Ongoing projects

Experimental verification of the influence of biota on enhanced silicate weathering. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

At the 2015 climate summit in Paris, the world committed to limit warming to well below 2°C. Besides rapid and complete decarbonization of all sectors, achieving these targets will require deployment of negative emission technologies (NETs), which actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere and ensure long-term sequestration. Various techniques have been proposed, including several land-based solutions that involve the use of natural processes. However, no technique is yet available at scale and the lack of empirical data currently hampers development of realistic roadmaps for the necessary rapid, safe and large-scale deployment of NETs. A promising but yet poorly studied land-based NET is enhanced silicate weathering (EW). Thus far, research on the C sequestration potential of EW has been limited mostly to lab column experiments, which do not include soil and important biota and are thus still far from reality. Biota such as plants, mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms can be critical determinants of mineral weathering, but their influence on EW remains to be verified. On the other hand, field investigations face a major challenge because weathering products and hence C sequestration rates are very difficult to accurately quantify. This is especially due to the difficulty in determining leaching losses. The current project therefore envisions a crucial research step between the lab-based experiments and future applied large field-scale applications: mesocosm experiments which include important biota and at the same time allow for accurate quantification of weathering products and hence C sequestration rates. These mesocosm experiments will specifically test for the influence of important biota – plants, mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms – hence providing important information needed to extrapolate lab-based results to the real world. The experiments also provide the opportunity to investigate expected side-effects of EW, such as increased crop yield and nutrient contents and reduced NO3- leaching and N2O emissions. These will eventually co-determine the feasibility of EW as a NET. The proposed project will be an important first step in the establishing of a new research line of high scientific as well as societal significance.

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Drought impact on carbon cycling: the role of soil. 01/10/2021 - 30/06/2022

Abstract

Climate change involves an increase in the frequency and intensity of regional drought events. Droughts can have substantial impact on the future functioning of land ecosystems, including their potential to mitigate further global warming. Drought impacts vary strongly, however, and factors determining drought sensitivity are not fully understood. Through meta-analyses, this project investigates how soil characteristics and nutrient availability may influence drought sensitivity of ecosystem productivity and CO2 exchange.

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Super Bio-Accelerated Mineral weathering: a new climate risk hedging reactor technology (BAM). 01/09/2021 - 31/08/2025

Abstract

Conventional climate change mitigation alone will not be able to stabilise atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level compatible with the 2°C warming limit of the Paris Agreement. Safe and scalable negative emission technologies (NETs), which actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere and ensure long-term carbon (C) sequestration, will be needed. Fast progress in NET-development is needed, if NETs are to serve as a risk-hedging mechanism for unexpected geopolitical events and for the transgression of tipping points in the Earth system. Still, no NETs are even on the verge of achieving a substantial contribution to the climate crisis in a sustainable, energy-efficient and cost-effective manner. BAM! develops 'super bio-accelerated mineral weathering' (BAM) as a radical, innovative solution to the NET challenge. While enhanced silicate weathering (ESW) was put forward as a potential NET earlier, we argue that current research focus on either 1/ ex natura carbonation or 2/ slow in natura ecosystem-based ESW, hampers the potential of the technology to provide a substantial contribution to negative emissions within the next two decades. BAM! focuses on an unparalleled reactor effort to maximize biotic weathering stimulation at low resource inputs, and implementation of an automated, rapidlearning process that allows to fast-adopt and improve on critical weathering rate breakthroughs. The direct transformational impact of BAM! lies in its ambition to develop a NET that serves as a climate risk hedging tool on the short term (within 10-20 years). BAM! builds on the natural powers that have triggered dramatic changes in the Earth's weathering environment, embedding them into a novel, reactor-based technology. The ambitious end-result is the development of an indispensable environmental remediation solution, that transforms large industrial CO2 emitters into no-net CO2 emitters.

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City-centered approach to catalyze nature-based solutions through the EU Regenerative Urban Lighthouse for pollution alleviation and regenerative development (UPSURGE). 01/09/2021 - 31/08/2025

Abstract

Air pollution and ambient pollution, carbon-related issues ranging from GHG emissions to carbon shortages in soil, the opportunities provided by NBS and the intricacies of urban ecosystems present an extremely complex set of interdependent problems and opportunities that have to be addressed as such – interactively, mutually and innovatively. Upsurge is considering all these aspects and is providing evidence-based targeted responses that will enable EU cities to transition into a more regenerative future. At its core, Upsurge is presenting the European Regenerative Urban Lighthouse, which will enable cities to unlock their regenerative potential and provide them with knowledge and guidance in regenerative transition. Supported by an innovative continuous self-check progress mechanism (Regenerative Index) and by the Clearing House as a knowledge nerve centre, Upsurge will motivate cities and other clients through its networking activities to engage and step aboard the regenerative transition under Lighthouse's leadership. Upsurge is demonstrating technical excellence through a multimodal adaptable sensing system, through integrated and integrative digitalisation environment supported by IoT and AI, several real-life demonstrations and based on extrapolated criteria conducted simulative demonstrations showcasing the viability, feasibility and implementability of proposed technical solutions. The knowledge core of Upsurge will be introduced within the quintuple helix verification model bringing together all relevant factors affecting the implementation of NBS and thus regenerative change. Quintuple helix approach will truly enable the assessment and exploration of complementary beneficial effects provided by project solutions.

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ASsessing and mitigating the effects of climate change and biological Invasions on the spatial redistribution of biodiversity in Cold environmentS (ASICS) 01/04/2021 - 31/03/2024

Abstract

ASICS is a global network of ecologists passionate about biodiversity in the earth's most remote areas: the cold north and south, and high-elevation areas. It brings together expertise on field observations, experiments and ecological modelling to answer one important question: how are global changes affecting cold-environment species redistributions, and can this knowledge help us halt the deterioration of these precious ecosystems?

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Project website

The combined effect of earthworms and enhanced silicate weathering for reducing atmospheric CO2 and N2O concentrations. 01/04/2021 - 31/03/2022

Abstract

Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental and societal issues that humanity faces. Safe and scalable negative emission technologies (NETs), which actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere and ensure long-term sequestration are urgently needed. Among them, enhanced weathering of silicate minerals (EW), has been recently suggested as a promising NETs. Moreover, earthworms are considered important ecosystem engineers in terrestrial ecosystems and their activity in the soil might accelerate soil carbon (C) sequestration through EW. Yet, earthworms are well known to enhance soil nitrogen (N) processes and, thus, increase soil N2O emissions to the atmosphere. This proposal aims to study the combined effect of earthworms activity on the soil and EW processes by testing whether earthworms can enhance the soil C sequestration through EW, at the same time that EW can mitigate the high amount of soil N2O emissions that are promoted by earthworms activity on arable soils. The project will measure C sequestration, N2O emissions and microbial communities from different mesocosms with or without silicate amendments and earthworms. This project will be an important first step in the establishing of a new research line of high scientific as well as societal significance.

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AnaEE-Flanders: Integrated infrastructure for experimental ecosystem research. 01/02/2021 - 31/01/2025

Abstract

ANAEE will provide Europe with a distributed and coordinated set of experimental, analytical and modelling platforms to analyse and predict in a precise manner the response of the main continental ecosystems to environmental and land use changes. ANAEE will consist of highly equipped in natura and in vitro experimental platforms associated with sophisticated analytical and modelling platforms, under a European umbrella of supranational entities. At UAntwerp these platforms will include both terrestrial and aquatic experimental facilities.

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Carbonation for agricultural use: a circular economy approach. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2024

Abstract

We investigate the application of calcium silicate materials such as basalt and steel production residues for agricultural purposes. We want to answer the question whether such an application is a technically feasible, economically viable and environmentally preferred scenario to enhance carbon sequestration (climate mitigation) and drought resistance (climate adaptation) while also providing co-benefits such as increased crop yield, nutritional value and reduced N2O and NO3- losses. To this end, we combine in this interdisciplinary research project three types of expertise - chemical engineering and material science, biogeochemical and ecological research, life cycle and costing analyses - to identify the most environmentally and economically desirable approach. For each of these three expertise areas, we plan novel and timely research. Through a combined iterative and interactive approach we aim to maximize the applicability of the eventual results.

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Biotic controls of the potential of enhanced silicate weathering for land-based climate change mitigation 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2024

Abstract

A promising but yet poorly studied negative emission technology (NET) is accelerated silicate weathering (EW). Thus far, research on EW has mainly been limited to laboratory experiments, without soil and important biota. However, biota such as plants and soil can strongly influence mineral weathering. On the other hand, field investigations face a major challenge because weathering products and hence C sequestration are very difficult to accurately quantify. In this project mesocosm experiments will therefore be conducted to determine the influence of important biota, hence providing critical information needed to extrapolate lab-based results to the real world.

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Peatland rewetting in nitrogen-contaminated environments: synergies and trade-offs between biodiversity, climate, water quality and society (PRINCESS). 15/12/2020 - 14/03/2024

Abstract

PRINCESS will investigate the potential of alternative land uses on rewetted peatlands to tackle the major environmental challenges of Europe: greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen pollution and biodiversity loss. All relevant EU policy objectives include rewetting drained peatlands as an essential ecosystem-based solution. To the date obvious synergies and trade-offs both within (e.g. between carbon dioxide and methane emissions) and between the policy objectives (e.g. between emissions, biodiversity and economic returns) remain unquantified. Such quantification is crucial for optimizing between alternative land use options for rewetted peatlands, i.e. high-intensity paludiculture, low-intensity paludiculture, and wilderness. PRINCESS will • evaluate the synergies and trade-offs between (1) restoring biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, (2) keeping global warming below 2°C, (3) clean water and (4) fair income to farmers • explore to what extent atmospheric N loads can guide decision-making on which land use option – under given circumstances – optimally contributes to the policy objectives • identify tipping points where switching from one land use option to another would maximise policy objectives. To achieve these objectives, PRINCESS will • focus on the peatlands which are the largest sources of GHG and affected most by nitrogen loads, i.e. temperate fens. Results, however, are relevant across drained-and-to-be-rewetted peatlands in the temperate and boreal zones. • bring together complementary skills from six peatland-rich countries, including those with little (FI, NO, PL) and strong peatland degradation and N loading (AT, BE, DE), the latter being also front-running in rewetting and paludicultures • analyse crucial processes under highly controlled conditions in the laboratory and in mesocosms, test them under more realistic conditions in the field, and model and upscale them to catchment and EU scale • use these different scales of study to maximize internal (sound interpretation of causal effects) and external (their relevance) validity • apply the most advanced techniques and methods from biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, plant ecology, socioeconomic modeling on and across scales, using measurable and quantifiable indicators. PRINCESS is organized in seven work packages (WP), one each for coordination and outreach, and five to cover each of the relevant scales. Each WP considers all three land use options but has a different focus within or between the indicators. PRINCESS will provide vital scientific information for agricultural land use policies for peatlands in the EU by evaluating which land use option after rewetting complies best - under high nitrogen loads - with key policy objectives such as healthy ecosystems, climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean water, fair income to farmers, or, taken together, a greener and more sustainable Europe.

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Enhanced silicate weathering for climate change mitigation – a mesocosm experiment. 01/12/2020 - 30/11/2022

Abstract

Besides rapid decarbonization of all sectors, limiting global warming to well below 2°C will also require active removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. A number of so-called negative emission technologies (NETs) have been proposed for this purpose, including several land-based solutions using natural processes. A promising but yet poorly studied land-based NET is accelerated silicate weathering (EW). When silicates weather, a slow dissolution process occurs, binding CO2 in aqueous form. This CO2 is sequestered for millennia. The idea behind EW is to speed up this natural process, by artificially increasing the weathering rate. This can be achieved by distributing finely ground silicate rock (e.g. basalt) or artificial silicates such as steel slag on soils. While the latter weathers more slowly, using waste streams has the advantage that source material is abundant and that it can be embedded in a circular economy. Thus far, research on EW has mainly been limited to laboratory experiments. Empirical research under more realistic conditions is urgently needed to determine the true climate change mitigation potential as well as the side-effects of EW. An essential step between the lab-based research and applications in the field are mesocosm experiments that allow accurate quantification of the CO2 sequestration and method development for practical C sequestration assessment in the field. In this project, a mesocosm experiment will be set up to accurately quantify CO2 sequestration by EW. Sideeffects on plant growth and plant nutrient concentrations will also be quantified. Specifically, 15 mesocosms will be filled with agricultural soil and planted with maize. Five receive only fertilizer, while the others receive also finely ground basalt (n=5) or steel slag (n=5), i.e., a natural and an artificial silicate. Weathering rates are monitored by analyzing top soil pore water samples as well as leachates for weathering products (DIC, alkalinity, Si, Mg and Ca). Weathering products can also precipitate in the soil and quantification of CO2 sequestration rates thus also requires analysis of carbonates in the soil after the experiment. Plants are harvested at the end of the experiment to quantify plant biomass (above- and belowground) and subsamples are analyzed for important plant nutrients, including N, P, K, Si, Ca, Mg.

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Copernicus CAL/VAL Solution (CCVS). 01/12/2020 - 30/11/2022

Abstract

The objective of the Copernicus Cal/Val Solution (CCVS) is to define a holistic solution for all Copernicus Sentinel missions (either operational or planned) to overcome current limitations of Calibration and Validation (Cal/Val) activities. Operational Cal/Val is required to ensure the quality of and build confidence in Copernicus data. However, these activities are currently limited by the following considerations: • The requirements and objectives need to be revisited to consider new usage of Copernicus products, inter-operability requirements, and to anticipate the needs of future Copernicus missions • Current Cal/Val activities are constrained by programmatic and budgetary requirements and do not necessarily follow scientific priorities • Cal/Val activities depend on the operational availability of high-quality Fiducial Reference Measurements (FRM) which are today mostly provided by external entities without strong commitment to the Copernicus program • Synergies within Copernicus and with other national and international programs are not systematically explored. To address these limitations CCVS will propose: • An updated specification of Cal/Val requirements for the Sentinel missions, taking into account inter-operability needs • An overview of existing Calibration and Validation sources and means • A gap analysis identifying missing elements and required developments in terms of technologies and instrumentation, Cal/Val methods, instrumented sites and dissemination service. • A comprehensive Copernicus Cal/Val Solution to organize the long-term provision of FRM for Sentinel missions • A roadmap documenting how the Cal/Val Solution can be implemented, highlighting responsibility, cost and schedule aspects. This plan will be elaborated in concertation with all stakeholders through four Working Groups gathering European Space Agencies, Copernicus Services, measurements and International partners.

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Impact of the conversation from evergreen coniferous to deciduous broadleaf forest on ecosystem carbon stocks and storage (domain De Mik, Brasschaat). 01/12/2020 - 30/11/2021

Abstract

Study focused on the influence of the conversion from evergreen coniferous to deciduous broadleaf forest on carbon stocks and storage. Two stands (in domain De Mik, Brasschaat) will be investigated / compared: (i) old pine forest with standard management, and (ii) a young oak stand planted in a part of the pine forest. The research involves field and lab work. All the ecosystem carbon stocks will be measured (trees, understory, litter and soil). Information about the management is provided by the local ANB forester. Expected results: data from all carbon stocks of the two forest stands studied, from which the influence of different forest management on the carbon storage (climate mitigation) of forests can be deduced.

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Impact of forest management on ecosystem carbon storage in Scots pine stands (domain De Inslag, Brasschaat) 01/12/2020 - 30/11/2021

Abstract

Study focused on the influence of forest management on carbon storage in Scots pine stands. Two stands (in domain De Inslag, Brasschaat) will be investigated / compared: (i) seldomly thinned old pine forest, and (ii) frequently thinned old pine forest with new plantings (oaks). This research involves field and lab work. All carbon stocks of the ecosystem will be measured (trees, understory, litter and soil). Data about management are provided by the local ANB ranger. Expected results: data from all carbon stocks of the two forest stands studied, from which the influence of different forest management on the carbon storage (climate mitigation) of forests can be deduced.

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The effectiveness of novel genotypes and soil organic matter to protect agricultural grasslands against increasingly persistent weather. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

Recent observations show that weather patterns are becoming more persistent in Europe. A growing number of studies indicates that average weather is being replaced by a sequence of anomalously long alternating wet and dry periods. This shift in climate regimes will likely have negative consequences for ecosystem functioning, particularly in agricultural grasslands which provide a variety of ecosystem services in Flanders. New insights suggest that recently developed drought resistant grass genotypes in combination with increased soil organic matter content can increase and stabilize productivity while reducing nutrient leaching throughout a fluctuating climate. However, knowledge of the interactions between these novel grass species, soil, and increased weather persistence is lacking. By mechanistically investigating their interrelationships, we intend to provide sustainable solutions that improve agricultural resilience in times of climate change.

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Towards a better model representation of vegetation autumn phenology of temperate -zone deciduous trees. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Autumn phenological events (e.g. leaf senescence) signal the end of vegetation activity in deciduous trees and alter their albedo, thereby exerting a strong control on various ecological processes and climate feedbacks. Predicting their timing with high accuracy is a prerequisite for better understanding the climate-ecosystem interactions. Modeling autumn phenology at larger spatial and temporal scales remains challenging, because the processes behind autumn phenological events are not well understood. Previous experimental studies have not resulted in a strong consensus on the relationship between environmental cues and leaf senescence. Most of current phenological models regarded temperature and/or photoperiod sum as the primary predictors, but have neglected the impact of other, recently discovered cues, such as nutrient limitation and drought extremes. In this project, the applicant seeks to: i) set up a database covering the records extracted from phenological observation networks as well as metrics derived from eddy covariance and remote sensing-based measurement. ii) evaluate current models at multiple spatial scales. iii) develop a new mechanistic/semimechanistic model that considers recently discovered environmental cues and allows improved model structures. The applicant will also couple this newly developed phenology model with a state-of-the art dynamic global vegetation model to improve its predictive capacity of ecosystem carbon balances.

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Towards a minimization of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring crop production. 01/09/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

The anthropogenic increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere is promoting and accelerating climate warming. Among anthropogenic activities contributing to GHG emissions, agricultural soils emit ~12% of the global emission. The high amounts of nitrogen (N) added as fertilizer enhance soil N cycling and N2O emissions (representing >60% of global N2O emissions), and soil respiration (~20% of global CO2 emissions). Arable lands cover ~11% of the terrestrial surface, the modification of traditional agricultural practices is a key opportunity to reduce GHG emissions without compromising food and soil security. Recent studies have proposed agricultural management practices (e.g. biochar or silicate applications) to mitigate GHG emission, by enhancing soil organic C sequestration and promoting complete denitrification while maintaining crop productivity. Yet, there are still many uncertainties regarding the magnitude and variability of soil GHG emissions using these practices, reaching contradictory results concerning the potential role of agricultural soils as sinks or sources of C and N to the atmosphere. Moreover, little is known about how these practices can affect the soil microbial community responsible for GHG formation, and modifying the role of the soil sink/source behavior. The main goal of the project "Towards a minimization of the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring crop production" (Acronym MAGIC) is to search for the practice where GHG emissions comprise the lowest global warming potential without compromising crop yields. Moreover, MAGIC aims to use concrete demolition, an artificial silicate, and thus, enhance material re-use and circular economy. To achieve this objective, a crop mesocosm field experiment will be set up applying different agricultural management treatments. Responses on GHG emissions, soil N transformation and soil microbial communities will be followed over a year. Overall, this project will generate valuable scientific results that will be of interest for national, European and global strategic actions in agricultural systems.

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Exploring belowground traits in crops and their wild relatives to improve food security in times of drought. 01/07/2020 - 30/06/2023

Abstract

Food security challenges mean that we need to increase global crop production in order to feed the world's growing population, under conditions of global change. Focusing on belowground plant traits, and especially root exudation, has strong promise in this regard. Exudation is the release of a vast array of compounds into the soil, and root exudates are involved in a wide range of biotic and abiotic interactions. This project aims to extend our understanding of the importance of root processes, especially exudation, through a focus on wild relatives of modern crops. Wild relatives provide a large potential source of information and genetic material and have already been identified as having desirable traits. Recent work has indicated that differences exist between root exudates of wild and crop species, providing evidence that it is worthwhile to focus on these root traits in crop wild relatives. The overall objective is to study the differences between crops and their wild relatives in terms of root exudation and the rhizosphere microbial community. This will allow us to identify belowground plant traits that could improve crop yield amount and stability and quantify the impact of agriculture on soil microbial diversity. My specific objectives are: 1)To discover if there are consistent differences between root exudate quantity and composition in crops and wild relatives and how this is related to plant species phylogeny; 2) To understand the interaction between domestication and drought on root exudation; 3) To understand how rhizosphere microbial diversity differs between crops and their wild relatives and between agricultural and non-agricultural soils. The results will have implications for plant breeders, farmers, and policymakers.

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A game-changing perspective on intra-seasonal wood formation dynamics using high-resolution X-ray Computed Tomography to elucidate leaf senescence and autumn dynamics of temperate deciduous trees in Europe. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Intra-seasonal wood formation is still understudied because the measuring method (analysis of cellular anatomical traits) is labour-intensive and requires important manual skills. The last phase of wood formation (lignification) has been particularly neglected, resulting in a lack of understanding of tree autumn dynamics. UAntwe -PLECO and UGent-Woodlab will join forces (in collaboration with dr. Fonti, WSL, as key advisor) to address two objectives: (1) develop a new method to study wood formation based on high resolution X-ray Computed Tomography (XµCT) and (2) use the new method to test, at continental scale, the hypothesis that leaf senescence is triggered when wood formation ceases in autumn or, in case of factors limiting growth in summer, when a fixed day of the year is reached (photoperiodic threshold). The first objective will be met by (i) automating the XµCT process, (ii) identifying the degree of lignification, (iii) assessing intra-seasonal wood traits such as cell size and wall thickness etc., and (iv) implementing a time-lapse scanning on small living trees. The second objective will be achieved by analyzing data of leaf senescence and wood formation of the 10 most common deciduous species in Europe along several transects of varying environmental conditions (e.g. photoperiod, temperature, drought). Overall, the project will start a new direction for the study of wood formation and will elucidate autumn dynamics of deciduous temperate trees.

