Project groups


Involved project leaders:
K. Böhning-GaeseM. Fischer, T. Hickler, S. KlimpelT. Müller, B. O'Hara, S. Scheiter, S. Higgins (Adjunct). — GU: B. Ahrens, O. Tackenberg, P. Döll. — SGN: P. Haase, I. Kröncke, G. Zizka.

One key challenge in current biodiversity research is understanding and projecting the impact of climate change on ecological communities and their ecosystem functions. RA “Biodiversity Dynamics and Climate” addresses the influence of climate on the abundance and geographic ranges of species, ecological communities and ecosystem functions over ecological timescales (100 to 103 years) in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine realm. Ecosystem functions that we investigate include feedbacks from the biosphere on climate dynamics. Furthermore, we address relationships between ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services, including human health.

A particular strength of RA 7 is the investigation of the impact of climate change in the terrestrial, freshwater as well as the marine realm, covering plants and animals as well as entire ecosystems. A further strength is the consideration of a particularly broad range of ecosystem functions, including functions regulating ecological communities (e.g., seed dispersal), those representing material fluxes in ecosystems (e.g., biomass production), and ecosystem functions with a close link to ecosystem services (e.g., human health). A third strength is the close collaboration between scientists employing empirical approaches, statisticians and modelers. This allows the use of empirical data to calibrate and validate models and, at the same time, to utilize models to make predictions that can then be tested empirically.

We work closely with RA 6 Evolution and Climate when investigating the impact of historical climate change on present-day species and communities, and vice versa. With RA 8 Adaptation and Climate, we share an interest in the impact of climate change on biotic interactions and ecological communities, as well as modeling techniques, but here we focus on responses at the species to ecosystem level (in contrast to the genetic level), using observational data and long-term time series. We further collaborate with RA 9 Ecosystem Services and Climate, especially when investigating ecosystem functions that provide ecosystem services.

The research profile and strategy of RA 7 is based on former expertise at Senckenberg and was modified and greatly expanded in 2010 through the addition of three professorships. The RA profits profoundly from standing collaborations with Goethe University Frankfurt, including the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Geosciences and the Frankfurt Center for scientific computing LOEWE-CSC ( We also collaborate with a number of non-University partners, in particular ISOE - Institute for Social-Ecological Research, and the German Weather Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst, DWD).

In RA 7 Biodiversity Dynamics and Climate, we address the following key questions:
1. How do multiple drivers modulate the impact of climate change on geographic ranges and ecological communities?
Changes in species abundances, geographic ranges, ecological communities, and ecosystem functions are not only determined by climatic factors but also by multiple other drivers, e.g., land-use change, exploitation of organisms, pollution, or the invasion of non-native species. We therefore investigate the impact of climate change in interaction with these other drivers.

2. How does the dispersal ability of species influence geographic ranges and ecological communities?
Climate change is expected to result in shifts in the geographic ranges of species, but one of the largest unknowns in climate impact research is to what extent species can track geographic shifts in their preferred climatic niches. We therefore pay particular attention to quantifying the dispersal potential of species, a key trait to understanding the vulnerability of species to climate change.

3. How does climate change impact ecosystem functions and potentially associated ecosystem services?
Effects of climate change on biodiversity also have consequences for ecosystem functions. We study ecosystem functions,which regulate ecological communities (e.g., seed dispersal), those representing material fluxes in and between ecosystems and the atmosphere (e.g., net primary productivity (NPP) or biosphere-atmosphere carbon exchange), and ecosystem functions with a close link to ecosystem services, such as wildlife tourism, carbon sequestration and human health.

4. How can we model the impact of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems and their functions?
Modeling is a key tool in RA 7. We develop models that investigate the relationship between climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem functions on local to global scales for the past and for the future. We also investigate how changes in ecosystems might in turn influence climate.