biogenic compounds. - Journal of Geophysical Research 116:D22304. doi:10.1029/2011jd016278

Seddon, A...., Feurdean, A. and 60 others (2014) : Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology. - Journal of Ecology 102: 256-267.

Smith, B., Wårlind, D., Arneth, A., Hickler, T., Leadley, P., Siltberg, J. & S. Zaehle (2013) : Implications of incorporating N cycling and N limitations on primary production in an individual-based dynamic vegetation model. - Biogeosciences 10: 18613-18685.

Steinkamp, J. & M. G. Lawrence (2011) : Improvement and evaluation of simulated global biogenic soil NO emissions in an AC-GCM. - Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 11: 6063-6082. DOI: 10.5194/acp-11-6063-2011.

Tantau, I., Feurdean, A., de Beaulieu, J.L., Reille, M. & S. Farcas (2011) : Holocene vegetation history in the upper forest belt of the eastern Romanian Carpathians. - Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 309: 281-290.

Tantau, I., Feurdean, A., de Beaulieu, J.L., Reille, M. & S. Farcas (2014) : Vegetation sensitivity to climate changes and human impact in the Harghita Mountains (Eastern Romanian Carpathians) over the past 15 000 years. - Journal of Quaternary Science 29: 141-152.

van Oijen, M., Cameron, D.R., Butterbach-Bahl, K., Farahbakhshazad, N., Jansson, P.-E., Kiese, R., Rahn, K.-H., Werner, C. & J.B. Yeluripati (2011) : A Bayesian framework for model calibration, comparison and analysis: Application to four models for the biogeochemistry of a Norway spruce forest. - Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 151: 1609–1621.

Wårlind, D., Smith, B., Hickler, T. & A. Arneth (2014) : Nitrogen feedbacks increase future terrestrial ecosystem carbon uptake in an individual-based dynamic vegetation model. - Biogeosciences Discussions 11: 151-185.

Wells, K. & R.B. O'Hara (2013) : Species interactions: Estimating per-individual interaction strength and covariates before simplifying data into per-species ecological networks. - Methods in Ecology & Evolution 4: 1-8.

Wells, K., O’Hara, R.B., Pfeiffer, M., Lakim, M.B., Petney, T.N. & L.A. Durden (2013) : Inferring host specificity and network formation through agent-based models: tick – mammal interactions in Borneo. - Oecologia 172: 307–316.

Werner, C., Haas, E., Grote, R., Gauder, M., Graeff-Hönninger, S., Claupein, W. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2012) : Biomass production potential from Populus short rotation systems in Romania. - GCB Bioenergy 4: 642-653.

Werner, C., Reiser, K., Dannenmann, M,. Hutley, L.B., Jacobeit, J. & K. Butterbach-Bahl (2014) : N2O, NO, N2, and CO2 emissions from tropical savanna and grassland of northern Australia: an incubation experiment with intact soil cores. - Biogeosciences 11: 6047–6065.

Willis, K.J., Feurdean, A., Birks, H.J.B., Bjune, A.E., Breman, E., Broekman, R., Grytnes, J.A., New, M., Singarayer, J.S. & J. Rozema (2011) : Quantification of UV-B flux through time using UV-B-absorbing compounds contained in fossil Pinus sporopollenin. - New Phytologist 192: 553-560.

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