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Towards accurate, data-driven models of microclimate for applications in ecology. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Current analyses of large-scale ecological patterns and their predictions under anthropogenic climate change are often based on free-air temperature and precipitation patterns with a coarse resolution. They thus fail to capture apparent temperatures and moisture conditions (cf. microclimate) experienced by living organisms within their habitats. We identified the need for a more holistic approach to microclimate data at the local scale for application in ecological studies. With the underlying project, we aim to establish a large-scale and multi-faceted microclimatic network in a subarctic mountain ecosystem, to formally study the role of topography, vegetation and land use on microclimatic conditions. As such, we want to improve our understanding of abiotic conditions in order to improve the accuracy of ecological models, and especially their ability to forecast changes in our vulnerable mountain ecosystems under global change. Using a network of state-of-the-art temperature and moisture loggers in the topographically complex landscape of the northern Scandinavian mountains, as well as drones equipped with thermal and multispectral cameras, we aim to obtain microclimatic data with a high spatiotemporal resolution and extent. This data will be converted into gridded microclimatic time series, from right where it matters for biodiversity, using a new unified statistical framework of spatiotemporal interpolations.

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Combined application of biochar and enhanced weathering in a potatoe experiment. 01/12/2019 - 30/11/2021

Abstract

In a mesocosm experiment with potatoes, two negative emission technologies (NETs) are combined: biochar and enhanced weathering of basalt. We investigate the C sequestration rate as well as sideeffects on plant growth and nutrition.

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Elucidating the role of nutrient availability and mycorrhizae in the drought response of terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

This project investigates how terrestrial ecosystem functions (particularly carbon cycling) respond to environmental change (drought extremes) and how this depends on nutrient availability and mycorrhizal abundance. The fundamental research fits in the disciplines of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry.

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A glimpse into the Arctic future: equipping a unique natural experiment for next-generation ecosystem research (FutureArctic). 01/06/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Climate change will affect Arctic ecosystems more than any other ecosystem worldwide, with temperature increases expected up to 4-6°C. While this is threatening the integrity and biodiversity of the ecosystems in itself, the larger ecosystem feedbacks triggered by this change are even more worrisome. During millions of years, atmospheric carbon has been stored in the Arctic soils. With warming, the carbon can rapidly escape the soils in the form of CO2 and (even worse) the strong greenhouse agent CH4. Despite decades of research, scientists still struggle to unveil the scale of this carbon exchange, and especially how it will interact with climate change. An overarching question remains: how much carbon will potentially escape the Arctic in the future climate, and how will this affect climate change? FutureArctic embeds this research challenge directly in an inter-sectoral training initiative for early stage researchers, that aims to form "ecosystem-of-things" scientists and engineers at the ForHot site. The FORHOT site in Iceland offers a geothermally controlled soil temperature warming gradient, to study how Arctic ecosystem processes are affected by temperature increases as expected through climate change. FutureArctic aims to pave the way for generalized permanently connected data acquisition systems for key environmental variables and processes. We will initiate a new machine-learning approach to analyse large high-throughput environmental data-streams, through installing a pioneer "ecosystem-of-things" at the ForHot site. FutureArctic will thus channel, building on a timely project in the ForHot area, an important evolution to machineassisted environmental fundamental research. This is achieved through the dedicated training of researchers with profiles at the inter-sectoral edge of computer science, artificial intelligence, environmental science (both experimental and modelling), scoial sciences and sensor engineering and communication.

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'SoilTemp': naar een globale database van bodemtemperatuur 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

In this Scientific Research Network, we bring together experts from all these fields to work on a growing database of soil temperatures and associated species data. We aim to complement the existing mechanistic models of soil temperature for use in ecological studies by bringing together regional datasets of topsoil (up to 10 cm below the ground surface) temperatures to work towards an open access global database of soil temperatures (the 'SoilTemp database'). We will use this database to explore general drivers (e.g. topography and vegetation parameters obtained with remote sensing techniques) of soil temperature in space and time, relate patterns in soil temperature to available surface and free-air temperature datasets, and calibrate and validate globally-valid hybrid (statistical + mechanistic) models of soil temperature. The ultimate result will be a set of maps of biologically relevant summary statistics based on interpolated and increasingly calibrated soil temperature across a wide range of habitats (grasslands, forests, croplands, wetlands, etc.) (the 'SoilTemp maps'). These gridded maps/products will be particularly useful to predict responses of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning near the soil surface to global change (the 'SoilTemp applications'). Ultimately, application of the database and its derived maps will facilitate conservation decision making across the world, as it will improve the accuracy of many of our ecological models.

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Unraveling winter sleep to understand spring reactivation: improved understanding of leaf out phenology in temperate deciduous trees by gaining insight in environmental controls of bud dormancy. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

By affecting the uptake of carbon and the transpiration of water by forests, tree phenology also influences local weather and long-term climate change. Studying spring phenology of temperate trees is thus more than just a biologist's hobby. Despite a wealth of observations of the date that leaves appear in spring, this process is still not fully understood. Leaf out can occur at very different moments in spring, despite similar spring weather. Part of the reason is that spring leaf out is only the end point of an entire winter of bud responses to cold temperatures, to warm temperatures, and to changes in day length. To fully understand the climatic controls over spring phenology, and thus to be able to produce models that can accurately predict future changes in spring phenology, insight is needed into what happens during the long winter, when buds are apparently asleep. This project focuses on just that: what happens during the bud's resting phase that makes them more or less responsive to warmer spring temperatures. We will conduct two large experiments in which temperature and day length will be altered, and throughout the entire winter season monitor changes in gene expression, in metabolite concentrations, and in depth of dormancy. The ultimate aim is to advance insight in spring phenology, but also to identify genes or metabolites that could give information on the state of dormancy during winter, and thereby on the bud's sensitivity to spring warming. -

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The potential for upward range expansion of alien plant species in cold-climate mountains in a warming world. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

This proposal explores the future of biological invasions by alien plant species in cold-climate mountain ecosystems. With a combination of observational, experimental and modelling techniques we identify the mechanisms that enable high-risk alien species to expand their range and disrupt local ecosystems in a warming climate. We propose an integrative, dynamic and mechanistic approach to tackle this question, by solving three timely methodological issues in alien species distribution assessments: 1) evolving towards the dynamic modelling of species ranges over time, 2), accounting for plant microclimate in both models and experiments, and 3) better integration of observations and experiments on the drivers behind species invasions in cold climates. Together these methodological advances will help us disentangle the role of several candidate mechanisms that define the current and future elevational limit of the focal species, including among others the temperature dependence of reproduction, the use of warm spots in the environment as stepping stones for dispersal, and the co-invasion of and interaction with mycorrhizal symbionts. The study is fundamental but at the same time allows one to assess which management measures might be feasible to control alien plant invasions in pristine cold regions

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Shifting rainfall regimes: a multi-scale analysis of ecosystem response (REGIME SHIFT). 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Recent climate change research reveals a novel and significant trend: weather patterns at mid-latitudes, such as in temperate western Europe, are getting more persistent. With respect to rainfall, this means longer droughts, but also longer periods with excessive rain. No comprehensive study has hitherto investigated the ecological consequences of such regime shifts. Can ecosystems adapt, or will the alternation between drought stress and soil water saturation exhaust them? Will this select for communities with novel trait combinations and more volatile species dynamics? And will these novel systems still be robust in the face of further changes in the environment? This study explores the potential impact of the ongoing shift in the frequency of dry/wet cycles at multiple, connected levels of biological organization. It does so in a new, large-scale set-up at UAntwerp built in the framework of the developing European infrastructure for ecosystem research 'AnaEE'. The design simulates changes in rainfall and associated temperature changes in the open air, using a gradient with eight precipitation regimes so that non-linearity and tipping points can be discerned with great precision. The project scope ranges from plants to soil biota such as bacteria and fungi, and from metabolism and genetic regulation assessed with bioinformatics to ecosystem processes. This multi-scale approach explicitly acknowledges the interwoven nature of ecosystems, with knowledge of molecular and cellular changes being instrumental to mechanistically explain the whole-system-scale effects on productivity, greenhouse gas fluxes and biodiversity dynamics. Different experiments are planned each year: (i) year 1 features a gradient in alternating dry/wet cycles, from 1 to 60 days, across a full growing season; (ii) year 2 focuses on legacy effects and the importance of changes of soil communities; (iii) year 3 matches precipitation regimes to corresponding temperature regimes to study the impact of drought-associated warming (an important natural feedback that can greatly increase plant stress). A series of connected, hypothesis-driven measurements is carried out, which will be integrated using structural equation modelling (path analysis) and ecosystem modelling. The project team has successfully collaborated in the past, and the complementary expertise brought together here should yield both significantly increased understanding of key processes as well as new avenues to climate change impact mitigation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of nutrient availability in the drought response of grassland biomass production. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Apart from gradual increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperature, climate change involves more frequent and intense extreme events, such as storms, heatwaves and droughts. Following a number of real-life cases in the last decades, such as the hot and dry summer of 2003 in Europe, we know that climate extremes can seriously diminish productivity in both natural and agricultural systems and moreover reduce carbon storage in ecosystems, and thus their potential to mitigate climate change. Experiments are improving our understanding of the effects of drought, but too many questions remain unanswered to be able to accurately predict how a particular ecosystem would respond to drought. Soil nutrient availability, which has been demonstrated to modify ecosystem responses to elevated CO2 and temperature, is likely to play a key role in responses to dry spells, among other through its influence on how much plants invest in roots and in their mycorrhizal symbionts. In this project, the influence of nutrient availability, plant carbon allocation and mycorrhizal fungi on drought responses will be investigated by using two ongoing drought experiments in a temperate and an alpine grassland where plant growth is already assessed, but nutrient availability and mycorrhizal fungi are not. These will be determined in the current project to then test their influence on the drought response of grassland productivity.

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Research in the domain of plant- and vegetation ecology 01/12/2018 - 30/11/2023

Abstract

Funding for research on plant growth, which is determined both by plant ecophysiology (e.g. photosynthesis, respiration, stress responses) and ecology (e.g. biotic and abiotic interactions). In particular, we will deal with the ecological relationships between plant growth and its environmental and climatic drivers, and how plant growth shapes the ecosystem productivity and the exchange of matter and energy between the ecosystem and the atmosphere. The findings will be important to model the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems and improve our assessment and projections of global climate change.

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Research team(s)

Determination of the drivers of the onset of autumn leaf senescence in temperate deciduous forests: the relationship between leaf dynamics, tree growth and photoperiod. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

Leaf phenology is a key component in the functioning of temperate deciduous forests. The environmental cues for bud-burst in spring are well known, but little is known about the cues controlling the timing of leaf fall in autumn. Leaf fall is the last stage of leaf senescence, a process which allows trees to recover leaf nutrients. We urgently need to understand the controls timing leaf senescence to improve our projections of forest growth and climate change. I propose a new general paradigm of the onset of leaf senescence, hypothesizing that leaf senescence is triggered by the cessation of tree growth in autumn. I expect that: (i) in the absence of growth-limiting environmental conditions, tree growth cessation directly controls leaf-senescence onset, and (ii) in the presence of growth-limiting conditions, photoperiod controls leaf-senescence onset – this prevents trees from starting to senesce too early. Here, we test these hypotheses for mature individuals of four major forest tree species (Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur, Betula pendula and Populus tremula) growing in natural stands in Belgium, at fertile and infertile sites and in control and fertilized/irrigated treatments. We will monitor leaf senescence and tree growth at each stand. Leaf senescence will be derived from seasonal measurement of chlorophyll, performed with chlorophyll meters and spectrophotometrically. Tree growth will be derived from (i) microscopic analysis of seasonal cambial activity in stem, branches and coarse roots, and (ii) analysis of fine root seasonal elongation with the minirhizotron system. Field-work will be performed for up to three growing seasons. The results will be combined (together with data on photoperiod, climate and environment) to datasets from the LEAF-FALL project and other European studies from the literature to produce the 'European forest database of leaf senescence and seasonal tree growth'. The combination of our experimental data and of this database will allow testing the research hypotheses, both at site and at continental level. Overall, the aim is to solve the conundrum of the timing of leaf senescence in temperate deciduous trees and provide a new interpretation of the relationship between leaf senescence, tree growth and environment, which will be a key to improve projections of forest biomass production and climate change. Concurrently, novel insights on tree growth will be provided, in particular on the seasonal growth of coarse roots, which has never been reported up to date for angiosperm species.

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Research team(s)

Impact of soil fertility on photosynthesis and photosynthate allocation in undisturbed primary rainforests in French Guiana 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Tropical forests are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world and account for more than one third of global primary productivity. Tropical rainforests thus play a key role in the global carbon (C) balance. Most tropical forests are phosphorus (P) rather than nitrogen (N) limited, in contrast to the much better studied temperate and boreal forests. The effects of soil fertility on C cycling in tropical rainforests is, however, still poorly understood. The aim of this study is twofold: I want to improve our understanding of photosynthesis of tropical forests and how this changes along gradients of soil N and P availability. Further, I will investigate how plant C allocation varies along these gradients. Ecosystem C allocation is very important because it determines the residence time of C in the ecosystem and thereby the CO2 removal from the atmosphere. Both processes will be studied in the lowland tropical rainforests of French Guiana. The rainforests I will study are virtually undisturbed and cover a large gradient in soil fertility, which will be even enlarged by a fertiliser addition experiment. Therefore, these forests are ideally suited to study effects of nutrient imbalances on the functioning of tropical rainforests.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

BIONUCLIM: Biodiversity, nutrient availability, and climate effects on terrestrial ecosystem productivity and stability. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Climate change, biodiversity loss and changes in the availability of nutrients are three of the most important components of global change that are affecting life on Earth. However, despite strong efforts from the scientific community, it is not yet clear how these three components interact with each other in altering the function of ecosystems and the carbon they exchange with the atmosphere. This proposal aims to understand how biodiversity and nutrient availability interact with climate variability to determine ecosystem productivity and stability at different spatial and temporal scales, ranging from local to global and from annual to decadal scales. To achieve this main goal we will gather satellite images and global databases of ecosystem carbon flux exchange, measured in situ, to test the hypotheses that i) more diverse and nutrient-rich ecosystems are less sensitive to weather conditions and, hence, their productivity is more stable, ii) that more diverse ecosystems sequester more carbon only when nutrient availability is high, and iii) that biodiversity loss and increasing climate variability are increasing variability in ecosystem productivity, especially in nutrient-poor ones. This novel, integrative approach will help us increase our understanding of the role of climate change, biodiversity and nutrient availability in the carbon cycle of terrestrial ecosystems, which is key information for improving predictions about how the biosphere will respond in the future.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Advancing predictions of Species Distribution Models by incorporating local-scale abiotic and biotic drivers. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

One of the main ecological challenges of our time is understanding how ecosystems deal with the various threats of global change. For many species, the effects of global change – either climate warming, land use changes or any other - result in significant changes in their distribution. To obtain reliable predictions of plant species range changes under global change, however, environmental conditions and species interactions at the local scale are key, and both are so far poorly studied. With this proposal, I aim to unravel the role of climate and land use change on range changes with the help of a set of local observations and experiments, building on a longterm global observational study on plant species distributions in mountains (hosted by MIREN, the Mountain Invasion Research Network). First, I will quantify the relative importance of local land use change (exemplified by mountain roads and trails) and microclimate on regional species distributions. Next, I will use local measurements to fully disentangle the mechanisms at work, ending with a field experiment to validate the observations and models. Altogether, this will help answering timely questions on the importance of local-scale mechanisms in defining species distributions, as well as on the impact of global change on mountain biodiversity.

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Research team(s)

Green roofs and walls as a source for ecosystem services in future cities (ECOCITIES). 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

EcoCities will carry out an integrated and comparative analysis of different types of green walls (GW) and green roofs (GD). In essence, the research will be carried out: - an in-depth determination of the contribution of different (growth substrate, plant species) types of GD and GW to the most important ecosystem services (ED) in an urban context. - an integrated evaluation of the ED provided.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

What makes leaves fall in autumn? A new process description for the timing of leaf senescence in temperate and boreal trees (LEAF-FALL). 01/02/2017 - 31/01/2023

Abstract

Leaf phenology is a key component in the functioning of temperate and boreal deciduous forests. The environmental cues for bud-burst in spring are well known, but little is known about the cues controlling the timing of leaf fall in autumn. Leaf fall is the last stage of leaf senescence, a process which allows trees to recover leaf nutrients. We urgently need to understand the controls timing leaf senescence to improve our projections of forest growth and climate change. I propose a new general paradigm of the onset of leaf senescence, hypothesizing that leaf senescence is triggered by the cessation of tree growth in autumn. I expect that: (i) in the absence of growth-limiting environmental conditions, tree growth cessation directly controls leaf-senescence onset; and (ii) in the presence of growth-limiting conditions, photoperiod controls leaf-senescence onset – this prevents trees from starting to senesce too early. I will test these hypotheses with a combination of: (i) manipulative experiments on young trees - these will disentangle the impact of photoperiod from that of other factors affecting tree growth cessation, namely: temperature, drought and soil nutrient availability; (ii) monitoring leaf senescence and growth in mature forest stands; (iii) comparing the leaf senescence dynamics of four major tree species (Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur, Betula pendula and Populus tremula) in four European locations spanning from 40º to 70º N; and (iv) integrating the new paradigm into a model of forest ecosystem dynamics and testing it for the major forested areas of Europe. The aim is to solve the conundrum of the timing of leaf senescence in temperate and boreal deciduous trees, provide a new interpretation of the relationship between leaf senescence, tree growth and environment, and deliver a modelling tool able to predict leaf senescence and tree growth, for projections of forest biomass production and climate change.

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Research team(s)

Shifting the balance? Dissolved carbon fluxes from forests under future rainfall regimes 15/01/2017 - 14/04/2022

Abstract

-ForestFlow will: - Quantify dissolved organic carbon export from deciduous and coniferous forest, and hereby close ecosystem carbon balances in two Belgian ICOS-sites - Quantify the seasonality in dissolved vs. gaseous carbon export from forests: tree phenology and rain regime are hypothesized to be the main control factors - Investigate whether shifts in gaseous vs. dissolved carbon export occur during rain events and persistent drought - Model future alterations in the forest carbon balance, by implementing the results in coupled climate, hydrological and forest ecosystem biogeochemical models.

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Research team(s)

Improved ecosystem productivity modeling by innovative algorithms and remotely sensed phenology indicators (ECOPROPHET). 15/12/2016 - 31/01/2022

Abstract

By providing food, animal-feed, fibre and energy, biomass production is possibly the most important ecosystem service made to society. While global products of biomass production from Remote Sensing (MOD17) and Land Surface models do capture the global patterns as described by in-situ observations, they still fail to capture the existing huge variability within biomes. The ECOPROPHET project aims to improve this situation 1) by testing to what degree the multitude of new Earth Observation data (e.g. from Sentinel 2, Proba-V) are able to be exploited as better proxies of ecosystem functional phenology (photosynthetic activity) and can be used to improve the phenology modules of Land Surface models, 2) by exploring the potential of these new remote sensing data to produce a new gross primary productivity (GPP) product, 3) by developing an entirely new algorithm to convert remote sensing-based GPP products to biomass production, and 4) by using a large database of quality-controlled in situ measurements of biomass production, all accompanied by a standardized uncertainty estimate, and the FLUXNET 2015 and ICOS databases (for in situ GPP estimates and functional phenology data) to assess whether our efforts did in fact reduce the currently large unexplained variation in ecosystem gross primary productivity and biomass production. A major focus of this project is on functional phenology as a key determinant of ecosystem carbon, water and energy balances. Current phenological observations are all based on differences in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which is a good proxy for canopy leaf area and light absorption, but is not an ideal proxy for canopy photosynthesis, especially during drought periods and during autumn when greenness and photosynthesis become uncoupled. We propose to use novel remote sensing-based indicators, more closely related to photosynthetic processes than to greenness, to parameterize phenology modules of Land Surface models and thereby improve their estimates for present time and projections under future climate. The novel developed indicator will be used to produce a new generation remote sensing-based GPP and NPP product.

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Research team(s)

Global Ecosystem Functioning and Interactions with Global Change. 01/06/2016 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Ecosystems sustain society by providing natural resources and socio-economic services. Understanding their functioning is thus vital for accurate projections of, among others, global climate and food production and prerequisite to drawing up policies for sustainable management of the planet. This proposal therefore aims at creating the scientific breakthroughs needed to make major advances in understanding of several critical processes that determine the functioning of ecosystems and their interactions with ongoing changes in climate and in resource availabilities. The overarching, long-term goal is to understand ecosystem functioning sufficiently well so that we can, in collaboration with modelling groups, confidently project how ecosystem functioning and services will change in the near and distant future. To pursue this goal, the following four research lines will be prioritized when allocating the Methusalem funding: 1. Obtaining a quantitative understanding of plant carbon allocation to growth, energy production (respiration), and nutrient acquisition (fine roots, root exudation, root symbionts). 2. Improving insight in, and measurements of, biomass production. 3. Better understanding soil carbon dynamics and sequestration. 4. Understanding spatial and temporal variation in carbon and greenhouse gas balances at ecosystem to regional scale and attribution to drivers. In each of these research lines, we aim to understand the mechanisms underlying the global and local spatial variation as well as those underlying the long-term trends and short-term temporal patterns. Focus is on how Global Changes (climate change including extreme events, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen deposition, etc.) are affecting ecosystem processes and functioning. Many projects will be conducted with the research group of the Methusalem Chair at the University of Hasselt as prioritized partners.

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Past projects

Current and future distribution of invasive alien species in mountainous ecosystems. 15/07/2020 - 14/07/2021

Abstract

Understanding the current and future distribution of exotic species in mountains and the factors that determine their richness and abundance at multiple scales is of utmost importance for the conservation of these precious ecosystems, in times in which climate change and anthropic pressure are increasingly facilitating their spread. In this joint PhD, we aim to shed light on this question for the Chilean Andes, with the following research questions in mind: 1) What are the main factors (abiotic, biotic or anthropic) at play in defining the distribution of exotic species in the mountain ecosystems of Central-South Chile? 2) How does refining the spatial resolution of bioclimatic data (microclimate) and the incorporation of anthropic variables improve the performance of species distribution models and the prediction of the potential distribution of exotic species in the Chilean Andes?

