Ecosystem dynamics

Studying the natural dynamics of ecosystems is a key focus of our work. A profound understanding of ecosystem dynamics is the prerequisite for

Ecosystem dynamics at Berchtesgaden National Park

Berchtesgaden National Park offers unique insights into mountain landscape development because human interventions ceased in its core zone in 1978, and because the strong environmental gradients (e.g., covering an elevation range from 603 to 2713m asl within just a few kilometers of horizontal distance) allow deep insights into the interactions between abiotic drivers such as climate and biotic processes such as disturbance and community assembly. We use multiple lines of inference for understanding ecosystem dynamics at Berchtesgaden National Park, including observational data from long-term monitoring programs and simulation modeling. Furthermore, we make extensive use of natural experiments, harnessing the variability on the landscape to generate scientific insights.

Future drivers of forest dynamics at Berchtesgaden National Park. Source: Thom et al. (2022)

Ecosystem dynamics in landscapes across the world

An important question for understanding ecosystem dynamics is what drives it. Particularly, it often remains unclear how much of the observed dynamics is determined by global drivers (such as climate change), and how much of it is related to specific conditions and idiosyncrasies of a given study landscape. We address this question by comparatively analyzing landscapes that are developing naturally under a wide range of different environmental conditions. Such comparisons have shown, for instance, that climate (change) is consistently driving the observed change in forest disturbances across temperate and boreal biomes.

A compilation of 103 forest landscapes developing naturally for studying local vs. global drivers of ecosystem dynamics. Source: Seidl et al. (2020)

Spatial patterns of ecosystem change

 An important dimension for understanding ecosystem dynamics are the spatial patterns it creates in ecosystems. Spatial patterns (e.g., how species are distributed across a landscape, how old forests are connected in a landscape) are important (i) because they provide a window into past landscape dynamics, particularly for long-lived species such as trees, and (ii) because they are important determinants of ecosystem responses to future changes. We combine tools and approaches from landscape ecology, spatial modeling and remote sensing to quantify, understand and predict spatial patterns in ecosystems.

The spatial variation of disturbance resilience in Europe’s forests. Source: Senf and Seidl (2022)