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Unravelling the links between exudation, VOC emission, photosynthesis and elemental composition in bryophytes. 01/04/2020 - 31/03/2021

Abstract

Bryophytes have played a remarkable role shaping our planet and still nowadays they condition the structure and function of many ecosystems. Despite the fact that they are excellent bioindicators, the proportion of ecological studies focused on bryophytes, compared to those of vascular plants is clearly insufficient. So far, no efforts have been devoted to exploring the links between exudation, VOC emission, photosynthesis and elemental composition in bryophytes. This project will explore these links, for the first time, using 10 hygrophytic (aquatic and semi-aquatic) bryophytes (8 mosses and 2 liverworts) distributed over a large gradient of water chemistry in Mediterranean springs (Catalonia, north-east Iberian Peninsula). In particular, the project will test two hypotheses: i) Bryophytes with higher rates of photosynthesis will have higher N and P concentrations and higher rates of exudation and emission of VOC, and ii) Water chemistry and, especially, water conductivity, will be linked to changes in bryophyte elemental composition, exudation, emission of VOC and photosynthesis. This project will provide a dataset containing information from 150 samples of bryophytes of 10 different species including: i) elemental composition (CNP + additional elements) ii) patterns of exudation, iii) emissions of VOCs and photosynthesis and iv) water chemistry of the springs. Given that almost nothing is known about bryophyte exudation and VOC emissions, this project will make a very important contribution to basic research. Results will also be useful to understand the evolution of early plants. The requested funds will pay the field work to collect the bryophytes and the analyses of exudates, VOC emissions, photosynthesis and bryophyte elemental composition.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Towards a better model representation of vegetation autumn phenology of temperate -zone deciduous trees. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Autumn phenological events (e.g. leaf senescence) signal the end of vegetation activity in deciduous trees and alter their albedo, thereby exerting a strong control on various ecological processes and climate feedbacks. Predicting their timing with high accuracy is a prerequisite for better understanding the climate-ecosystem interactions. Modeling autumn phenology at larger spatial and temporal scales remains challenging, because the processes behind autumn phenological events are not well understood. Previous experimental studies have not resulted in a strong consensus on the relationship between environmental cues and leaf senescence. Most of current phenological models regarded temperature and/or photoperiod sum as the primary predictors, but have neglected the impact of other, recently discovered cues, such as nutrient limitation and drought extremes. In this project, the applicant seeks to: i) set up a database covering the records extracted from phenological observation networks as well as metrics derived from eddy covariance and remote sensing-based measurement. ii) evaluate current models at multiple spatial scales. iii) develop a new mechanistic/semi-mechanistic model that considers recently discovered environmental cues and allows improved model structures. The applicant will also couple this newly developed phenology model with a state-of-the art dynamic global vegetation model to improve its predictive capacity of ecosystem carbon balances.

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Research team(s)

Microbial fluxes of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) in karst ecosystems: comprehensive assessment and biogeochemical modelling (MIFLUKE) 01/09/2019 - 31/08/2021

Abstract

The assessment of carbon cycle in the Earth-climate system is one the highest challenge in science nowadays. It still remains some key knowledge gaps and uncertainties concerning the budgets of greenhouse gases (GHGs) at ecosystem scale and the key role of microbial communities. Karst ecosystems cover up to 25 % of the land surface and they are acting as rapid CH4 sink and as alternately CO2 source or sink. Pioneer results point to microbial action must be playing a crucial role in CO2 and CH4 uptake, fixation or production and maybe determining the strong variations of these major GHGs in karst ecosystems. MIFLUKE will elucidate, for the first time, the role of karst microbiota in the main GHGs -CO2 and CH4- content and fluxes in underground vadose atmospheres, as a key challenge to clarify the accurate effective contribution of karst ecosystems to the global carbon cycle. By applying an innovative and multidisciplinary combination of a broad suite of advanced tools and cutting-edge technologies from very different research areas -GHGs flux monitoring, isotopic geochemical tracing, biogeochemistry, metagenomics, etc.- a biogeochemical model of microbial processes will be developed. This project will combine the expertise of a multidisciplinary group of leading researchers on ecosystem functioning, GHGs and biogeochemistry modelling, with the extraordinary resources including analytical facilities and training support in PLECO (Univ. Antwerp, Belgium).

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Research team(s)

Implementation of soil fauna effects into the forest ecosystem model ANAFORE (ANAFAUNA). 01/09/2019 - 31/08/2021

Abstract

Understanding soil processes and their role in ecosystem functioning is essential for effective protection, restoration and sustainable use of soils and terrestrial ecosystems. Forest ecosystem models dynamically simulate fluxes of carbon, water, nitrogen and other nutrients through a forest ecosystem. Only models that account for all key interactions between climate, soil and plants can become versatile and reliable tools to predict the effect of different management strategies or future global changes on forests and soils. The effect of soil fauna has been so far neglected in most of similar models. However, with our increasing understanding of the crucial role of fauna on many processes, there is a general consensus on the need to implement these effects into ecosystem models. The main research question of this project is: Does a model that includes an active role of soil fauna provide better prediction of soil processes than previous simpler models? ANAFORE is a stand-scale mechanistic forest model with a detailed soil model. The specific objectives of this project are 1) to develop a new soil submodel that will account for important effects of soil fauna on the simulated fluxes of water, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus; and integrate it into the ANAFORE model. The modeled effects include fragmentation, bioturbation, aggregation, macropore formation and foodweb effects on soil organic matter decomposition, 2) to optimize and validate the new model using: i) historical experimental data obtained during long-term research at Sokolov post-mining ecosystems LTER site, ii) additional literature and original data collected during the project for modelling purposes; 3) to compare performance of the new ANAFORE soil submodel with the previous version of ANAFORE and the Yasso model as an example of a simple model that predicts organic matter decomposition only based on litter quality and abiotic factors.

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The role of interactions between plants and soil microbes as drivers of non-native plant invasions in cold-climate ecosystems. 01/04/2019 - 30/03/2020

Abstract

Cold-climate ecosystems have long been considered as relatively "immune" to biological invasions by plants because of the harsh abiotic conditions and the sparsely populated landscapes where transport of seeds and other propagules is low. This premise of low vulnerability is challenged by recent studies in alpine and arctic regions across the globe, showing that non-native plant species are present and expand their distribution. The mechanisms behind the apparently increasing vulnerability of cold-climate ecosystems to biological invasions are however far from understood. One crucial factor – often overlooked in large-scale assessments of non-native species distributions – is the role of biotic interactions, both above- (plant-plant) and belowground (plant-microbe). These biotic interactions will likely be altered significantly under the influence of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. as seen in mountain road- or trailsides), opening up possibilities for non-native plant introductions. Here, we propose an approach to integrate these above- and belowground species interactions with regional-scale non-native species distribution assessments, in order to quantify their role as drivers (or inhibitors) of plant invasions along mountain roads and trails. We will use Joint Species Distribution Modelling (JSDM), a modelling technique that jointly analyzes multiple species' distributions, quantifying both species-specific environmental responses and covariance among species. The study will be performed in the South-American Andes, in 2 core sites of the Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN), a global consortium studying native and non-native plant species distributions in mountains. We specifically request funding to isolate DNA from roots and root-tips of focal non-native plant species and subject it to amplicon sequencing (Illumna Miseq) using fungal (ITS) and arbuscular mycorrhiza (SSU) specific primers, in order to obtain data on the belowground symbiont community.

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Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS): Flemish participation in the integrated infrastructure network of greenhouse gas observation stations. 01/02/2019 - 31/01/2021

Abstract

ICOS monitors the global cycle of carbon and of greenhouse gases across the European continent. It provides an infrastructure for researchers and climate modellers as well as processed data and a complete map of the European greenhouse gas balance for policy makers and the general public. The high quality data and products are of crucial importance for the rapid evaluation of the impact of climate change mitigation policies in Europe and the validation of the general circulation models used for the IPCC reports. Because no similar facilities exist within Europe ICOS is the flagship environmental research infrastructure of Europe with regard to the Kyoto protocol, COP21 and to the global carbon issue. As greenhouse gases surpass the borders of countries or regions, a pan-European infrastructure and approach are the only feasible ones. Since greenhouse gas concentrations keep on increasing and mitigation efforts are being increasingly implemented, there is a sense of urgency for a continuous carbon observation infrastructure. In addition to the clear value for policy makers, the high-quality ICOS data are also extremely valuable for advancing science in several fields. Because of the unique synergy of atmospheric, terrestrial, and oceanic observatories, the projected lifespan of 20 years and the extensive geographical coverage of the infrastructure ICOS provides unique data on greenhouse gases in Europe. As such the infrastructure will leverage top of the world research and will attract large project consortia to access the observation stations. ICOS also provides the potential to bring new H2020 projects (ear-marked for infrastructure research) or new ERC grants to Flanders and Belgium. ICOS contributes to the international Observing Strategy for measuring carbon fluxes and their underlying processes globally, formulated by the Integrated Global Carbon Observation Strategy (IGCO-P; www.fao.org/gtos/igos) and taken further towards implementation by GEO.

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AnaEE-Flanders: Integrated infrastructure for experimental ecosystem research. 01/02/2019 - 31/01/2021

Abstract

ANAEE will provide Europe with a distributed and coordinated set of experimental, analytical and modelling platforms to analyse and predict in a precise manner the response of the main continental ecosystems to environmental and land use changes. ANAEE will consist of highly equipped in natura and in vitro experimental platforms associated with sophisticated analytical and modelling platforms, under a European umbrella of supranational entities. At UAntwerp these platforms will include both terrestrial and aquatic experimental facilities.

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Support preparation EU-application. 04/12/2018 - 03/12/2019

Abstract

This funding was obtained to prepare the EU project with the following abstract: C-Attract will deploy an innovative combination of experimental research and modelling to develop realistic climate security scenarios involving rapid and large-scale deployment of NETs. In a unique set of targeted field experiments, we will address crucial knowledge gaps concerning nature-based NETs. In these experiments, specific focus is on a promising NET, enhanced weathering, for which the lack of real-world applications hampers our ability to assess its effectiveness. Yet unexplored combinations of nature-based NETs will also be experimentally tested . We will not only investigate how current management practices on land and in the coastal zone can be adapted to deliver nature-based C sequestration, but also how to maximize co-benefits to ecosystems and society. We will provide a comprehensive assessment of the impact of NETs on sustainable development goals, including food security, biodiversity and ocean acidification. Life cycle analysis, Earth system models and integrated assessment models are combined in a novel fit-to-purpose cluster to comprehensively assess the impact of NETs for Europe in a global context. We will thereby augment the existing IPCC scenarios through a novel climate security focus by taking into account Earth system tipping points in a 500-year timeframe. Citizen science campaigns designed around our field experiments will elucidate public acceptance issues and policies to address them. Within the continuation of our long-lasting engagement with the NETs community, we will coproduce viable transformational pathways of NETs, and focus on potential inclusion of NETs in the circular bio-economy. This will guide the coproduction of realistic roadmaps for rapid and large-scale deployment of NETs. We will initiate a helix for nature-based NETs to spark investors, promote actor engagement and ensure sustainable impact beyond C-Attract.

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Support preparation EU project application 04/09/2018 - 03/09/2019

Abstract

Support for the preparation of a new EU project application. The received budget will be used primarily for the compilation of preliminary data and insights from a few new test experiments at the campus.

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Rain Forest GreenHouse Gases (RainForest-GHG). 01/09/2018 - 31/08/2020

Abstract

RainForest-GHG aims to quantify ecosystem sinks and emissions of three major greenhouse gases (GHGs), i.e. carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), in a tropical rainforest, and examine the contributions of the soil and the woody tissues to the ecosystem-scale GHG fluxes. RainForest-GHG further aims to determine the main environmental drivers responsible for the temporal and spatial variations of these GHG fluxes.

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Research team(s)

Towards a Remotely sensed estimation of the Photosynthetic Energy balance (ReSPEc). 01/07/2018 - 30/06/2020

Abstract

Photosynthesis is the largest flux in the global carbon cycle and therefore of utmost importance for climate change and agricultural research. Radiometric sensors mounted on satellites and airplanes are the only technology providing spatially explicit information about vegetation activity and health at regional to global scale. In particular, the recent availability of remotely sensed sun-induced fluorescence (F), which is directly coupled to the photosynthetic process, opens new perspectives in estimating plant photosynthesis at larger scales. Considering the recently selected satellite Fluorescence Explorer (FLEX) mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) that will launch in 2022, new methods have to be developed to optimally use the F signal for an improved global estimation of photosynthesis. "ReSPEc" aims to develop new algorithms to improve the estimation of plant photosynthesis at ecosystem to regional scale (gross primary production; GPP) by assessing the photosynthetic energy balance of the light reactions from remote sensing platforms. To achieve this goal an open-field manipulation experiment will be setup to develop and test a semi-mechanistic model that links novel and established optical signals with gas-exchange measurements to assess the photosynthetic energy balance on leaf and plant scale. The semi-mechanistic model will then be applied to a pre-existing datasets of airborne measured F and vegetation reflectance to estimate GPP on ecosystem scale. Results will be compared and validated with eddy-covariance-based estimates of GPP. The outcome of this project will contribute to a better understanding of the photosynthetic energy balance on leaf-, plant- and ecosystem scale, which in turn allows an improved estimation of GPP. By ensuring that all necessary parameters will be measurable by the FLEX satellite mission, this project will take a first step towards a new global estimation of the photosynthetic energy balance.

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Handsome Buds 30/05/2018 - 15/09/2020

Abstract

The bud set of indigenous trees in spring is an annually recurring natural highlight. But did you also notice that the start of the appearance of the leaves differs from year to year? And have you ever wondered why? The fact is that even scientists are not quite sure why trees bud one year earlier than the other. We do know different steering factors, such as day length, temperature, availability of nutrients ... But how this really works is still an unanswered question. That is why scientists and citizens have to work together. We need study data from a lot of trees to know if the trees bud differently than they used to. Every morning and evening a small experiment must be performed on all those trees and always at the same time. Problem: there are simply too few scientists to do that. This is why hundreds of citizens in Flanders study the bud set of trees, and look in detail at the effect of day length, winter temperature and spring temperature on the appearance of the leaves. They do this in close collaboration with the University of Antwerp and ReaGent. Citizens and scientists join forces and together they take a crucial scientific step forward: are our trees armed for a warmer world?

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Does temperature determine the variation in bacterial membrane lipids (brGDGTs) and community composition along an altitudinal gradient in subarctic soils? 01/04/2018 - 30/11/2018

Abstract

Certain bacterial membrane lipids (branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers: brGDGTs) find a use as proxies of past climates and environmental conditions. They are very promising proxies, as they are found in a diversity of geological archives (fi. lacustrine and marine sediments) for up to 200 Ma. A correct interpretation of their diversity through time however depends on the knowledge on the drivers on their distribution in modern samples. Recently, the applicant showed that the bacterial community composition explains part of the temperature-dependent behavior observed on a global scale. It also became clear that, in bacterial communities encountered in typically cold soils, temperature and pH only explain 20% of the variability in the brGDGT distribution (De Jonge et al., in preparation, PNAS). To shed light on this unexplained variability, we are applying for funding to analyze a dataset of well-described soils in subarctic Norway and Sweden, to determine which other environmental factors influence the brGDGT distribution. We will analyse these soils with a combination of geochemical and biological methods, to determine both the direct (acting on the physiological plasticity) as the indirect (acting on the bacterial community composition) environmental factors that influence the brGDGT composition. The soils (n=60) are sampled along 3 height transects that has been studied for several years, where soil temperature is measured in-situ by temperature loggers. pH and alkalinity will be determined in the laboratory, as well as the distribution of cations and anions. Bacterial lipids will be extracted and analysed on GC and HPLC-MS. The bacterial community composition is based on the diversity of the 16S rDNA fragment, which will be analysed on an Illumina Miseq platform. The requested funds will cover the analysis of a pilot study, which will be performed in collaboration with Jonas Lembrechts, who has been working extensively on these specific height transects during his PhD project. This research will result in the better understanding of a promising proxy for past climates that is used internationally. It will also contribute to the hot topic research on the nature of the bacterial producers of this class of lipids.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: De Jonge Cindy

Research team(s)

The influence of nutrient availability on plant production and on above- and belowground diversity across grasslands worldwide. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Herbaceous Diversity Network (HerbDivNet, including 30 grassland sites distributed across 19 countries and 6 continents) recently demonstrated that grassland plant diversity peaks at intermediate productivity. While climate was accounted for in their analyses of the relationship between plant diversity and productivity, as usual, belowground factors such as nutrient availability and microbial diversity were not. However, nutrient availability is a crucial determinant of plant productivity and plant species composition and diversity. Microbial diversity is a key unknown link here as it is strongly driven by nutrient availability and plant diversity, but microbes too can feed-back to both by determining nutrient cycling and by acting as symbionts or parasites on plants. This study aims to evaluate to what extent different soil factors that determine nutrient availability, in combination with climate can explain plant biomass production, species diversity (plant and soil microbial diversity), and the relationship between these within and across the HerbDivNet sites. To this end, soil samples from HerbDivNet sites will be analyzed for nutrient availability and microbial diversity to determine: (1) how nutrient availability influences grassland productivity, diversity and their relationship, (2) how nutrient availability influences microbial diversity and (3) whether these factors can be integrated to better understand above- and belowground diversity patterns in grasslands worldwide.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The influence of fungal networks on interactions among adult trees and seedlings. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Tropical rainforests are the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth. These system account for two-thirds of global plant diversity, and are often referred to as hyperdiverse in terms of tree species richness. Mycorrhizal fungi act as a major conduit of carbon into soil, and affect competition between trees through connecting them belowground. This plant-fungal interaction is one of the most abundant symbioses on earth and is tightly linked to plant nutrient limitation and diversity. In this project we will test in Forests in French Guyana the effect of neighbouring trees on seedling success through mutualists and antagonists. While it is known that plants can connect to a "common mycorrhizal network", whether this occurs in the field and whether this affects seedling success through increasing access to nutrients, carbon, and reduces vulnerability to antagonists is unknown. Moreover, whether this connection is dependent on whether the adult tree is of the same species is also unknown, but may be an important driver of forest species composition through determining seedling success. Here we will manipulate connection to a common mycorrhizal mycelium and determine the effects on seedling growth depending on adult matching (same – other), as well as the effects on microbes colonizing seedling roots. This experiment will greatly increase our understanding of the importance of mycorrhiza for seedling performance. This knowledge will allow better understanding of the importance of how plant-fungal relationships may contribute to the ecology and biodiversity of rainforests.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Elucidating the role of nutrient availability and mycorrhizae in the drought response of terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

This project investigates how terrestrial ecosystem functions (particularly carbon cycling) respond to environmental change (drought extremes) and how this depends on nutrient availability and mycorrhizal abundance. The fundamental research fits in the disciplines of ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

BIONUCLIM: Biodiversity, nutrient availability, and climate effects on terrestrial ecosystem productivity and stability. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Climate change, biodiversity loss and changes in the availability of nutrients are three of the most important components of global change that are affecting life on Earth. However, despite strong efforts from the scientific community, it is not yet clear how these three components interact with each other in altering the function of ecosystems and the carbon they exchange with the atmosphere. This proposal aims to understand how biodiversity and nutrient availability interact with climate variability to determine ecosystem productivity and stability at different spatial and temporal scales, ranging from local to global and from annual to decadal scales. To achieve this main goal we will gather satellite images and global databases of in situ measured ecosystem carbon flux exchange to i) test the hypothesis that more diverse and nutrient-rich ecosystems are less sensitive to weather conditions and investigate how this affects their ability to absorb CO2, and ii) to test the hypotheses that the increasing climate variability and biodiversity loss are decreasing ecosystem stability at the global scale, and that nutrient availability lessens this detrimental effect. This novel, integrative approach will help us increase our understanding of the role of climate change, biodiversity and nutrient availability in the carbon cycle of terrestrial ecosystems, which is key information for improving predictions about how the biosphere will respond in the future.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Tracking plant carbon allocation to mycorrhizal fungi in a nutrient addition experiment with Zea mays. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Carbon taken up during photosynthesis is allocated to various processes and organs; this allocation determines its residence time in the ecosystem and ultimately the ecosystem carbon sink strength. Carbon allocation is poorly understood, mainly because allocation to the rhizosphere and especially to mycorrhizal symbionts remains unquantified. Earlier research has shown that some ecosystems invest only 30% of their photosynthates in growth, whereas others invest up to 70%. Evidence is growing that nutrient availability is behind this large variation, with a variable carbon cost of plantmycorrhizal symbiosis as the hypothesized underlying mechanism. The aim of this project is to unravel the process of plant carbon allocation, testing the hypothesis that the variation in terrestrial carbon sequestration is driven by nutrient availability via its control on mycorrhizal carbon use. To this end, a mesocosm experiment with Zea mays is currently being set up where carbon allocation to all carbon pools and carbon-consuming processes will be assessed under different nitrogen and phosphorus availabilities. The specific aim of the current project to obtain to quantify the carbon allocated to the mycorrhizal fungi.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Plant-soil carbon responses to warming and nitrogen - Plant carbon allocation as a mediator of soil carbon dynamics under warming and increasing nitrogen availability. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Soils contain over three times as much carbon as the atmosphere in soil organic matter, and have the potential to slow down or accelerate climate change through altered rates of plant growth and soil organic matter decomposition. Cold, northern ecosystems in particular, store vast amounts of carbon in the soil, but these stocks are vulnerable to increased carbon losses due to warming temperatures and changes in the availability of limiting nutrients such as nitrogen. In addition to the direct effects of warming and increasing nitrogen availability on organic matter decay by microbes, plants also play a major role by changing the way in which they use their photosynthates. By allocating more or less carbon belowground to roots, symbionts, or exudation, plants can alter soil carbon input rates and pathways, and thereby change the way soil organic matter responds to warming and nitrogen enrichment. Our research will examine how warming and nitrogen availability impact on carbon dynamics of plants and soil microbes in order to improve our understanding of plant-soil carbon cycling under future global change scenarios. In order to do this we will carry out experiments in a subarctic grassland of Iceland, tracking carbon flows from plant photosynthesis into the soil and back to the atmosphere and input this data into mathematical models to help better predict ecosystem carbon cycling feedbacks to global warming.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Readiness of ICOS for necessities of integrated global observations (RINGO). 01/01/2017 - 31/01/2019

Abstract

Readiness of ICOS for Necessities of integrated Global Observations (RINGO) is a H2020 EU project that serves to further developed and support the ICOS research infrastructure. Within this project the University of Antwerp has a task that aims to investigate the ability to apply terrestrial light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) measurements to estimate above ground biomass at forest ecosystems. Aboveground biomass is crucial component of the carbon balance of forest ecosystems however it is very difficult to accurately estimate. LiDAR is a new and promising technique that offers the possibility to obtain highly accurate estimates of tree volumes. Within this project we will select several test sites in Belgium with different tree species which will be scanned and at each site several trees will be destructively harvested to validate estimated volume. In a second stage several ICOS sites in Belgium and neighbouring countries will be visited to perform LiDAR scans in order to estimate Aboveground biomass accurately. The outcome of this project will be a protocol to perform LiDAR measurements at the ICOS ecosystem station.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Analysis and Experimentation on Ecocystems (AnaEE). 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

ANAEE will provide Europe with a distributed and coordinated set of experimental, analytical and modelling platforms to analyse and predict in a precise manner the response of the main continental ecosystems to environmental and land use changes. ANAEE will consist of highly equipped in natura and in vitro experimental platforms associated with sophisticated analytical and modelling platforms, under a European umbrella of supranational entities. At UAntwerp these platforms will include both terrestrial and aquatic experimental facilities.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Drought legacies in the carbon cycle of forests across the globe. 01/01/2017 - 01/04/2018

Abstract

There is an increasing awareness that climate variability will increase in frequency and severity during the coming decades, triggering amplified responses in the cycling of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems and its feedback to the climate system. While recent studies have shown the strong concurrent impact of climate extremes on the terrestrial carbon cycle, mainly for drought and heatwaves, there is still an important knowledge gap on the impacts of legacy effects in particular for ecosystems that slowly recover from climate-extreme induced disturbances such as forests. In the proposed project we aim to understand how legacy effects of drought will impact the carbon cycle of forests across biomes and spatial levels using an integrated approach. In order to address this aim we will (1) analyse how legacy effects of drought on the carbon cycle of forests are coupled to concurrent effects by integrating tree-ring and ecosystem level CO2 and H2O flux measurements, (2) validate remote sensing observations of legacy effects of drought at the landscape scale using ground-level observations for selected sites and (3) constrain site-level model simulations of the impact of drought on the forest carbon cycle, which currently do not account for legacy effects. This novel approach will strongly improve our understanding of drought legacies in the carbon cycle of forests across the globe, which is crucial for optimizing future projections of the global carbon budget.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Primary production over land. 12/10/2016 - 31/05/2018

Abstract

Gross primary production (GPP) is the basis for life on Earth. Terrestrial net primary production (NPP) is the remainder after plant (autotrophic) respiration (RA) has returned approximately half of the terrestrial GPP to the atmosphere, in the process of carrying out essential functions (metabolism and growth). Most of the NPP is used to construct plant tissues, although there are some losses via the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the atmosphere and the exudation of labile organic compounds to the rhizosphere. The objective of the TerrA-P project is to define, implement and validate a model to derive information on primary production by vegetation based on data from MERIS and Sentinel-3. The project combines the expertise from three domains: the ecophysiology of plants as expressed in the productivity model, the EO data sets that can be used as input for this model, and the in-situ data that allow validation of the model outcome using EO-input data. The P-model developed by Imperial College London (Wang, H., I.C. Prentice, et al. (2016); http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/040246) will be used as a basis for the estimation of GPP. This model starts from first principles, has a firm basis in theory and provides the optimum combination of parsimony, theoretical foundation, and empirical support. It is based on the standard (Farquhar, von Caemmerer and Berry) photosynthesis model while also accounting for acclimation processes that lead to a proportional relationship between GPP and light absorbed, the constant or proportionality varying as a function of environmental variables (temperature, vapour pressure deficit, atmospheric pressure and CO2). The model has been tested using eddy covariance GPP data derived from flux sites worldwide. This model will be further elaborated to use EO data (fAPAR) derived from Sentinel-3, to include estimated uncertainties at the pixel level, to comply with the current user requirements of such products, and to provide estimates of above-ground biomass production (ABP) as well as GPP. The model will be validated using data from many flux measurement sites worldwide, and will be benchmarked against other comparable products.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Underground connections: how fungal networks influence tropical rainforests. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Tropical rainforests are the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth. These system account for two-thirds of global plant diversity, and are often referred to as hyperdiverse in terms of tree species richness. Typically, any random draw of 300 adult individuals will represent over 100 different species. Understanding the ecological processes underlying this diversity will be essential for predicting biodiversity consequences of global change factors currently challenging tropical rainforests such as increased intensity of drought and changing nutrient balances. Mycorrhizal fungi act as a major conduit of carbon into soil, and affect competition between trees through connecting them belowground. This plant-fungal interaction is one of the most abundant symbioses on earth and is tightly linked to plant nutrient limitation. Ecosystems are increasingly enriched with CO2 and nitrogen and subject to climate change, which could alter abundance and functional properties of mycorrhizas in yet unknown ways. This in turn could have large consequences for plant interactions. Forests in French Guyana are unique in being among the most pristine and well-studied lowland tropical rain-forests on Earth. In this project we will use a variety of approaches to better understand the effect of drought and nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) on root colonizing microbes including mycorrhizal fungi, pathogens and bacteria. This will be done through combinations of small scale precipitation experiments and fertilization trials, as well as with a larger separate fertilization trial. Also, we will test the effect of neighbouring seedlings on these microbial communities on seedling inventories that have been carried out for over 10 years to test for statistical between seedling success and effects on conspecific neighbours through mutualists and antagonists. In parallel the project proposes to conduct experiments to assess the effect of mycorrhizas on adult-seedling interactions, which may have a major influence on tree biodiversity. Together, these experiments will greatly increase our understanding of the importance of this plant-fungal symbiosis for seedling performance. This knowledge will allow better prediction of the interdependence of soil fertility, plant-fungal relationships, and their combined effect on plant diversity and soil carbon levels.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Warmed Icelandic Soils, Lipids and Sequencing: towards a better understood climate proxy (WISLAS). 01/10/2016 - 30/11/2018

Abstract

Chemical fossils are molecular components that carry information on the environment in which they were produced, sometimes millions of years ago. The distribution of a group of 15 membrane lipids in soils, for instance, depends on the temperature and pH of the soils in which these organisms are living. They are conserved in several types of geological archives (marine sediments, lake sediments, soils) and their distribution has been used to reconstruct changes in the temperature of the past. However, even the most recent temperature calibration is not accurate enough to reconstruct absolute temperatures. In this research project we aim to improve this thermometer of the past, with geochemical and microbiological research. Firstly, the branched tetraethers that are currently used in the existing climate proxies will be measured in soils, together with their precursor compounds, their building blocks. These components will be measured in a set of Icelandic soils that are warmed by thermal water, and thus show a gradient in temperature. As these soils have been studied extensively in the framework of the Forhot project (www.forhot.is), the lipid distribution can be linked directly to the in-situ measured temperature. Following up on this, the patterns that are recognized on a local scale will be tested on a larger spatial scale. For this purpose, soil that have been studied in the framework of the EU ICOS project (www.icos-ri.eu) will be used, as they cover the different European ecosystems and soil types. Previous studies have indicated that Acidobacteria are probably the source organisms of the branched tetraether lipids, but only 1 of the 15 compounds that are frequently encountered in soils, has been recovered from an Acidobacterial culture. To shed light on the abundance and variability of the source organisms in soils, the bacterial diversity along the local temperature gradient (Forhot soils) will be analyzed with Illumina MiSeq technology. This diversity and its dependence on soil temperature will also be studied on a larger spatial scale (ICOS soils). This research will allow to gain a better insight in the environmental factors that influence the bacterial source organisms. This understanding will improve the accuracy and interpretation of the thermometer for the temperature in the past.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Impact of soil fertility on photosynthesis and photosynthate allocation in undisturbed primary rainforests in French Guiana. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Tropical forests are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world and account for more than one third of global primary productivity. Tropical rainforests thus play a key role in the global carbon (C) balance. Most tropical forests are phosphorus (P) rather than nitrogen (N) limited, in contrast to the much better studied temperate and boreal forests. The effects of soil fertility on C cycling in tropical rainforests is, however, still poorly understood. The aim of this study is twofold: I want to improve our understanding of photosynthesis of tropical forests and how this changes along gradients of soil N and P availability. Further, I will investigate how plant C allocation varies along these gradients. Ecosystem C allocation is very important because it determines the residence time of C in the ecosystem and thereby the CO2 removal from the atmosphere. Both processes will be studied in the lowland tropical rainforests of French Guiana. The rainforests I will study are virtually undisturbed and cover a large gradient in soil fertility, which will be even enlarged by a fertiliser addition experiment. Therefore, these forests are ideally suited to study effects of nutrient imbalances on the functioning of tropical rainforests.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Combination of field experiments and niche-based large-scale modelling to explain and predict future plant invasions in mountains. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

In this proposal, I aim to combine the strengths of different ecological methods. The international field campaign asks for practical knowledge of field ecology, as well as fundamental expertise on the environmental biophysics behind climate-driven processes. This is complemented in the second part with theoretical modeling with cutting-edge data manipulation methods.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Quantification of mycorrhizal carbon use using a stable isotope approach 01/04/2016 - 31/03/2017

Abstract

Plant carbon allocation is poorly understood, mainly because allocation to the rhizosphere and especially to mycorrhizal symbionts remains unquantified because of major difficulties assessing their growth. Up till now, mycorrhizal carbon use is usually considered as the residual carbon needed to close the carbon balance. The project applied for here aims to test a method which would provide more robust results, i.e., results that do not depend on the accuracy on all other measurements. This stable isotope approach, combining d13C analysis of specific neutral and phospolipid fatty acids (NLFA and PLFA), will be applied in a mesocosm experiment. If successful, this relatively novel stable isotope approach would be of great interest to the scientific community, as it could be widely applied in other experiments.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Microbial ecology. 01/02/2016 - 31/01/2021

Abstract

The resources from this start-up grant will be allocated towards various research projects in the general field of microbial ecology. These include research into effects of mycorrhizal fungi on soil C cycling, effects of mycorrhiza on plant-plant interactions, and impact of mycorrhizal fungi and drought on soil food web community structure.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Interplay between soil heterogeneity and plant spatial pattern: an experimental mesocosm study including a climate extreme. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

"Spatial ecology" is a rapidly developing discipline in ecosystem science. While some ecologists explore the significance of the spatial heterogeneity in the soil for plant communities, others concentrate on the consequences of the spatial pattern of the plants. However, no studies have to our knowledge investigated how these two fundamental types of spatial heterogeneity work together in determining ecosystem functioning. Here we manipulate both types independently in mesocosms (simplified experimental ecosystems constructed from soil and plants), while additionally varying also species richness. Soil heterogeneity is experimentally varied in three dimensions with a novel technique. We also investigate the importance of heterogeneity for climate change impact.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

A standardized metric of soil nutrient availability. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Nutrients are key determinants of plant growth and are important influencing factors of terrestrial carbon cycling and its response to climate change. Although nutrients were long overlooked in carbon cycle studies, nowadays, an increasing number of empirical studies aim to unravel the mediating role of nutrient availability in terrestrial carbon cycling. However, despite the great potential of the increasing number of experimental and observational datasets, in-depth synthesis work to identify overarching patterns is currently hampered by difficulties comparing the nutrient status of different sites. The aim of this project is therefore to develop a standardized metric of nutrient availability that opens the door for in-depth analyses of the influence of nutrient availability on terrestrial carbon cycling and other important ecosystem functions. To this end, I will evaluate two existing metrics that include several important soil factors, but were never validated and, importantly, do not explicitly account for nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) availability. I will therefore test the applicability of both metrics, and especially how N and P availability should be considered. For this evaluation, I will use data from (1) European soil and plant surveys (ICP forests database), (2) three natural fertility gradients in different biomes, and (3) five nutrient addition experiments. Finally, I aim to develop one final standardized metric that can be widely applied.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Assessment of isoprene emission by hyperspectral data (HYPI). 01/12/2015 - 31/07/2017

Abstract

In the HYPI project we link isoprene flux measurements at leaf and canopy levels to hyperspectral vegetation indices. We aim to demonstrate whether hyperspectral vegetation indices can provide an improved estimation of the spatial and temporal variability of isoprene emissions of ecosystems. Visit the project website at: www.uantwerpen.be/en/rg/pleco/research/research-projects/HYPI

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Impact of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems and climate change feedbacks of terrestrial ecosystems through exchange of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 and N2O). 17/11/2015 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

The budget coming with this award will be invested in m y new project, TRACK-C, that aims to unravel plant carbon allocation in response to changes in nutrient availability. For more details, see TRACK-C project.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

What is the role of nutrient availability in the autotrophic respiratory cost? 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

The terrestrial biosphere mitigates climate change through carbon sequestration into plant biomass and soil. The way in which plants use the carbon assimilated during photosynthesis, ultimately determines the carbon sink strength of the ecosystem. However, the mechanisms driving variation in carbon allocation are still poorly understood. Previous research has reported large variation in the fraction of photosynthates used for autotrophic respiration, but the underlying mechanisms are still uncertain. Evidence is growing, however, that nutrient availability plays a key role. The main aim of the research proposal is to determine the impact of soil nutrition on the fraction of photosynthates used in autotrophic plant respiration. This will be studied via both chamber and leaf scale measurements in an experimental setup where GPP is measured and also NPP is being assessed completely. Given that observations in a mesocosm experiment require testing in more realistic conditions, I will also study autotrophic respiration in an ongoing nutrient manipulation field experiment. Further, I will study whether the process of nutrient retranslocation and light-induced inhibition of plant respiration depend strongly enough on nutrient availability such that they can explain additional variation in the autotrophic respiratory cost. If successful, this project will provide important benchmarking datasets to the modelling community that will allow further testing of the observed mechanisms.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Global assessment of terrestrial biomass production and of its determinants. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

The biomass production (BP) of terrestrial ecosystems is a fundamental ecological process and a key ecosystem service. In fact, BP represents the supply of food, fibers and wood to our society and the carbon (C) accumulated annually on the Earth's land, which is a crucial determinant of the global C cycle and climate. Biomass production has been widely investigated and BP estimates are available from 'direct' (field-level) measurements at hundreds of experimental sites worldwide. However, global analyses of BP dynamics are limited or largely based on 'indirect' BP estimates from remote sensing, which have high resolution but low accuracy. Here, I aim to fill the critical knowledge gaps on global BP dynamics (1) by providing robust BP estimates for all major terrestrial ecosystem types (e.g. forests, grasslands, croplands, wetlands, tundra, deserts) and for the entire Earth's land, and (2) by elucidating which are the key global drivers of BP (e.g. plant traits, climate, site fertility, soil water content or management activities). In addition, the study will compare the performance of direct and indirect methods to assess global BP dynamics and clarify features and weaknesses of both approaches. These tasks will be accomplished by using a new, unique, database of direct BP estimates, that I recently compiled, and remote sensing BP estimates from MODIS.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

A standardized metric of soil nutrient availability. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Nutrients are key determinants of plant growth and are important influencing factors of terrestrial carbon cycling and its response to climate change. Although nutrients were long overlooked in carbon cycle studies, nowadays, an increasing number of empirical studies aim to unravel the mediating role of nutrient availability in terrestrial carbon cycling. However, despite the great potential of the increasing number of experimental and observational datasets, in-depth synthesis work to identify overarching patterns is currently hampered by difficulties comparing the nutrient status of different sites. The aim of this project is therefore to develop a standardized metric of nutrient availability that opens the door for in-depth analyses of the influence of nutrient availability on terrestrial carbon cycling and other important ecosystem functions. To this end, I will evaluate two existing metrics that include several important soil factors, but were never validated and, importantly, do not explicitly account for nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) availability. I will therefore test the applicability of both metrics, and especially how N and P availability should be considered. For this evaluation, I will use data from (1) European soil and plant surveys (ICP forests database), (2) three natural fertility gradients in different biomes, and (3) five nutrient addition experiments. Finally, I aim to develop one final standardized metric that can be widely applied.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Icelandic Soils, Lipids and Microbiomes: towards a better understood climate proxy. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

Chemical fossils are molecular components that carry information on the environment in which they were produced, sometimes millions of years ago. The distribution of a group of 15 membrane lipids in soils, for instance, depends on the temperature and pH of the soils in which these organisms are living. They are conserved in several types of geological archives (marine sediments, lake sediments, soils) and their distribution has been used to reconstruct changes in the temperature of the past. However, even the most recent temperature calibration is not accurate enough to reconstruct absolute temperatures. In this research project we aim to improve this thermometer of the past, with geochemical and microbiological research. Firstly, the branched tetraethers that are currently used in the existing climate proxies will be measured in soils, together with their precursor compounds, their building blocks. These components will be measured in a set of Icelandic soils that are warmed by thermal water, and thus show a gradient in temperature. As these soils have been studied extensively in the framework of the Forhot project (www.forhot.is), the lipid distribution can be linked directly to the in-situ measured temperature. Following up on this, the patterns that are recognized on a local scale will be tested on a larger spatial scale. For this purpose, soil that have been studied in the framework of the EU ICOS project (www.icos-ri.eu) will be used, as they cover the different European ecosystems and soil types. Previous studies have indicated that Acidobacteria are probably the source organisms of the branched tetraether lipids, but only 1 of the 15 compounds that are frequently encountered in soils, has been recovered from an Acidobacterial culture. To shed light on the abundance and variability of the source organisms in soils, the bacterial diversity along the local temperature gradient (Forhot soils) will be analyzed with Illumina MiSeq technology. This diversity and its dependence on soil temperature will also be studied on a larger spatial scale (ICOS soils). This research will allow to gain a better insight in the environmental factors that influence the bacterial source organisms. This understanding will improve the accuracy and interpretation of the thermometer for the temperature in the past.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Underground connections: how fungal symbionts shape tropical rainforests. 01/10/2015 - 30/11/2015

Abstract

Tropical rainforests are the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth. These system account for one third of carbon assimilation on land, and harbor two-thirds of global plant diversity. Understanding the ecological processes underlying these vital properties will be essential for addressing the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and man-made climate change. Mycorrhizal fungi act as a major conduit of carbon into soil, and affect competition between trees through connecting them belowground. This plant-fungal interaction is one of the most abundant symbioses on earth and is tightly linked to plant nutrient limitation. Ecosystems are increasingly enriched with CO2 and nitrogen and subject to climate change, which could alter abundance and functional properties of mycorrhizas in yet unknown ways. This in turn could have large consequences for the soil carbon economy and plant interactions. Forests in French Guyana represent are unique in being among the most pristine and well-studied lowland tropical rain-forests on Earth. Major gradients of one of the most important drivers of mycorrhizas, soil phosphate availability, have already been identified within and among established research sites. This offers a unique opportunity to unveil the interplay between soil nutrients, mycorrhizal fungi, and soil carbon stocks. Here I propose to accomplish this through measuring abundance of mycorrhizal fungi through biomarkers (membrane lipids) that broadly distinguish mycorrhizal type, accompanied by next generation sequencing of DNA markers to reveal shifts in community composition. Moreover, I will conduct experiments to assess the effect of mycorrhizas on litter decomposition and on adult-seedling interactions, which may have a major influence on tree biodiversity. Together, these experiments will greatly increase our understanding of the importance of this plant-fungal symbiosis for soil carbon sequestration and seedling performance. This knowledge will allow better prediction of the interdependence of soil fertility, plant-fungal relationships, and their combined effect on plant diversity and soil carbon levels.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Physiological and environmental controls of water and ozone fluxes in a short rotation poplar plantation: from leaf to tree to ecosystem scale (Physio-Pop). 01/09/2015 - 31/08/2017

Abstract

One of the consequences of global climate changes is the altered global water availability. Among the greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global climate changes, carbon dioxide (CO2) has received most attention. Over the last decennia the impact of rising CO2 concentrations on crops has been widely studied. The study of tropospheric ozone (O3) and its consequences on crops has not been as extensive, although O3 is a widespread and damaging air pollutant in industrialized countries. The PHYSIO-POP project fits within the search for renewable (bio-)energies, in particular the production of woody biomass energy. The project examines the water consumption and the sensitivity to O3 pollution of a short-rotation poplar plantation with fast-growing poplars (Populus spp.) for biomass production. The multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach followed in this project aims to improve our knowledge of the impact of global climate change by studying the physiological and environmental controls of water and O3 fluxes in different short rotation poplar genotypes at all relevant biological (leaf, tree, ecosystem) and time (daily, seasonal) scales. To achieve this objective the project makes the unusual combination of plant (eco-)physiological studies at the leaf and the tree levels with model simulations at tree and ecosystem levels. By studying the different hierarchical organisational levels from the leaf over the individual tree to the ecosystem scale, we can improve our understanding of what happens at scale of the the whole short-rotation plantation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Tracking Carbon Allocation Beyond the Plant in a Nutrient Addition Experiment with Zea Mays. 01/06/2015 - 31/05/2019

Abstract

Planten nemen koolstof op via fotosynthese en gebruiken die koolstof voor verschillende processen (o.a. ademhaling) en om biomassa te produceren. Dit allocatiepatroon bepaalt uiteindelijk de verblijftijd van koolstof in een ecosysteem en dus de capaciteit van een ecosystem ook koolstof op te slaan. Toch is koolstofallocatie in planten nog niet voldoende gekend, onder meer omdat de koolstofallocatie naar de rhizosfeer, en vooral naar symbionten zoals mycorrhizale fungi, nog niet gekwantificeerd werd. Eerder onderzoek toonde aan dat sommige ecosystemen 30% van de opgenomen koolstof investeren in groei, terwijl dit voor anderen opliep tot 70%. Er zijn steeds meer indicaties dat deze grote variatie in koolstofallocatie te wijten is aan de koolstofkost voor opname van nutrienten zoals stikstof en fosfor, en dat de mycorrhiza's hier een belangrijke rol in spelen aangezien zij de plant aan nutrienten helpen. Het doel van dit project is om koolstofallocatie te doorgronden, en de hypothese te testen dat de grote variatie in koolstofallocatie gedreven wordt doordat verschillen in nutrientenbeschikbaarheid leiden tot verschillen in koolstofkost van nutrientenopname via de symbiose met mycorrhiza's. Deze studie wordt uitgevoerd in een mesocosmos-experiment waarin Zea mays wordt opgegroeid onder verschillende bemestingsgraden en vervolgens koolstofallocatie naar groei, ademhaling, symbiose met mycorrhiza's allemaal gekwantificeerd worden.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Merging satellite-derived and ground-based observations of spring phenology to select the best fitting and most parsimonious vegetation phenology model for global carbon cycle models. 01/02/2015 - 31/01/2016

Abstract

Spring vegetation phenology determines the onset of the growing season. Changes in spring vegetation phenology alter the length of the growing season and thereby affect ecosystem productivity and regional and global carbon and energy balances. Satellite-derived vegetation indices have long been used as proxies for representing the status of terrestrial vegetation. However, the modeling of such large scale vegetation phenology dynamics is still a big challenge because the underlying mechanisms of vegetation phenology process are still unclear. To date, the performance of vegetation phenology models at global scale is rarely examined. Within this project, global-scale vegetation phenology models will be developed based on specieslevel models. Bayesian model comparisons will subsequently be conducted to select the most parsimonious vegetation phenology model for global carbon cycle models. In addition, remote sensing-based phenological dates will be compared to ground observations at species level to answer whether the satellite images capture the phenology dynamics observed in situ. This project also aims to explore the recent controversial debate on the amplitude of the advancement of spring phenology since the 1980s. The present study will make a step forward in the study of vegetation phenology and will have important implications for the ecological modeling community by suggesting the most optimal phenology model.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Applying sequencing-based methods for exploring soil fungal and protist community composition. 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Soil fungal and protist communities are involved in a variety of important ecosystem functions, including organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling. This project will optimize methods for assessment of soil fungal and protist community diversity using DNA-amplicon sequencing. These protocols will be used to determine if there is a link between soil microbial community composition and environmental conditions.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Weedon James

Research team(s)

A standardized metric for soil nutrient availability 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Nutrient availability is a key determinant of ecosystem functioning and terrestrial carbon cycling. However, global analyses of how various ecosystem processes vary with nutrient availability are currently restricted by the lack of a standardized metric of nutrient availability. The aim of this project is to develop such metric based on data from a European forest database as well as two natural fertility gradients.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

GCE - Global Change Ecology. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

This project represents a research contract awarded by the University of Antwerp. The supervisor provides the Antwerp University research mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions stipulated by the university.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Plant and Vegetation Ecology and Global Changes. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

The overarching theme of the Centre of Excellence is the study of the effects of global changes, in the broadest meaning of the term, on plants and vegetations. This long-term goal is being realized a.o. by studying the responses of plants and vegetations to the, sometimes manipulated, abiotic environment over a continuum of hierarchical scales, ranging from the individual leaf to the continent. Original experimental research and long-term observations are strengthened by coupling: (i) to existing or newly developed simulation models, and (ii) to the intensive use and statistical meta-analysis of new and existing databases. The ecosystem stations of the large-scale European ESFRI infrastructures ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) and AnaEE (Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems) are used as platforms for experimental and monitoring studies. The objectives of the research are a better understanding of the functioning, the dynamics and the structure of plants – at the leaf, plant, community and ecosystem levels up to the continental scale – in present and future environments. Specific studies include renewable bio-energy, biosphere-atmosphere interactions, ozone and volatile organic compounds, soil and earth system models, as well as interactions of climatic change and biodiversity.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Impact of poplar bioenergy cultivation on ozone and volatile organic compound emissions (SRF-OZO). 01/11/2014 - 31/10/2016

Abstract

The need for renewable energy sources to meet EU Directive 2009/28/EC is expected to lead to a considerable expansion in the planting of dedicated fast-growing biomass crops managed as Short Rotation Forestry (SRF). Among them Poplar (Populus spp) is currently the most widely planted SRF species and th us an increase in large-scale SRF poplar plantations might be expected. Poplars are characterized by a considerably high isoprene emission coefficient, and are susceptible to ozone pollution. In this project we will- for the first time - simultaneously measure the fluxes of Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (BVOCs), ozone (03), and NOx emission in combination with the greenhouse gases (C02, CH4 and N20). All these flux measurements will be made in an SRF poplar plantation located in Lochristi (Belgium) using the eddy covariance technique. The primary objectives of the project are: (i) to quantify the NOx, BVOC and 03 emissions at leaf and ecosystem levels, and (ii) to identify the environmental variables that drive these fluxes. The data obtained will be used to parameterize the CTM LOTOS-EUROS and the CTMs Chemical Transport modeis. Model simulations will reveal the potential impact of large-scale biomass plantations on isoprene emissions, and consequently on ozone air pollution at the European level. The study wil! also quantify the Global Warming Potential of poplar SRF and the carbon offset that could be achieved with the bioenergy produced. This project will establish a scientific collaboration with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) of the US Department of Energy to share data and write joint publications.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Natural gradients in temperature and soil age:Iceland represents a unique environment to clarify longterm global change effects on nutrient dynamics,vegetation and microbial communities. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project aims at understanding how structure and function of Icelandic ecosystems are affected by global change. Global climate change is predicted to continue in the 21st century and will be most pronounced at higher latitudes. This will undeniably entail changes in ecosystem processes as nutrient dynamics and plant and microbial community compositions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Combination of field experiments and niche-based largescale modelling to explain and predict future plant invasions in mountains. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

In this proposal, I aim to combine the strengths of different ecological methods. The international field campaign asks for practical knowledge of field ecology, as well as fundamental expertise on the environmental biophysics behind climate-driven processes. This is complemented in the second part with theoretical modeling with cutting-edge data manipulation methods.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Effects of phosphorus limitations on Life, Earth system and Society (IMBALANCE-P). 01/09/2014 - 31/08/2020

Abstract

P is an earthbound and finite element and the prospect of constrained access to mineable P resources has already triggered geopolitical disputes. In contrast to P, availabilities of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to ecosystems are rapidly increasing in most areas of the globe. The resulting imminent change in the stoichiometry of available elements will have no equivalent in the Earth's history and will bear profound, yet, unknown consequences for life, the Earth System and human society. The ongoing shifts in C:N:P balances in ecosystems will necessarily affect the structure, function and diversity of the Earth system. P-market crises might put pressure on the global food system and create environmental ripple effects ranging from expansion of agricultural land to P-price-induced changes in land management exacerbating the stoichiometric resource imbalance. Yet, the impacts of this unprecedented human disturbance of elemental stoichiometry remain a research enigma. The IMBALANCE-P-team, that gathers four leading researchers in the fields of ecosystem diversity and ecology, biogeochemistry, Earth System modelling, and global agricultural and resource economics, is formidably positioned to address this Earth System management challenge by providing improved understanding and quantitative foresight needed to formulate a range of policy options that will contain the risks and mitigate the consequences of stoichiometric imbalances. IMBALANCE-P will integrate some of Europe's leading integrated assessment and Earth system models, calibrated using ecosystem nutrient limitation data obtained from field experiments. The project will establish an international process of science-based P-diplomacy.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Design and supervise an irrigation experiment and a seed-addition experiment. 01/08/2014 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

This project represents a formal service agreement between UA and on the other hand King Saud University. UA provides King Saud University research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

ANAEE-Flanders. 29/07/2014 - 28/07/2018

Abstract

ANAEE will provide Europe with a distributed and coordinated set of experimental, analytical and modelling platforms to analyse and predict in a precise manner the response of the main continental ecosystems to environmental and land use changes. ANAEE will consist of highly equipped in natura and in vitro experimental platforms associated with sophisticated analytical and modelling platforms coupled to networks of instrumented observation and monitoring sites throughout Europe.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Factors driving alien plant invasions in mountain regions. 01/06/2014 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

The goal of this project is to determine factors that influence the invasion of alien plant species in mountains, more in particular in the subarctic region around the Swedish field research station at Abisko. With the help of experiments the role will be examined of temperature, disturbance and propagule availability. The project is funded by the EU program INTERACT, which provides access to research stations in the Arctic.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

FORHOT: the Icelandic natural temperature gradients: a gift from nature. 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

This project will study ecosystem structure (plant and microbial community composition; carbon stocks) and function (productivity, biogeochemistry) along a natural temperature gradient on Iceland to answer critical research questions about the effect of warming on ecosystems. We will address 1) the nonlinearities of the ecosystem responses to warming; 2) the transient nature of ecosystem changes after 5 years of temperature change; and 3) the hypothesis that warming effects are mainly induced by accelerated nutrient cycling.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecotron. 17/10/2013 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Modelling and assessing surface change impacts on Belgian and Western European climate (MASC). 01/10/2013 - 30/06/2018

Abstract

The overall objective of this project is to study the feedbacks between dimate changes and land surface changes in order to improve regional climate model projections at the decennial scale over Belgium and Western Europe and thus to provide betler climate projections and climate change evaluation tools to policy makers, stakeholders and the scientific community.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Phenology underground: seasonality of soil microbial communities and functions. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project will improve our understanding of the nature of this contribution by characterizing the seasonality of soil microbial communities, and linking it to high-resolution ecosystem monitoring data in a variety of ecosystems across Europe. We will investigate whether seasonal patterns in below-ground communities are associated with the annual cycles of vegetation (bud burst, peak photosynthesis, leaf fall), and whether they can be linked to seasonal patterns in ecosystem functions. As well as providing much needed data about the nature and drivers of temporal dynamics of soil microbes, the research will help to lay the foundation for the next generation of models used to understand and forecast global carbon dynamics and climate change.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Trait variation in cryptogams – responses and feedback to climate change. 01/10/2013 - 28/02/2014

Abstract

This project aims to link phenotypic trait variation in cryptogams to microclimatic (temperature) conditions, and study how cryptogam species in turn influence microclimate. Specifically we are interested in the following questions: - Is trait variation in cryptogams related to temperature and soil parameters? - What is the contribution of cryptogam species to local microclimate?

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Growth simulations for beech trees using Anafore growth simulator. 01/10/2013 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal service agreement between UA and on the other hand NLCK. UA provides NLCK research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Bio-LCA: Introducing biodiversity in life cycle assessment (LCA). 01/04/2013 - 28/02/2015

Abstract

The present project Bio-LCA: Introducing biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) intends to majorly contribute to solving the issue of making LCA and biodiversity compatible. The project will consist on the inclusion of important drivers of biodiversity change, such as resource overexploitation and introduction of invasive species, as indicators in the LCA framework.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

European gradients of resilience in the face of climate extremes (SIGNAL). 01/03/2013 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

Experiments on the effects of extreme weather events on biodiversity, ecosystem functions, resilience and tipping points in graslands along a pan-European climatic gradient. Assessment of resilience status and regionally differentiated policy decision support.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Infrastructure for analysis and experimentation on ecosystems (ANAEE). 01/11/2012 - 31/10/2016

Abstract

ANAEE will provide Europe with a distributed and coordinated set of experimental, analytical and modelling platforms to analyse and predict in a precise manner the response of the main continental ecosystems to environmental and land use changes. ANAEE will consist of highly equipped in natura and in vitro experimental platforms associated with sophisticated analytical and modelling platforms coupled to networks of instrumented observation and monitoring sites throughout Europe.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Influence of a future climate and interspecific interactions on the stress response of plants. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

It is currently unknown how plants will be affected by stress factors in a future climate with more atmospheric CO2 and higher air temperatures. This is important to know for agriculture because stress adversely affects crop growth and yield, but it is equally important for the conservation of biodiversity. For example, reduced stress resistance of plants in a future climate might lead to loss of sensitive species. Some global change factors have been shown to modify plant stress resistance in some species. However, the uncertainty is greater in more realistic, multi-species communities because interactions between the species are likely to alter the species-specific stress responses. Therefore, in the proposed research we want to disentangle abiotic factors (climate-warming and elevated CO2) and biotic factors (plant-plant interactions) that determine the stress response of a plant. An important question is whether neighbouring species modify the intrinsic stress response of a plant by changing the available resources. To solve these questions we will grow grassland communities (monocultures and mixtures) under different climate scenarios in sunlit, computer-controlled growth chambers.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Nijs Ivan
  • Fellow: Van De Velde Helena

Research team(s)

Carbon allocation in terrestrial ecosystems: exploring universal scalars across biomes. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

The biomass production efficiency (BPE) is the fraction of carbon assimilated through photosynthesis that is used to produce plant biomass. BPE is particularly relevant to evaluate the feedback of terrestrial ecosystems to the greenhouse effect. This study will provide BPE estimates for major world's biomes (e.g. grasslands, forests, croplands, wetlands), reveal the environmental drivers of BPE, and explore the relationship between BPE and ecosystem carbon sequestration. In particular, we hypothesize that BPE is positively related to soil fertility and that such relationship holds across biomes. Plant communities are more productive in richer soils because less non-structural carbohydrates are needed belowground (for roots symbionts and root exudates) to facilitate nutrient acquisition. Thus, the better the nutrient status, the larger is the carbon available for biomass production and sequestration in the ecosystem. We will test these hypotheses with a new global biome database with hundreds of experimental sites worldwide and a mesocosm experiment focused on typical temperate biomes (e.g. grasslands).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Natural gradients in temperature, CO2 and soil age: Iceland represents a unique environment to clarify longterm global change effects on nutrient dynamics, vegetation and microbial communities. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project aims at understanding how structure and function of Icelandic ecosystems are affected by global change. Global climate change is predicted to continue in the 21st century and will be most pronounced at higher latitudes. This will undeniably entail changes in ecosystem processes as nutrient dynamics and plant and microbial community compositions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Model-based optimisation of the trade-offs between biomass production, climate feedback and water consumption in short rotation coppice forestry. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

At present 81% of global energy production comes from fossil fuels, that are finite and emit CO2 into the atmosphere. For these reasons, alternative energy sources are sought for. Bioenergy, in particular Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) culture, is a promising alternative for the generation of electricity. SRCs can be defined as carefully tended, high-density plantations of fast-growing trees, in this project poplar, which are cut back every 2-5 years. The harvest is then burned or gasified to generate electricity. The CO2 that is emitted by this process was withdrawn from the atmosphere when the crop was growing; so theoretically there is no new carbon added to the atmosphere. However, SRC management (transport, harvest, fertilizers, irrigation), produces certain amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Moreover, SRC consumes much water, which may be needed for surrounding regions. This project will use a computer model to predict biomass production, greenhouse gas balance and water use of SRC plantations, for different management types in different regions. The overall objective is to determine, for each region, the optimal management that maximizes wood growth for energy production, while minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

A decision support tool to manage climate change risks to forest ecosystems (EcoRisk). 01/06/2012 - 31/05/2016

Abstract

The aim of this project was to design a decision support tool capable of modelling scenarios of forest growth, nutrient uptake and pollutant behaviour under different forest, soil, groundwater and climate conditions in Belgian forests. Emphasis was not only on forest growth and productivity, but also on the soil carbon (C) and nutrient status and the possible changes in the distribution of a number of elements, including pollutants and radioactive substances.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

ESFRI-infrastructure project 'Integrated Carbon Observation System' (ICOS). 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

The main objectives of ICOS are: (1) to establish an integrated long-term global carbon and GHG observation infrastructure; (2) to determine regional carbon and GHG fluxes from observations and attribute these to processes; (3) to provide regional GHG budgets for policy support; (4) to provide access and services for data and data products

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Set-up for imposing climate warming and heat extremes in free air. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

We are applying for the financing of a set-up enabling research into the impact of heat waves and droughts on plant systems. Extreme climate events can have a disproportionate impact on ecosystems relative to the temporal scale over which they occur, yet research on this highly relevant topic is still underdeveloped. The lack of studies addressing important excrescences of global change such as heat waves, is to a substantial part caused by the inability to recreate high temperature events in a realistic manner. Infrared heating has been identified as the most appropriate tool for imposing heat waves in the field, but the control mechanism to do this in a realistic manner has only recently been developed (by the applicant). The requested funds from the current proposal serve to build a set-up incorporating the infrared technique and the aforementioned novel control mechanism, in order to start up a project on the role of biodiversity in buffering the impacts of climate extremes. We are convinced that the set-up will grow into a platform which can be used in any experimental climate warming study, and that it will be a catalyst for our research group amid the current emerging attention into climate extremes.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Water balance and water use efficiency of bioenergy culture of woody plants: a multiscalaire approach. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Effects of increased climate variability and extreme climate events on the carbon cycle of terrestrial ecosystems. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

The aim of this project is to achieve an improved knowledge of the response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to climate variability and extremes. Specifically, effects of extreme weather events on plant growth and its underlying processes, crop yields and harvestable products, soil processes such as microbial respiration and water retention, soil carbon stocks and ecosystem carbon sequestration will be studied over a wide range of ecosystems.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of biodiversity and species traits in modulating the impacts of climate extremes in plant communities. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Discrete climate events such as heat waves and droughts can have a disproportionate impact on ecosystems relative to the temporal scale over which they occur. The ultimate impact on the plant system is thought to depend on community properties such as the number of species and the species characteristics, although the few existing studies show contradicting results. Aided by experience gained on both climate extreme and biodiversity experiments throughout my scientific carreer, we propose a project to (i) predict the impact (damage) of heat waves and/or droughts based on the dominant plant interactions in an ecosystem and the species-specific traits; (ii) determine the potential of biodiversity in buffering negative effects of climate extremes; (iii) assess the risk of a possible acceleration of the spread of non-native plant species in a climate with more extreme events. Research will be conducted both on an experimental site and in the field, using an established method for creating droughts and a state-of-the-art technique for imposing heat waves. The project will increase understanding of ecosystem functioning, the importance of biodiversity and the significance of individual species, with relevance for fundamental ecology (e.g. improving ecosystem models) and nature conservation (e.g. identifying potentially vulnerable ecosystems).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

System analysis of a short rotation coppice culture for bioenergy production: energy balance and environmental economic analysis. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

This PhD research intends to develop of a full energy- and carbon balance of a bioenergy plantation with fast-growing poplars (Populus). A large scale operational bioenergy plantation provides the researcher with experimental data with regard to both the energy use and -production and the carbon inputs and -outputs. An elaborate life cycle analysis of the full three year rotation of the plantation is performed and all environmental costs are expressed in terms of both monetary costs and carbon costs. The information obtained from the carbon- and energy balance is included in the GORCAM-model, in order to test the carbon efficiency and the energetic performance against the economic potential of short rotation coppices.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

EXPEER - Distributed infrastructure for experimentation in ecosystem research. 01/12/2010 - 31/05/2015

Abstract

EXPEER will bring together, major observational, experimental, analytical and modelling facilities in ecosystem science in Europe. By uniting these highly instrumented ecosystem research facilities under the same umbrella and with a common vision, EXPEER will form a key contribution to structuring and improving the European Research Area (ERA) within terrestrial ecosystem research.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Model-based optimisation of the trade-offs between biomass production, climate feedback and water consumption in short rotation coppice forestry. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

At present 81% of global energy production comes from fossil fuels, that are finite and emit CO2 into the atmosphere. For these reasons, alternative energy sources are sought for. Bioenergy, in particular Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) culture, is a promising alternative for the generation of electricity. SRCs can be defined as carefully tended, high-density plantations of fast-growing trees, in this project poplar, which are cut back every 2-5 years. The harvest is then burned or gasified to generate electricity. The CO2 that is emitted by this process was withdrawn from the atmosphere when the crop was growing; so theoretically there is no new carbon added to the atmosphere. However, SRC management (transport, harvest, fertilizers, irrigation), produces certain amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Moreover, SRC consumes much water, which may be needed for surrounding regions. This project will use a computer model to predict biomass production, greenhouse gas balance and water use of SRC plantations, for different management types in different regions. The overall objective is to determine, for each region, the optimal management that maximizes wood growth for energy production, while minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Influence of a future climate and interspecific interactions on the stress response of plants. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

It is currently unknown how plants will be affected by stress factors in a future climate with more atmospheric CO2 and higher air temperatures. This is important to know for agriculture because stress adversely affects crop growth and yield, but it is equally important for the conservation of biodiversity. For example, reduced stress resistance of plants in a future climate might lead to loss of sensitive species. Some global change factors have been shown to modify plant stress resistance in some species. However, the uncertainty is greater in more realistic, multi-species communities because interactions between the species are likely to alter the species-specific stress responses. Therefore, in the proposed research we want to disentangle abiotic factors (climate-warming and elevated CO2) and biotic factors (plant-plant interactions) that determine the stress response of a plant. An important question is whether neighbouring species modify the intrinsic stress response of a plant by changing the available resources. To solve these questions we will grow grassland communities (monocultures and mixtures) under different climate scenarios in sunlit, computer-controlled growth chambers.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Nijs Ivan
  • Fellow: Van De Velde Helena

Research team(s)

Do sudden environmental changes in habitats induce biological invasions? 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

In the proposed project we will test experimentally a new hypothesis in invasion biology, i.e. that invasion risk by exotic plants increases in habitats undergoing sudden a environmental change, in particular a change in the disturbance regime. By means of a factorial field experiment we will study the colonization risk by seeds of an invasive plant species in grasslands which are reclaimed after a long period of abandonment.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

GHG-POPFULL - Full greenhouse gas balance of a short rotation coppice (SRC) plantation of poplar. 01/09/2010 - 31/08/2012

Abstract

The main objective of the project is to produce a full accounting of the greenhouse gas balance of a short-rotation coppice (SRC) plantation culture with poplar. This will lead to the ultimate goal, i.e. to examine the potential of SRC cultures to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations in Europe and to mitigate climate change. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations will inevitably increase further from 370 ppm at present to values between 490 ppm (best case scenario) and 1260 ppm (worst case scenario) at the end of this century, we will test the potential of SRC crops to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and to mitigate several greenhouse gases (CH4, N2O, O3). We will also monitor and quantify ozone fluxes as poplar is a sensitive crop to tropospheric ozone levels.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Water and carbon balance of a short rotation crop of fast growing poplars. 30/08/2010 - 29/06/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand EU. UA provides EU research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

ICOS Flanders: Ecosystem Infrastructure for Integrated Carbon Observing System. 22/07/2010 - 21/07/2015

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Productivity of agro-ecosystems in the Pampa Region with a particular emphasis on the yield of wheat. 06/07/2010 - 05/01/2011

Abstract

This project examines the impact of environmental variables (temperature, precipitation, fertilsation, soil conditions, management) on the productivity of wheat in the Pampa Region over the last three decades.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Development of a solidly based long-term plan for the wood production of the Flemish ''Bosland" 01/07/2010 - 30/04/2011

Abstract

The aim of this project is to develop a solidly based long-term plan for the wood production of the Flemish 'Bosland' over a planning period of 60 years based on the present forest situation as described in the forest management plans. The following elements are considered and included in the project realisation: (i) A founded choice of the dominant forest species involved in the wood production, with identification of their respective shares, zonation, final destination qualities and management; (ii) The plan-based approach for the reformation in time and space (planning period of 60 years); (iii) The prediction of the wood production for the first management period of the plan (20 years). 'Bosland' is a cooperative effort of the Flemish Agency for Nature and Forestry, the city of Lommel and the communities Hechtel-Eksel and Overpelt.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Will a future climate change the stress tolerance of plant and ecosystems? A study on multiple stressors: heavy metal pollution, water shortage and eutrophication. 25/06/2010 - 24/04/2013

Abstract

Current adaptation strategies to climate change assume that the tolerance of plant communities to stress will not change in a future climate. We challenge this assumption by testing whether stress responses are different in a warmer, high-CO2 world

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Do forests cool the Earth? 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

The overall goal of DOFOCO is to quantify and understand the role of forest management in mitigating climate change. Specifically, we want to challenge the current focus on the carbon cycle and replace it with a total climate impact approach. Hence, the whole forest management spectrum ranging from short rotation coppice to old-growth forests will be analyzed for its effects on the water, energy and carbon cycles. Climate response of forest will be quantified by means of albedo, evapotranspiration, greenhouse gas sources and sinks and their resulting climate feedback mechanisms. DOFOCO will deliver the first quantitative insights into how forest management strategies can be linked to climate change mitigation. These results will be used to lay the foundations for a portfolio of management strategies which sustain wood production while minimizing climate change impacts.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

GHG-Europe - Greenhouse gas management in European Land use systems. 01/01/2010 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

The GHG-Europe project aims to improve our understanding and capacity for predicting the European terrestrial carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) budget by applying a systematic, comprehensive and integrative approach. GHG-Europe quantifies the annual to decadal variability of the carbon and GHG budgets of terrestrial ecosystems in EU27 plus Switzerland and in six data-rich European regions via data-model integration, diagnostic and predictive modelling.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Modelling of biogeochemische CO ² in carbonate floors model. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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Does stress sensitivity change of plants and ecosystems under modified climate conditions? 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

The central research question of this project (the Ph.D. project of Kim Naudts) is whether the resistance of species-rich plant communities to different stress factors will change in a future climate. To this end we will grow grassland ecosystems in sunlit controlled chambers under either the present or future climate conditions, and expose them to a wide range of stressors: drought, nitrogen deficiency, flooding and heavy metals (zinc). Stressors will be applied separately to assess dose-response relations, but also in combination to examine their interactive impact.

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Ontogenetic patterns in carbon and water relations in leaves related to the growth strategy of trees. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This postdoctoral research aims at elucidating the ontogenetic patterns of carbon and water relations in leaves, and how these are related to the age and growth habit of trees. Data will be mainly collected at Harvard Forest in cooperation with Boston University (USA). Differences in crown phenology between seedlings and mature trees, and between trees with a different growth habit will be studied.

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System analysis of a short rotation coppice culture for bioenergy production: energy balance and environmental economic analysis. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

This PhD research intends to develop of a full energy- and carbon balance of a bioenergy plantation with fast-growing poplars (Populus). A large scale operational bioenergy plantation provides the researcher with experimental data with regard to both the energy use and -production and the carbon inputs and ¿outputs. An elaborate life cycle analysis of the full three year rotation of the plantation is performed and all environmental costs are expressed in terms of both monetary costs and carbon costs. The information obtained from the carbon- and energy balance is included in the GORCAM-model, in order to test the carbon efficiency and the energetic performance against the economic potential of short rotation coppices.

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Changes in the stress sensitivity of plants and ecosystems in a future climate. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

This project examines whether the resistance of plant communities and their composing species to stress will change in a future climate. Specifically, whether a future climate: 1) modifies the dose-response of stressors 2) modifies synergistic or anatagonistic effects between stressors 3) changes the influence of neighbours on the stress response of individuals.

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Research team(s)

Impact of bio-energy culture in the environment: greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration in soil, and biodiversity. 01/07/2009 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

This project represents a research contract awarded by the University of Antwerp. The supervisor provides the Antwerp University research mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions stipulated by the university.

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The terrestrial Carbon cycle under Climate Variability and Extremes - a Pan-European synthesis. (CARBO-Extreme) 01/06/2009 - 31/05/2013

Abstract

The aim of this project is to achieve an improved knowledge of the terrestrial carbon cycle in response to climate variability and extremes, to represent and apply this knowledge over Europe with predictive terrestrial carbon cycle modelling, to interpret the model predictions in terms of vulnerability of the terrestrial - in particular soil - carbon pools and give according advice to EU climate and soil protection policies.

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System analysis of a bio-energy plantation: full greenhouse gas balance and energy accounting. (POPFULL) 01/03/2009 - 31/10/2014

Abstract

One of the strategies for mitigation of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions that is receiving a lot of attention in this post-Kyoto era, is the use of bio-energy as a replacement for fossil fuels. Among the different alternatives of bio-energy production the use of biomass crops -- such as fast-growing woody crops under short rotation coppice (SRC) regimes -- is probably the most suited, in particular in the EU. Two issues need to be addressed before the efficacy of bio-energy for carbon mitigation can be conclusively assessed, i.e. (i) a full life cycle analysis (LCA) of the global warming contribution of SRC, and (ii) and an assessment of the energy efficiency of the system. The objectives of this project are: (i) to make a full LCA balance of the most important greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O, H2O and O3) and of the volatile organic compounds (VOC's), and (ii) to make a full energy accounting of a SRC plantation with fast-growing trees. The project will involve both an experimental approach at a representative field site in Belgium and a modelling part. For the experimental approach a SRC of poplar (Populus) will be monitored during the course of 1+3 years, harvested and transformed into bio-energy using two alternative techniques, i.e. a small-scale gasification and co-combustion in a large-scale electricity plant. Eddy covariance techniques will be used to monitor net fluxes of all greenhouse gases and VOC's, in combination with common assessments of biomass pools (incl. soil) and fluxes. For the energy accounting we will use life cycle analysis and energy efficiency assessments over the entire life cycle of the SRC plantation until the production of electricity and heat. A significant process based modeling component will integrate the collected knowledge on the greenhouse gas and energy balances toward predictions and simulations of the net reduction of fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions (avoided emissions) of SRC over different rotation cycles.

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Impact of climatic extremes on plant communities. 01/02/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

In an ongoing, largely unfinanced experiment concerning the impact of climatic extremes on plant communities, an accurate automated system of moisture sensors for the invastigation of water relations is lacking. KP financing for the purchase of 44 of these sensors + wiring, would fill this important void in the ongoing research.

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Unravelling the nebkha-ecosystem as a potential tool against desertification. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

The overall goal of this project is twofold: to investigate how nebkha landscapes are formed and maintained, and to test whether the presence of nebkhas in the landscape increases the reistance and resilience against climate change (aridification). To this end, the interactions between nebkha plants, wind, water and sediment are modelled first at the scale of the individual nebkha, and subsequently for the nebkha landscape as a whole.

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Development and global application of a mechanistic soil carbon model. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Existing soil carbon models are primarily empirical. Hence, these empirical models cannot be applied to simulate soil carbon changes under future atmospheric conditions that never occured during the observation phase. In this project, we will aim do develop a generic mechanistic module that describes soil carbon cycling by recognized and acknowledged mechanisms and a common set of first principles, which will be applicable globally, as well as under future atmospheric conditions.

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Mesocosm study on the influence of climate change on the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of a fen. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Increasing temperature and water level drawdown are two important factors of global change. Both factors are of high importance with regard to the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of peatlands. This project is set up to determine how temperature and groundwater level influence these balances. Furthermore, we give special attention to the underlying processes of methane and nitrous oxide emissions and how these are influenced by temperature and groundwater level. At the University of Antwerp, an experimental platform was established at which nine greenhouses each contain four mesocosms filled with fen peat. In these mesocosms, the groundwater level is regulated. From April till November, the groundwater level is set at 5, 10, 17 or 24 cm below the surface. During the other six months of the year, water levels are raised with 10 cm (except the highest level, which is only raised with 5 cm). In each greenhouse, temperature is regulated. Three greenhouses remain unheated, whereas the others are either heated by 3 °C or by 6 °C. At regular time intervals, we measure CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions with a dynamic closed chamber. Furthermore, we determine all components of the carbon balance (DOC, POC, VOC and DIC), some components of the nitrogen balance (NO3-, NH4+, DON and DIN) and several important parameters such as O2 concentration, temperature and soil water content. In addition, we also determine concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O at different depths in the soil in order to obtain more information about underlying processes. Besides this mesocosm experiment, some small experiments are performed in which the underlying processes of production and oxidation of CH4 and the formation of N2O are studied in more detail and in which some experimental procedures are tested. Furthermore, we also determine the fractionation factors (for 13C) of the two main pathways for CH4 production and of the oxidation of CH4.

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Impact of highly invasive exotic plants on biodiversity: mechanisms, reinforcing factors, and risk analysis. (ALIEN IMPACT - second phase) 15/12/2008 - 31/08/2011

Abstract

The ALIEN IMPACT project aims to provide a first integrated study of patterns and mechanisms of impact by alien invasive species in Belgium. It will consider multiple, highly invasive plant species (HIPS), and will combine large-scale screening of invader impact at different spatial scales (to characterize patterns) with highly mechanistic studies at fixed sites to characterize impact pathways. Both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will be studied.

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Impact of tropospheric Ozone on Food and Feed Quality of Brassica species.(OFFQ) 15/12/2008 - 31/01/2011

Abstract

This project aims to evaluate the impact of increasing tropospheric ozone pollution on changes in antioxidant and glucosinolate (natural toxin) composition of Brassica species. These are important factors in relation to health and safety aspects of the food and feed chain. Objectives : 1. to determine the impact of increasing tropospheric ozone concentrations on antioxidant and glucosinolate composition of Brassica species. 2. evaluation of the influence of ozone on the human diet and animal feed intake by incorporating the changes in antioxidant and glucosinolate levels in the food chain 3. to identify physiological and biochemical biomarkers for ozone stress by investigating the interaction between stress induction and changes in secondary metabolites. 4. elucidation of interaction between abiotic stress induction, defence pathways and changes in secondary metabolites by means of transcriptoom analysis 5. evaluation of impact of ozone induced changes in glucosinolate content and composition in relation to plant-pathogen/insect interaction through literature study 6. to determine yield losses and changes in yield quality 7. to contribute to ozone flux modelling by providing data on environmental dependence of stomatal conductance of oilseed rape and broccoli. To achieve the main objective, oilseed rape or canola (Brassica napus L.) and broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. cv. Italica) will be exposed to different levels of ambient ozone concentrations during their entire growth. The experiments will be performed under «near-field» conditons in 15 Open-Top Chambers (OTCs) at the Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Center (VAR) in Tervuren and be repeated over 3 consecutive years to ensure sufficient environmental variation for data extrapolation. Comparison with unframed «open¿field» plots enables determination of the variation in ozone flux at the leaf level under fluctuating climatic conditions (soil moisture, air humidity, temperature, global radiation). The Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology of the University of Antwerp is responsible for the physiological assessments of plant heath throughout the experiments. This will be achieved through measurements of gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence at the leaf level. The main objective of these measurements is to identify the extent to which O3 fumigation is causing a physiological stress response in the plants and to relate these events to changes in biochemical profiles.

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Impact of heat and drought extremes in experimental grasslands. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

The three main research questions are: - What is the separate and the combined influence of heat and drought extremes on grassland communities, and how do the responses differ seasonally? - How do plants respond to a climate with multiple periods of exceptional heat and/or drought in the same year, and how important is the time (recovery period) between such repeated extremes? - How important are the plants' interactions with its neighbours (con- or interspecific) in stress responses, and how do competitive interactions change because of extremes?

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ICOS - Integrated Carbon Observation System. 01/04/2008 - 31/03/2013

Abstract

The ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) project builds an infrastructure for co-ordinated, long-term, high-quality observational data of the greenhouse balance of Europe and of adjacent key regions of Siberia and Africa. Consisting of a centre for co-ordination, calibration and data in conjunction with networks of atmospheric and ecosystem observations, ICOS is designed to create a scientific backbone for a better understanding and quantification of greenhouse gas sources and sinks, and their feedback with climate change. The overarching objectives of ICOS are: (i) to provide the long-term observations required to improve understanding of the present state and future behaviour of the global carbon cycle and greenhouse gas emissions, and the factors that control the changing atmospheric composition in greenhouse gases; (ii) to monitor and assess the effectiveness of carbon sequestration and/or greenhouse gas emission reduction activities on global atmospheric composition levels, including attribution of sources and sinks by region and sector at atmospheric and ecosystem level. These objectives are achieved by: (i) establishing a central facility, the ICOS-centre, which is responsible for co-ordination, calibration and data handling; (ii) maintaining a co-ordinated, integrated, long-term, high-quality network of atmospheric and ecosystem observations; (iii) improving access to existing and future atmospheric and ecosystem data for research, and for political decision making; (iv) improving access to state-of-the-art facilities for ecosystem measurements for the European research community; (v) providing European terrestrial ground-truth data for the validation of emerging remotely sensed datasets on atmospheric composition and land cover as provided e.g. by GMES; (vi) contributing the European share to a global greenhouse gas observation network under IGCO and UNFCCC.

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Environment and plant ecology at various scales. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

The main theme of the Center of Excellence ECO is the study of the effects of changes in the abiotic (i.e. non-living) environment on ecological systems, on the condition and health of plants and animals ¿ including humans ¿ and on the cultural heritage. With regard to the ecological systems hierarchical levels ranging from the cell and organism, over ecosystems to the landscape and region, are considered. Essentially we examine both causes (abiotic changes, disturbance of the living environment, various stress situations) and their consequences (ecophysiological and chemical respons processes at different levels of organisation). The research has a basic fundamental nature, but has also a methodological aspect. In a number of cases the research will also result in or lead to relevant practical applications.

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THERMOTOL-Are plants raised in a warm, high-CO² world more tolerant to temperature extremes? 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Global temperatures and atmospheric CO² concentrations are expected to increase, and so is the frequency and intensity of climate extremes. The main aim of this project is therefore to test whether plants raised under warmer conditions and/or elevated atmospheric CO² concentrations are more tolerant to current and future heat stress than plants grown under current conditions. For this, we will grow wild-type Arabidopsis thaliana (Heynh.) plants throughout their entire life cycle under either current climate conditions or a variety of future climate scenarios, and expose these plants to one or several, two-day heat pulses of different intensity.

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Modelling the geochemical COé fluxes from carbonaceous soils. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Specific objectives: 1. Couple a biological and a geochemical model. 2. Collect the missing model parameters and apply the newly produced biogeochemical model at two study sites in contrasting climates. 3. Validate the model outputs with the measured CO2 fluxes and their 13C/12C ratio's. 4. Interpret the primary biological and geological flxes in relation to their dominant drivers. 5. One of the two study sites is located on top of tha Altamira cave, world famous for its Palaeolithic cave paintings. Using the biogeochemical model, we will determine the risk for damage of the paintings under conditions of climate change of alternative cave management.

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The influence of nutrients, productivity and climate change on colonisation in subarctic plant communities. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

This project is an addition to a large-scale colonisation project in the subarctic tundra in Abisko, northern Sweden. The aim of the project is to gain better insight into the mechanisms underlying invasibility in subarctic plant communities, and to study the effect of increased temperature on this. This should lead to more accurate predictions of future shifts in the structure of subarctic plant communities as a consequence of climate change.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Milbau Ann

Research team(s)

Enhancing the understanding and improving the precision of the carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

The net carbon(C)-sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems varies annually. At present time, our understanding of the climate-dependency of the CO2-exchange is still limited. The aims of this research project are to enhance the knowledge regarding (a) the causes of the inter-annual variation and (b) the sustainability of terrestrial carbon sinks.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Luyssaert Sebastiaan

Research team(s)

Does stress sensitivity change of plants and ecosystems under modified climate conditions? 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

The central research question of this project (the Ph.D. project of Kim Naudts) is whether the resistance of species-rich plant communities to different stress factors will change in a future climate. To this end we will grow grassland ecosystems in sunlit controlled chambers under either the present or future climate conditions, and expose them to a wide range of stressors: drought, nitrogen deficiency, flooding and heavy metals (zinc). Stressors will be applied separately to assess dose-response relations, but also in combination to examine their interactive impact.

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Project website

Genotypic diversity in productivity and water use efficiency in the genus Populus. 01/12/2007 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Plants are able, via their stomata and via various physiological-biochemical processes in their cells, ot discriminate between different isotopes of chemical elements as e.g. carbon (C), oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H). This discrimination allows to quatify the efficiency of C-uptake and water release, and to link this to production performance. The genotypic variability in the water use efficiency will be examined in this project via stable carbon isotope analyses and linked to productivity in the genus poplar (Populus).

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Trade-offs between light capture and hydraulics of trees growing under elevated atmospheric CO2 and drought: assessment with the 3-dimensional YPLANT model. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

In the post-doctoral research project of Marion Liberloo we examine the effects of elevated CO2 and natural drought on the trade-offs between light capture and hydraulics of trees. The experimental work is concentrated at the University of West Sydney (Australia), while the analyses, modeling and compilation are completed at the University of Antwerpen. The Hawkesbury Forest Experiment (Sydney) consists of twelve CO2 and temperature controlled whole-three chambers. Trees are grown under ambient (380 ppm) and elevated (620 ppm) CO2, and are exposed to different water availabilities (no-water-added and irrigated). First, we examine the effects of elevated CO2, drought and their possible interactions on the three dimensional (3-D) structure (stem + branches + leaves) of a fast-growing Eucalyptus species. The exact 3-D location and orientation of the stem, branches and leaves of E. saligna are recorded with a magnetic digitizer (Fastrak 3Space, Vermont, USA), resulting in a full 3-dimensional image of the whole tree. We determine C-allocation to wood vs. leaves, measure leaf photosynthetic light response, LAI and gap fraction of the canopy under different CO2 levels and water availabilities. Second, we implement data of 3-D structure, photosynthesis and light environment in the YPLANT model to model light capture efficiency and net carbon gain at the plant level. Finally, we interpret these results in the light of possible trade-offs between light capture and hydraulic limitations when trees are suffering drought in a future high CO2 world.

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Influence of climate change on the invasibility of subarctic plant communities. 01/10/2007 - 31/08/2010

Abstract

The research questions of this project are as follows: (a) Does climate change alter the invasibility of subarctisch plant communities? (b) Does climate change alter the ability to colonize of subarctic plant species?

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Genotype x environment interactions in poplar toward bioenergy production. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

Trees and fast growing woody plants have some important assets at their disposal in order to contribute to the European agreement to decrease the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). On the one hand trees are capable of taking up carbon from the atmosphere, and on the other hand they can partly substitute the use of fossil fuels by producing renewable energy (i.e. bioenergy). Fast growing trees (e.g. hybrid poplars, Populus spp.) can be cultivated in short rotation coppice cultures (SRC's) for the production of bioenergy. The possibilities and the success of these SRC's are dependent on the amount of woody biomass that can be produced over a short period. This is partly determined by the genotype of the considered hybrid, partly by abiotic factors (soil, climate). The experimental infrastructure provided by the European POPYOMICS network consists of three field sites with contrasting climatic conditions, planted with a number of complete hybrid poplar families of different origin. The network aims at increasing the yield of the genus poplar (Populus) in terms of biomass and wood production throug a better understanding of physiology, molecular genetics and genomics. Several ecophysiological characteristics, such as height, stem circumference, individual leaf area, phenology,... , will be determined during two growing seasons, one before and one after coppice. At the end of the second growing season productivity will be determined through assessment of biomass. The effects of site (environment) on heritability, productivity and ecophysiological characteristics will be evaluated. Results of this PhD research (of Sophie Dillen) will enable the identification of robust QTL (quantitative trait loci) for various genotypes and contrasting climates. Therefore, ecophysiological characteristics can be located on the genetic map (meanwhile available) of poplar in the near future.

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Changes in the stress sensitivity of plants and ecosystems in a future climate. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

This project examines whether the resistance of plant communities and their composing species to stress will change in a future climate. Specifically, whether a future climate: 1) modifies the dose-response of stressors 2) modifies synergistic or anatagonistic effects between stressors 3) changes the influence of neighbours on the stress response of individuals.

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Effect of tropospheric ozone on tree growth, wood quality, and forest ecosystem fluxes: a model simulation. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

Tropospheric ozone (O3) has been shown to reduce the growth and carbon sink strength of European forests at currently prevailing concentrations. O3 concentrations are very likely to keep on increasing throughout the 21st century. Yet, the vast majority of forest models tends to ignore this O3 effect on growth when simulating future forest growth. The aim of this PhD-research is to extend an existing forest growth model, called ANAFORE (ANAlysis of FORest Ecosystems), by adding a new O3 effects module. This module will mechanistically simulate and express O3 induced growth as a function of stomatal O3 uptake rates. By means of existing datasets from O3 fumigation experiments on common beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) the module will be developed and parameterized. After validation the module will be implemented into the ANAFORE model. Eventually, the extended ANAFORE-model will be applied for 1. simulating of forest growth and O3-damage under predicted future climate and O3-regimes establishing O3 dose/response relationships; 2. establishing O3 dose/response relationships for trees.

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Changes in the stress sensitivity of plants and ecosystems under climate change conditions. 01/07/2007 - 30/06/2011

Abstract

The central research question of this project is whether the resistance of species-rich plant communities to different stress factors will change in a future climate. To this end we will grow grassland mesocosms in sunlit controlled chambers under either the present or future climate conditions, and expose them to a wide range of stressors: tropospheric ozone, drought, nitrogen deficiency, nitrogen saturation (eutrophication), and heavy metals (cadmium). Stressors will be applied separately to assess dose-response relations, but also in combination to examine their interactive impact. By combining expertise from ecology, plant physiology, and biochemistry, we will evaluate the responses to stress in a future climate across a wide range of biological complexity, from cell to ecosystem.

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Impact of Global Change on terrestial ecosystems : multiscalar approach. 19/06/2007 - 18/06/2008

Abstract

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Impact of Global Change on terrestial ecosystems : multiscalar approach. (FWO Vis.Fel., Anna Shevtsova Chupina, Sweden) 15/03/2007 - 15/03/2008

Abstract

The project aims at studying the sensitivity to climate warming of a range of arctic/alpine and boreal species and plant functional types, in different stages of early seedling establishment. Warming is simulated by the exposure of field plots to controlled infrared irradiation, a technique developed at UA. We will also study changes in growth and chemical composition of full-grown vegetation in response to warming, to evaluate whether these changes induce a chemical-ecological barrier for the establishment of new seedlings. The working hypothesis is that climate warming deteriorates the capacity of Arctic plant communities to regenerate.

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Repair costs for growth rooms and oxygen sensors. 07/02/2007 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

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A decision support tool for sustainable forest management based on ecophysiological analysis and simulation of the variability in tree development. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

The strategic objective of this consortium (of three Flemish universities) is to develop a process-based forest model (SimForTree) as a basis for the implementation of decision-support tools. This should enable to compare and evaluate different sustainable forest management strategies with respect to their impact on wood quality, ecosystem functioning and forest structural development. The work will be developed along three main lines: (i) observational, (ii) model development, and (iii) simulations. i) The observational line will focus on increasing the fundamental understanding of wood formation in relation to site, microclimate, seasonality, human intervention and within-tree variability, of major tree species in Flanders (beech, indigenous oak, poplar hybrids and Scots pine) on typical soils. ii) In the model development line knowledge on key processes determining tree development will be integrated into a stand level process model of forest growth. The forest wood-chain will be integrated into the model. Three different user-friendly front-ends of the SimForTree model for different target users will be developed: Forest-wood chain, Environmental and Ecosystem SimForTree. The modular structure of the model will facilitate its use as a scientific tool and allow multiple applications expanding the model for specific end-users. iii) In the simulation line, the validated model will be used to investigate several case studies emphasising the specific capacities of the new model. These case studies encompass carbon budget analyses and management optimisation in function of yield quality. Wood and tree quality are conceived here in a broader sense, i.e. the terms do not only focus on basic properties which determine the technological quality of wood used as a material, but also on the features that allow proper biomechanical and ecophysiological functioning of a tree in its natural environment.

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Mesocosm study on the influence of climate change on the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of a fen. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Increasing temperature and water level drawdown are two important factors of global change. Both factors are of high importance with regard to the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of peatlands. This project is set up to determine how temperature and groundwater level influence these balances. Furthermore, we give special attention to the underlying processes of methane and nitrous oxide emissions and how these are influenced by temperature and groundwater level. At the University of Antwerp, an experimental platform was established at which nine greenhouses each contain four mesocosms filled with fen peat. In these mesocosms, the groundwater level is regulated. From April till November, the groundwater level is set at 5, 10, 17 or 24 cm below the surface. During the other six months of the year, water levels are raised with 10 cm (except the highest level, which is only raised with 5 cm). In each greenhouse, temperature is regulated. Three greenhouses remain unheated, whereas the others are either heated by 3 °C or by 6 °C. At regular time intervals, we measure CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions with a dynamic closed chamber. Furthermore, we determine all components of the carbon balance (DOC, POC, VOC and DIC), some components of the nitrogen balance (NO3-, NH4+, DON and DIN) and several important parameters such as O2 concentration, temperature and soil water content. In addition, we also determine concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O at different depths in the soil in order to obtain more information about underlying processes. Besides this mesocosm experiment, some small experiments are performed in which the underlying processes of production and oxidation of CH4 and the formation of N2O are studied in more detail and in which some experimental procedures are tested. Furthermore, we also determine the fractionation factors (for 13C) of the two main pathways for CH4 production and of the oxidation of CH4.

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Study of the relationship between chlorophyll fluorescence and light use efficiency for the purposes of "remote sensing". 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

The relationship between chlorophyll fluorescence and light use efficiency is complicated by both photochemical and non-photochemical processes. Moreover remote sensing techniques can only provide a sun-induced fluorescence signal, which makes interpretation of these measurements problematic. In this one year scholarship, the relationship between chlorophyll fluorescence and light use efficiency of vegetations will be investigated in an ecophysiological study on different plant species in control and stress conditions. In this way the study will contribute to the interpretation of sun-induced fluorescence.

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Mycorrhizae impact on biodiversity and C-balance of grassland ecosystems under changing climate. (MYCARBIO) 15/12/2006 - 31/01/2009

Abstract

The research project MYCARBIO aims to investigate the impact of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) on biodiversity and on the carbon cycle in Belgian grassland ecosystems under changing climate conditions. To achieve this overall goal, five specific objectives have been identified: (1) the evaluation of AMF biodiversity in selected Belgian grasslands; (2) the determination of the role of AMF for seedling establishment, plant community structure, diversity and productivity in grasslands; (3) the understanding of the impacts of elevated CO2, temperature and water availability on AMF and plant biodiversity, on AMF-plant associations and on the carbon cycle; (4) the evaluation of the ecological significance of AMF-plant interactions on above- and below-ground biodiversity and the carbon balance; and (5) the modeling of the carbon balance processes in grassland ecosystems. The general methodology to address the overall goal of MYCARBIO is based on research at different scales in which the level of complexity increases from individual species to community, and from specific mechanisms to ecosystem functioning. The MYCARBIO project aims to provide significant insights on the impacts of climate change on grassland ecosystems and biodiversity, which would be valuable for scientists, stakeholders, and policy makers at national and international levels.

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Impact of tropospheric Ozone on Food and Feed Quality of Brassica species. (OFFQ) 15/12/2006 - 31/01/2009

Abstract

This project aims to evaluate the impact of increasing tropospheric ozone pollution on changes in antioxidant and glucosinolate (natural toxin) composition of Brassica species. These are important factors in relation to health and safety aspects of the food and feed chain. Objectives : 1. to determine the impact of increasing tropospheric ozone concentrations on antioxidant and glucosinolate composition of Brassica species. 2. evaluation of the influence of ozone on the human diet and animal feed intake by incorporating the changes in antioxidant and glucosinolate levels in the food chain 3. to identify physiological and biochemical biomarkers for ozone stress by investigating the interaction between stress induction and changes in secondary metabolites. 4. elucidation of interaction between abiotic stress induction, defence pathways and changes in secondary metabolites by means of transcriptoom analysis 5. evaluation of impact of ozone induced changes in glucosinolate content and composition in relation to plant-pathogen/insect interaction through literature study 6. to determine yield losses and changes in yield quality 7. to contribute to ozone flux modelling by providing data on environmental dependence of stomatal conductance of oilseed rape and broccoli. To achieve the main objective, oilseed rape or canola (Brassica napus L.) and broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. cv. Italica) will be exposed to different levels of ambient ozone concentrations during their entire growth. The experiments will be performed under «near-field» conditons in 15 Open-Top Chambers (OTCs) at the Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Center (VAR) in Tervuren and be repeated over 3 consecutive years to ensure sufficient environmental variation for data extrapolation. Comparison with unframed «open¿field» plots enables determination of the variation in ozone flux at the leaf level under fluctuating climatic conditions (soil moisture, air humidity, temperature, global radiation). The Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology of the University of Antwerp is responsible for the physiological assessments of plant heath throughout the experiments. This will be achieved through measurements of gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence at the leaf level. The main objective of these measurements is to identify the extent to which O3 fumigation is causing a physiological stress response in the plants and to relate these events to changes in biochemical profiles.

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Biodiversity impacts of highly invasive alien plants: mechanisms, enhancing factors and risk assessment. (ALIEN IMPACT) 15/12/2006 - 31/01/2009

Abstract

The ALIEN IMPACT proposal aims to provide a first integrated study of patterns and mechanisms of impact by alien invasive species in Belgium. It will consider multiple, highly invasive plant species (HIPS), and will combine large-scale screening of invader impact at different spatial scales (to characterize patterns) with highly mechanistic studies at fixed sites to characterize impact pathways. Both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will be studied.

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Detecting anomalies in carbon-uptake and climate and their spatio-temporal relationship in terrestrial ecosystems. 01/10/2006 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

The project aims to : (1) identify climatic anomalies in time-series; (2) identify anomalies in the C-fluxes of photosynthesis and respiration from time series and (3) link climatic and flux anomalies

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Luyssaert Sebastiaan

Research team(s)

Chlorophyl fluorescence imaging of plants exposed to biotic and abiotic stress in a future climate. 01/10/2006 - 04/11/2007

Abstract

Chlorophyll (chl) a fluorescence has proven to be a useful technique for the study and screening of plant stress. Because chl fluorescence is in a complex way related to photosynthesis, measurements of chl fluorescence provide detailed information about the integrity and the quantum efficiency of photosystem II (PSII). The general aim of this study is to characterize changes in primary photochemistry processes of different plant species in relation to stress factors not only under current but also under future climate conditions. By doing this within a larger project in which several separate and combined stress factors will be applied, it is possible to investigate which mechanisms are common and which are specific to different stressors. Objectives: - To characterize the changes in quantum use efficiency of PSII in relation to separate and combined stress factors under ambient and future climate conditions for several plant species - To improve our understanding of processes of non-photochemical quenching by studying these under different stress and climate conditions within the same experiment - To relate patterns and variation of photochemical efficiency within an individual leaf to a certain stressor and investigate whether these patterns differ between ambient and future climate conditions. -To investigate whether chl fluorescence is a good indicator of photochemical capacity in all conditions This research will be performed within a larger project, which will be initiated in our research group with the aim of investigating whether the stress resistance of ecosystems and the composing plant species will be modified under future climate conditions. In particular, the project aims to elucidate whether the dose-response relationship of each stressor changes, and whether synergetic or antagonistic effects occur between different stressors. Grassland mesocosms (units of soil + vegetation) will be grown within plastic containers in computer-controlled, sunlit growth chambers with half of those tracking ambient conditions and the other half with future climate conditions (elevated air temperature and CO2 concentration) . The mesocosms will be exposed to different abiotic stressors.

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Tropospheric ozone effect on tree growth and wood quality and on fluxes in forest ecosystems: a model simulation. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2007

Abstract

Rising tropospheric ozone (O3) concentrations pose a threat to natural vegetation. Many experiments have been shown O3 to induce growth reduction on trees. Although the physiological mechanisms involved are well known, not much effort has been made to simulate induced growth reduction on trees in a mechanistic way. The aim of this research project is to mechanistically simulate growth reduction on trees, by means of an existing tree growth model and existing datasets from O3 fumigation experiments. The model, called ANAFORE (ANAlysis of FORest Ecosystems), will be validated before the O3-effect on tree growth is added. The latter will be done by incorporation of an O3-module. This module will simulate effects based on calculated stomatal O3-fluxes into the tree. The tree species of interest are common beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris).

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Changes in the stress sensitivity of plants and ecosystems under climate change conditions. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2007

Abstract

The central research question of this project is whether the resistance of species-rich plant communities to different stress factors will change in a future climate. To this end we will grow grassland mesocosms in sunlit controlled chambers under either the present or future climate conditions, and expose them to a wide range of stressors: drought, nitrogen deficiency, nitrogen saturation (eutrophication), and heavy metals (cadmium). Stressors will be applied separately to assess dose-response relations, but also in combination to examine their interactive impact. Besides evaluating the responses to stress in a future climate the experiments address basic questions, such as: are resistances to different stressors coupled ('co-tolerance')? or, can stress resistance be predicted from plant or community characteristics measured under normal climate conditions?

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Effects of climate warming and altered biodiversity on the carbon, water and nitrogen balance of grasslands under drought conditions. 01/03/2006 - 28/02/2008

Abstract

Global change includes both climatic change as well as changes in land use and in biodiversity. The impact of climatic environmental stresses and land use pressure on grasslands are not well known. Grasslands are expected to undergo the largest changes in diversity, as they are affected simultaneously by a combination of factors [e.g. nitrogen (N) deposition, overgrazing, increasing of atmospheric C02 concentrations and temperature]. This is particularly significant since grasslands constitute a major pool of the global C cycle, accounting for 20% of the terrestrial C02 fluxes and contributing to a similar share of the global soil organic C, Until today rather few studies have considered the combined effects of increased temperature and 1) thought stress, or 2) increased N deposition rates on loss of diversity. The proposed project aims to investigate the outcome of these combined effects on diversity loss and on C and N cycles, including C and N plant-soil allocation, during different stages of plant development. Specifically, we will evaluate (1) the performance, productivity, and water use efficiency, (2) soil C balance, and (3) different aspects of the N cycle and plant N-use efficiency, all in different types of grassland communities. Several experiments will be performed using model ecosystems grown in 12 sunlit, climate-controlled chambers. Each chamber will contain 24 plant communities, with different combinations of nine grassland species three grass species, three N-fixer dicots and three non-N-fixing dicots. Each plant community will consist of one, three, or nine species, in order to simulate different species riàhness levels. Half of the chambers will be exposed to ambient air temperatures, while the other half will be warmed by 3°C. The proposed study will advance our knowledge of how ecosystem diversity will respond to stresses in a future climate, and will contribute to reducing the cuff ent uncertainties surrounding diversity loss in grasslands.

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Study of water transport in trees: functional and structural tree architecture. 15/02/2006 - 14/02/2007

Abstract

This collaborative research project will examine the hydraulic architecture of individual trees (leaf area and its distribution, stem and branch hydraulic architecture, root distribution) and the contributions of the sap flow through each of these compartments. Several techniques/approaches will be used, such as the integration of sap flow measurements at the macro-level (roots, branches, stems) with those at the micro-level, anatomical studies at the cell/vessels level, root and shoot architecture analyses (earth impedance, root excavation by the 'air-spade' technique combined with photography and image analysis). Integration of structural information on the tree-level (canopy, stem, root) in combination with the corresponding sap flow allows the estimation of the absorption of water from different soil layers, as well as the dynamics of this process and its importance for tree survival. A better knowledge of the spatial distribution of water transport in the stem xylem could help interpret the relationships between root water uptake, storage and environmental conditions, and will allow to estimate the level of sectoriality/integration of long-distant transport in different tree species. This information is useful (i) for studying the influence of woody structure on water transport and tree development, (ii) for modelling the water movement in trees, and (iii) for the interpretation of approaches toward increasing plant productivity. As a result different types of treatment (as irrigation, thinning) could be applied more efficiently. The results obtained within this research project will also directly contribute to the EC-policy on Global Climate Change. The supply of relevant tools to identify early stress reactions of trees in relation to the hydrological variables will be of high value for studies on the effects of global climatic changes on terrestrial vegetations.

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Mechanisms of carbon sequestration in grassland ecosystems: influence of climate warming and diversity loss. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

Several native plant species of Mediterranean-arid ecosystems naturally fix winblown materials in small, stable, phytogenic mounds or `nebkhas', but none of them are currently used to combat desertification. In this project we screen a variety of such species, not only for sand stabilisation, but also to promote biodiversity by creating habitats for other species, since nebkhas locally improve soil fertility and water status. The project explores the potential of a new, natural rehabilitation technique to control the leakage of scarce resources from degraded arid landscapes.

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Center of excellence ECO. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

The main theme of the Center of Excellence ECO is the study of the effects of changes in the abiotic (i.e. non-living) environment on ecological systems, on the condition and health of plants and animals ¿ including humans ¿ and on the cultural heritage. With regard to the ecological systems hierarchical levels ranging from the cell and organism, over ecosystems to the landscape and region, are considered. Essentially we examine both causes (abiotic changes, disturbance of the living environment, various stress situations) and their consequences (ecophysiological and chemical respons processes at different levels of organisation). The research has a basic fundamental nature, but has also a methodological aspect. In a number of cases the research will also result in or lead to relevant practical applications.

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The importance of volatile organic compounds in the carbon budget of terrestrial ecosystems and in the formation of secundary organic aerosols. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2006

Abstract

In this project, we intend to study the importance of VOC emissions both in the total carbon budget of terrestrial ecosystems (objective 1) and the importance of specific VOC's in the formation of secondary organic aerosols (objective 2). Objective 1 will be realized by incorporating an existing mechanistic VOC model into a mechanistic SVAT model and by direct VOC-flux measurements using PTR-MS and either chambers of disjunct eddy covariance. Objective 2 will be achieved by chemical characterization of the organic aerosols and its comparison with the spectrum of the emitted VOC's.

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Formation mechanisms, marker compounds, and source apportionment for biogenic atmospheric aerosols. (BIOSOL) 15/12/2005 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

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Scale dependent pattern analysis in vegetations using wavelets and their application in the validation of biophysical remote sensing products. 01/10/2005 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

In ecology the description of patterns in a vegetation and the understanding of the process-pattern paradigm forms an essential part of vegetation and landscape studies. The description of these patterns is frequently hindered (hampered) by scale effects. The use of wavelets in the analysis of scale dependent patterns can offer a solution for this complex problem with applications in a.o. the validation of teledetection products, an essential part of studies in physics.

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Enhancing the understanding and improving the precision of the carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems. 01/10/2005 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

The aims of this research project are to enhance the knowledge regarding (a) the causes of the inter-annual variation and (b) the sustainability of terrestrial carbon sinks. Therefore the study will ( 1) attempt to verify the hypothesis that the inter-annual variation in atmospheric CO2 concentrations js caused by inter-annual shifts in the uptake of CO2 by terrestrial ecosystems which. in turn, is thought to be driven by climatic variability, and (2) reduce the uncertainty surrounding the future climate and carbon cycle by improving the parameterisation of an existing coupled climate- carbon cycle model.

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Study of the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2-concentrations and nitrogen fertilization on ecosystem processes in a fast growing short rotation coppice of poplars. 01/10/2005 - 30/09/2007

Abstract

In the frame of global change, forests play a very important role as a possible carbon sink. It is thus essential to investigate the reaction of forest ecosystems to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Since elevated nitrogen depositions are a part of our changing environment, the interaction between nitrogen and elevated CO2 could be crucial in understanding the final response. A short rotation coppice of poplars has a huge capacity to sequester carbon, because of its very fast growth rates. This research project studies the effect of elevated atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen fertilization on ecosystem processes in a short rotation coppice culture of poplars. Parameters that determine the final net primary production, such as leaf area index (LAI), light quality and quantity, mortality, competition, stem respiration, will be measured fro three different species of poplar. This project is part of the EUROFACE project (EU-contract EVR1-CT-2002-4002.7, Fifth Framework program), where an international platform forms the base for a multidisciplinary approach of the study of the effects of elevated CO2 on ecosystem processes.

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Genotype x environment interactions in poplar toward bioenergy production. 01/10/2005 - 30/09/2007

Abstract

Trees and fast growing woody plants have some important assets at their disposal in order to contribute to the European agreement to decrease the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). On the one hand trees are capable of taking up carbon from the atmosphere, and on the other hand they can partly substitute the use of fossil fuels by producing renewable energy (i.e. bioenergy). Fast growing trees (e.g. hybrid poplars, Populus spp.) can be cultivated in short rotation coppice cultures (SRC's) for the production of bioenergy. The possibilities and the success of these SRC's are dependent on the amount of woody biomass that can be produced over a short period. This is partly determined by the genotype of the considered hybrid, partly by abiotic factors (soil, climate). The experimental infrastructure provided by the European POPYOMICS network consists of three field sites with contrasting climatic conditions, planted with a number of complete hybrid poplar families of different origin. The network aims at increasing the yield of the genus poplar (Populus) in terms of biomass and wood production throug a better understanding of physiology, molecular genetics and genomics. Several ecophysiological characteristics, such as height, stem circumference, individual leaf area, phenology,... , will be determined during two growing seasons, one before and one after coppice. At the end of the second growing season productivity will be determined through assessment of biomass. The effects of site (environment) on heritability, productivity and ecophysiological characteristics will be evaluated. Results of this PhD research will enable the identification of robust QTL (quantitative trait loci) for various genotypes and contrasting climates. Therefore, ecophysiological characteristics can be located on the genetic map (meanwhile available) of poplar in the near future.

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How will climate change affect carbon cycling in wetland soils ? 01/05/2005 - 30/04/2009

Abstract

Global change-induced losses of soil C could significantly enhance atmospheric CO2 concentrations and, thus, exacerbate global warming. We propose to experimentally test the individual and interactive effects of increased temperature, altered precipitation pattern, and altered ground water level on C inputs and C losses in a wetland soil. Parameterisation of the Century model will allow predictions of C cycling in wetland soils in future climate.

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Study of the effects of climate change on plant senescence and stress. 01/05/2005 - 31/12/2006

Abstract

This project is an extension of an existing research program with the aim to understand the impact of climate change on senescence and stress in plants. Different drivers of climate change (elevated temperature, CO2, O3) are studied. Stress and senescence are assessed by means of ecophysiological techniques, focusing on combined measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence and gas exchange.

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Gielen Birgit

Research team(s)

Study of the effects of climate change on plant senescence and stress by means of fluorescence imaging. 01/01/2005 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

Intensive research has improved our understanding of effects of global climate change on ecosystems. Nevertheless, several questions need to be solved. In particular, plant stress and senescence are two factors that are usually not taken into account. The aim of this work is to investigate in which way leaf senescence, and stress, are affected by different drivers of climate change (in casu, elevated [CO2], temperature, [O3]). Chlorophyll a fluorescence has proven to be a useful, non-destructive way to study different aspects of photosynthesis, and to detect plant stress. Commercial instruments like the PEA (Hansatech, UK) or the PAM2000 (Heinz Walz, Germany) cover only a very small proportion of a leaf. Therefore, information on the spatial heterogeneity of a leaf is not available. Some research groups have developed their own image analysis instruments to measure two dimensional emission patterns of fluorescence. This approach results in information of about ten thousands of pixels over the entire leaf area. At the Limburg University Center, such a chlorophyll fluorescence imaging system has been developed (Ciscato 2000, Acta Hort., 553, 507-512). This prototype can be transformed into a fully portable system with an acceptable budget. The portable system that would be developed by an engineering firm will be improved considerably in comparison to the prototype.

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Development and implementation of a simulation model for the carbon budget of mixed European forests. 01/01/2005 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Genotype x environment interactions in poplar toward bioenergy production. 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2005

Abstract

Trees and fast growing woody plants have some important assets at their disposal in order to contribute to the European agreement to decrease the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). On the one hand trees are capable of taking up carbon from the atmosphere, and on the other hand they can partly substitute the use of fossil fuels by producing renewable energy (i.e. bioenergy). Fast growing trees (e.g. hybrid poplars, Populus spp.) can be cultivated in short rotation coppice cultures (SRC's) for the production of bioenergy. The possibilities and the success of these SRC's are dependent on the amount of woody biomass that can be produced over a short period. This is partly determined by the genotype of the considered hybrid, partly by abiotic factors (soil, climate). The experimental infrastructure provided by the European POPYOMICS network consists of three field sites with contrasting climatic conditions, planted with a number of complete hybrid poplar families of different origin. The network aims at increasing the yield of the genus poplar (Populus) in terms of biomass and wood production throug a better understanding of physiology, molecular genetics and genomics. Several ecophysiological characteristics, such as height, stem circumference, individual leaf area, phenology,... , will be determined during two growing seasons, one before and one after coppice. At the end of the second growing season productivity will be determined through assessment of biomass. The effects of site (environment) on heritability, productivity and ecophysiological characteristics will be evaluated. Results of this PhD research will enable the identification of robust QTL (quantitative trait loci) for various genotypes and contrasting climates. Therefore, ecophysiological characteristics can be located on the genetic map (meanwhile available) of poplar in the near future.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project website

Co-funding purchase of a micro-scale Mettler Toledo. 24/06/2004 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

An analytical pair of scales with an accuracy of 1 microgram has been purchased with this research funding. These scales are linked to an automatic carbon-nitrogen analyser (Carlo Erba Instruments, Italy). Within the framework of various research projects, the research group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology is investigating the carbon and nitrogen cycles of plants and plant communities. Therefore, detailed carbon and nitrogen analyses are of crucial importance. Determining the exact weight of very small amounts of soil, plant, leaf and wood samples is a principal part of the analysis procedure.

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Impact of global change on terrestrial ecosystems: a multi-scalar approach. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

The main objective of this scientific research network is the concertation of the present know-how and expertise in Flanders with regard to the study of the effects of global change on terrestrial ecosystems, and to bring this in contact with a number of recognized international research groups from the French community and from outside Belgium. The central theme of this network is the study of the effects of global changes of planet earth (in the broad sense of the term) at different hierarchical levels of organisation, i.e. from leaf ' plant ' vegetation or stand ' landscape ' region ' continent ' globe. The focus will be primarily on the interactions between different processes of change and their resulting effects.

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Assessment of the European Terrestrial Carbon Balance. (CarboEurope-IP) 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

The overarching aim of the CarboEurope-IP is to understand and quantify the present terrestrial carbon balance of Europe as well as the associated uncertainty at the local, regional and continental scale. The carbon balance of the European continent, its geographical patterns, and changes over time will be determined. This is achieved by executing a strategically focussed set of surface based ecological measurements of carbon pools and carbon exchange rates, by an atmospheric high-precision observation system for CO2 and other trace gases, and by the integration of all these components by means of innovative data assimilation systems, bottom-up process modelling and top-down inverse modelling. The key innovation of the CarboEurope-IP is in its conception as to apply a single comprehensive experimental strategy, and its integration into a comprehensive carbon data assimilation framework.

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Assessment of the European Terrestrial Carbon Balance. (CarboEurope-IP) 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

The overarching aim of the CarboEurope-IP is to understand and quantify the present terrestrial carbon balance of Europe as well as the associated uncertainty at the local, regional and continental scale. The carbon balance of the European continent, its geographical patterns, and changes over time will be determined. This is achieved by executing a strategically focussed set of surface based ecological measurements of carbon pools and carbon exchange rates, by an atmospheric high-precision observation system for CO2 and other trace gases, and by the integration of all these components by means of innovative data assimilation systems, bottom-up process modelling and top-down inverse modelling. The key innovation of the CarboEurope-IP is in its conception as to apply a single comprehensive experimental strategy, and its integration into a comprehensive carbon data assimilation framework.

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Project website

Phytogenic mounds (nebkhas) in Mediterranean-arid landscapes: ecological function, and potential for combating desertification and biodiversity loss. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

Several native plant species of Mediterranean-arid ecosystems naturally fix winblown materials in small, stable, phytogenic mounds or `nebkhas', but none of them are currently used to combat desertification. In this project we screen a variety of such species, not only for sand stabilisation, but also to promote biodiversity by creating habitats for other species, since nebkhas locally improve soil fertility and water status. The project explores the potential of a new, natural rehabilitation technique to control the leakage of scarce resources from degraded arid landscapes.

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Research team(s)

Dynamics in diversity, functionality and stability of mangroves, approached by a retrospective and current remote sensing approach using new pattern recognition techniques. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

The project studies the floristic and spatial (in)stability of mangrove ecosystems and its impact on mangrove fauna. The changes in mangroves that are under monitoring and modelling in the project presented, are of phyto- and zoosociological nature and concentrate directly and indirectly on the function, the mobility, and the possibilities of dispersion of organisms under certain environmental conditions. The project uses recent remote sensing technology of very high resolution, and innovates past research by combination of biotic and abiotic data in a geographic information system. The research focuses on mangrove sites in Kenya and Sri Lanka and is carried out in cooperation with the VUB who's coordinating the project.

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Overstorey versus understorey species in heterogeneous or multi-layered forests: tree biometry, tree architecture and water relations. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

This collaborative research project will focus on the differences between overstorey and understorey species in a mixed, heterogeneous temperate forest with main emphasis on their water relations and their proportion in the total stand water loss. For the overstorey species Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) will be chosen while for the understorey species both Prunus serotina and Rhododendron ponticum will be assessed. All species grow in a mixed pine forest in the province of Antwerpen (Flanders). In order to assess the water (or sap) flow of the pines, Rhododendron and Prunus trees as well as their competition at the stand level, a detailed study of the skeleton distribution, the pathway of water in the trees and the stand transpiration will be made. Thus, the specific parts of this research project include: (1) description of the overall tree structure, including distribution of leaves/needles, of living cells, of nitrogen and the overall tree sekeleton, (2) measurements of sap flow, including spatial variation in stems using staining method, the dynamics of sap flow over the year, the comparison of overstorey (Scots pine) with understorey species (Rhododendron shrub and Prunus trees), and (3) upscaling to get total stand transpiration. The outcome of this project will illustrate the importance of understorey species (as Rhododendron and Prunus) for the energy and mass exchanges of a mixed or multi-layered forest in relation to the dominant overstorey species.

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Mechanisms of carbon sequestration in grassland ecosystems: influence of climate warming and diversity loss. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

Several native plant species of Mediterranean-arid ecosystems naturally fix winblown materials in small, stable, phytogenic mounds or `nebkhas', but none of them are currently used to combat desertification. In this project we screen a variety of such species, not only for sand stabilisation, but also to promote biodiversity by creating habitats for other species, since nebkhas locally improve soil fertility and water status. The project explores the potential of a new, natural rehabilitation technique to control the leakage of scarce resources from degraded arid landscapes.

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Research team(s)

Developing a method to explain/predict invasive success as a framework for early warning of invasive plants. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

Invasive exotic species (animals as well as plants, terrestrial species as well as aquatic species) are characterized by extensive spreading capacities causing environmental damage when introduced out of their natural distribution area. The spread of invasive species is believed to be the second largest cause of current biodiversity loss worldwide. Numerous research programs have already been developed in countries (e.g. the United States of America) extensively affected by this phenomenon. Scientific concern now focuses on Europe, more recently affected by invasions. In Belgium, few data describe the characteristics and the distribution of exotic invasive species and many questions concerning processes, dynamics and consequences remain unanswered. The aim: explaining invasive success: trait analysis of species and communities. A method will be developed in order to explain invasive success based on a combination of ecophysiological traits of invaders and invaded systems. This consists of the following steps : 1. considering a suit of observed exotics with varying invasive success, including unsuccessful ones, in order to cover a wide spectrum of invasiveness and invasibility (Senecio inaequidens, Heracleum mantegazzianum, Solidago gigantea, Fallopia japonica, Rosa rugosa, Impatiens glandulifera, Impatiens parviflora, Prunus serotina, Xanthium orientale, Lathyrus latifolius and Cerastium tomentosum), 2. quantifying the invasive success of these exotics either from historical biogeographic presence/absence records (expansion rates) or from field observations, 3. regressing invasive success simultaneously on one selected invader trait and one selected trait of the invaded system, and 4. repeating step 3 for all possible combinations of invader traits and invaded-system traits. The key traits will be identified and subsequently used for the early detection of problematic species and threatened/vulnerable habitats. Furthermore, the response of invaders to competition with indigenous species will be assessed on the field by seedling monitoring and nutrient uptake estimations.

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Effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations on a fast-growing poplar ecosystem: process and structure. 27/11/2003 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

Researcher(s)

  • Promotor: Gielen Birgit

Research team(s)

Exchanges of carbon dioxide and water vapour between a mixed coniferous forest and the atmosphere: control and function. 01/11/2003 - 31/10/2004

Abstract

Since 1997 the research group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology is measuring the carbon uptake and the water release of a mixed coniferous forest in Brasschaat (province of Antwerpen). These gas exchange measurements are made with the eddy covariance method from a 40 m tall meteorological tower in the forest. The objectives of the post-doctoral research of Dr. Miklos Nagy (Hungary) are: (1) to understand the principal controlling processes and feedback mechanisms of the carbon and water vapour fluxes; and (2) to continue the ongoing measurements of these fluxes. With regard to the first objective, the available databases will be analysed and the relationships between incoming radiation and carbon uptake, between air temperature and water flux, etc' will be quantified. For the second objective the existing methodology will be further used to measure the fluxes, and a number of short-term experiments will be performed.

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Effects of climate change on plant senescence and stress : an integrated study using fluorescence and imaging. 01/10/2003 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Despite its relevance to carbon sequestration of ecosystems, the effects of climate change on leaf senescence and stress are not well known. The aim of this research is to understand leaf senescence and stress in conditions of a predicted future climate, in casu, elevated CO2, temperature, and O3. Specific objectives include: (1) to gain insight into the process of leaf senescence and the responses to stress of plants in a future climate; (2) to investigate whether a possible climate change effect on the timing and the process of senescence, and on the sensitivity to stress, may affect the production and carbon sequestration of the vegetation; (3) to implement an existing fluorescence imaging system for the remote detection of chl a fluorescence in vegetations; (4) to further investigate the possibility to use this system for the determination of photosynthesis at the stand level. Measurements are planned within ongoing impact studies: (1) artificial grass ecosystems of different species diversity, which are exposed to an elevated air temperature (+ 3°C), which, in turn, is expected to cause water stress during summer; (2) a poplar (three Populus spp.) short-rotation coppice culture in which plots of 300 m2 grow under future [CO2], and half of these plots are fertilised to investigate the influence of soil fertility; (3) an O3-sensitive species (e.g., Trifolium) exposed to elevated [O3].

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Study of the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2-concentrations and nitrogen fertilization on ecosystem processes in a fast growing short rotation coppice of poplars. 01/10/2003 - 30/09/2005

Abstract

In the frame of global change, forests play a very important role as a possible carbon sink. It is thus essential to investigate the reaction of forest ecosystems to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Since elevated nitrogen depositions are a part of our changing environment, the interaction between nitrogen and elevated CO2 could be crucial in understanding the final response. A short rotation coppice of poplars has a huge capacity to sequester carbon, because of its very fast growth rates. This research project studies the effect of elevated atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen fertilization on ecosystem processes in a short rotation coppice culture of poplars. Parameters that determine the final net primary production, such as leaf area index (LAI), light quality and quantity, mortality, competition, stem respiration, will be measured fro three different species of poplar. This project is part of the EUROFACE project (EU-contract EVR1-CT-2002-4002.7, Fifth Framework program), where an international platform forms the base for a multidisciplinary approach of the study of the effects of elevated CO2 on ecosystem processes.

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15/01/2003 - 14/01/2004

Abstract

Gobal change-induced losses of soil C could significantly enhance atmospheric CO2 concentrations and, thus exacerbate global warming. We propose to experimentally test the individual and interactive effects of increased temperature, altered precipitation pattern, and altered ground water level on C inputs and C losses in a wetland soil. Parameterisation of the Century model will allow predictions of C cycling in wetland soils in future climate.

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Effects of biodiversity and climate warming on carbon sequestration mechanisms in terrestrial ecosystems. 01/01/2003 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

The two research groups intend to quantify the carbon budgets (sources and sinks) and fluxes of a specific vegetation type (i.e. a temperate grassland ecosystem) using a core experimental facility built by the UIA research group. We option for an integrated mechanistic assessment of all major aspects of the C sequestration pathway, including the role of vegetation, micro-organisms and soil. Various global change scenarios (declining biodiversity, enhanced climate warming, and a combination of both) will be experimentally simulated in this central facility shared by both research groups. Studies will include carbon cycling (assimilation and release, storage in biomass and soil pools, residence time), carbon allocation below-ground (root growth, fine-root production and turnover, C-exudation) and trophic relationships (microbial C-utilization and immobilization, differences between bacterial and fungal decomposition). Biogeochemical as well as biotic interactions between plant diversity and climate warming will be investigated, with special emphasis on changes in nutrient uptake by plants or through bacterial immobilisation, and on the role of plant species phenology following exposure to a modified thermal environment.

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INPLANBEL : Invasive Plants in Belgium : Patterns, Processes and Monitoring. 01/01/2003 - 30/04/2006

Abstract

The specific aims of this project are (1) to provide a synthesis on plant invasion in Belgium in the form of a structured list of exotic species and an evaluation of their success ; (2) to identify universally valid principles of biological invasion through a combined analysis of ecophysiological species and community traits, as a basis for pre-invasion risk assessment; (3) to provide a detailed analysis of the spreading of a set of invasive species at the landscape level, for a better understanding of the relation between invasion and human land use; (4) to analysize the consequences of a set of invasive species on ecosystems.

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A study of the spatio-temporal dimension of pattern changes in the neotropical forest of the Brazilian Amazon: quantification of deforestation, fragmentation and forest regrowth. 01/01/2003 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

The project aims to study the spatial pattern of the neotropical rain forest, emphasizing deforestation, fragmentation, and forest regrowth (secondary vegetation). The use of remote sensing data (satellite imagery) will enable the quantification of spatio-temporal pattern changes of the vegetation through a multiscalar approach.

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An integrated European scientific infrastructure for global change studies on forest and agroforest ecosystems utilising face technology.(EUROFACE) 01/12/2002 - 30/11/2005

Abstract

This infrastructure project will support and improve an already operating large-scale Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) facility where an integrated research activity at the European scale will be conducted on the role of forest tree plantations to mitigate the impact of greenhouse gases in support of the Kyoto protocol, under conditions of changing climate. The assessment of the interactions between management options (coppicing and fertilization) and climate change will be essential (i) to specify full accountability of the contribution of biomass and energy woody plantations for carbon mitigation and (ii) to quantify their direct versus indirect effects on carbon sequestration of this type of land use change.

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Linking physiology, molecular genetics and genomics to understand and improve yield of populus for biomass and timber production across Europe.(POPYOMICS) 01/11/2002 - 31/05/2006

Abstract

The over-arching aim of this project is to determine the genetic basis of yield and disease resistance for future improvement of the genus Populus. The project has been developed by a consortium of European scientists to link physiology, molecular genetics and genomics in Populus. Various tasks and workpackages are being carried out by this consortium, i.e. (1) screening of genetic material and development of a European experimental network of plantations for poplar molecular genetics and genomics; (2) physiological traiting for yield; (3) traiting of disease resistance; (4) detection of QTL and development of a poplar consensus map; (5) genomic approach toward the identification and mapping of candidate genes. This will include transcript profiling for certain developmental traits and exposure of mapping parents to microarray analysis following exposure to a variety of abiotic and biotic stresses.

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The carbon sink strength of beech in a changing environment : Experimental risk Assessment of Mitigation by Chronic Ozone Impact (CASIROZ). 01/10/2002 - 31/01/2006

Abstract

The vulnerability of adult beech is to be clarified at Central-European forest conditions to chronic ozone impact. Ozone as acting in Global Change may constrain the carbon sink strength under expected atmospheric CO2 enrichment. A novel Free-Air Canopy Ozone Exposure system, creating an enhanced ozone regime within the canopy ensures the analysis of ozone induced responses relevant for tree C balance. Ozone flux into leaves will be validated against AOT40. Responses across cell, organ and whole-tree level will be assessed with molecular, biochemical and ecophysiological methods. Additional exposure of young beech within the canopy and branch cuvette fumigations will validate previous ozone studies. Evidence will be incorporated into mechanistic modeling that scales to the stand level and quantifies ozone impact for global change scenarios. This process-based risk assessment will guide policy making.

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Forecasting the dynamic response of timber quality to management and environmental change: an integrated approach (MEFYQUE). 01/05/2002 - 30/06/2004

Abstract

There is a recognised need within the European forest industry for models forecasting the quality of timber, given that the wood products industries are reliant on a regular supply of wood of uniform properties. This project aims to improve understanding of the relationships between site conditions and growth, timber quality and production, for current and future scenarios of climate change and atmospheric composition, by developing an integrated modelling framework. This will be achieved by (i) monitoring existing forest sites; (ii) manipulating conditions of growth; (iii) analysing anatomical, biochemical and mechanical wood properties; (iv) modelling growth, yield and quality at a range of spatial scales. The integrated modelling system will enable forest managers, the timber industry and policy makers to decide whether forest management should be principally for production, conservation or amenity outputs.

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Biodiversity in an arctic ecosystem : role of dispersal, colonization, and resistance to climatic extremes. 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

Models show that if warming exceeds 2.7 °C, the Greenland icecap will probably melt (Pear-ce 2000). Almost all predictions demonstrate that the Greenland climate is likely to warm even more. Besi-des causing sea level rise, melting at higher latitudes will increase the availability of land for colonization by boita. Further, the current sout-hern border of the polar regions is likely to move north, shrinking the arctic biome, and favouring the establishment of new ecosystems on the icefree land. Why new ecosystems? Because the conditions with regard to dispersal and source areas of biota will have changed. As a consequence, shifts in diversity can be expected. In the current project we investigate this in a region with transition features, name-ly tundra on Disko Island (West-Geenland). This island is located at the border of two clima-to-logically defined zones: the transition between discontinu-ous and conti-nu-ous permafrost, and the transition between the Low Arctic and High Arctic. The region has quite high diversity, which can function as a source for nor-thern- or eastern-bound colonization in case of warming. In order to use the Disko Island situation as a model for other regions, the question must be answered what the sources of the cur-rent diver-sity are? Our attention will therefore focus on proces-ses which contributed to the `genesis' and the maintenance of this current diversity, i.e. disper-sal (I) and colonization (II). Furthermore, also stability (III) of the present populations (local extinction probability due to distur-ban-ce, especially climate-based) is critical to the regu-lation of local diversity. As a touchstone for current and future trends, paleo-fluc-tuati-ons (IV) of diversity will be examined in peat layers.

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Quantification of fluxes between - and residence times in different carbon pools in the soil of a Scots pine forest. 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

Soil organic matter (SOM) constitutes an important carbon (C) pool that exchanges C with the atmosphere. The sequestration of SOM can only be assessed by means of complicated biogeochemical models that are very difficult to parameterize. The requested funding will be used to perform measurements of 13C, 14C and 18O, which can be used to estimate the turnover of different SOM pools and to separate heterotrophic from autotrophic respiration. The main objectives are: 1) to estimate how fast do different SOM pools turn over in the Scots pine forest 'De Inslag' at Brasschaat? 2) to assess how climate affects the turnover of different SOM pools and what changes in SOM sequestration are expected under the IPCC climate scenarios?

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Phytoremediation of polluted sites in combination with bio-energy production : possibilities of fast growing coppice culture in the Rupel region. 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

The revegetation of polluted sites can be used for the renovation and restoration of contaminated soils through bioremediation. In this project we will investigate whether an intensive coppice culture of willow and poplar can be used for phytoremediation and phytoextraction of an old waste disposal in Boom (Rupel region) that is contaminated with serveral heavy metals. The following aspects will be studied: ditterences among genotypes, interactions between genotypes and soil type, production of biomass and bio-energy, and phytoextraction capacity.

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Retrieval of bio-geophysical variables from SPOT4/VEGETATION data using a vegetation canopy radiative transfer (RTF) model. 17/12/2001 - 17/12/2004

Abstract

This project concerns a scientific cooperation between UIA, Vito and two Chinese institutes (Chinese Academy of Forestry in Beijing and Chinese Academy of Science in Lanzhou). The project aims at extracting several key land-surface biophysical variables, including leaf area index (LAI), fAPAR or the fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation by vegetation (0.4-0.7 µm), surface hemispherical albedo, normalised spectral reflectance, BRDF, gap fraction and leaf chlorophyll content. The extraction method is based on using multi-angular reflectance data recorded by the sun-synchronous polar-orbiting sensor, the SPOT4/VEGETATION sensor, and by the application of a vegetation radiative transfer model, the Mean RTE Model developed at Boston University.

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Forecasting the dynamic response of timber quality to management and environmental change: an integrated approach (MEFYQUE). 01/07/2001 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

There is a recognised need within the European forest industry for models forecasting the quality of timber, given that the wood products industries are reliant on a regular supply of wood of uniform properties. This project aims to improve understanding of the relationships between site conditions and growth, timber quality and production, for current and future scenarios of climate change and atmospheric composition, by developing an integrated modelling framework. This will be achieved by (i) monitoring existing forest sites; (ii) manipulating conditions of growth; (iii) analysing anatomical, biochemical and mechanical wood properties; (iv) modelling growth, yield and quality at a range of spatial scales. The integrated modelling system will enable forest managers, the timber industry and policy makers to decide whether forest management should be principally for production, conservation or amenity outputs.

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Invasion and biodiversity in grasslands and field borders 01/12/2000 - 28/02/2005

Abstract

Biological invasions are considered an increasing threat to biodiversity, but the underlying principles are poorly known. Also the way changes in the global climate will affect invasions is not well understood. The aim of the current project is to develop an improved mechanistic framework to (a priori) establish which communities are most susceptible to being invaded (`invasibility') and which species are expected to become invasive (`invasiveness') under given conditions. The project mainly focuses on grasslands since grasses have been responsible for some of the most harmful invasions in the past. A primary driver of biological invasions is land use change. Agricultural policies in Western Europe are developing towards reduction of unsustainable intensive farming and promotion of biodiversity in agricultural land, but it is uncertain how this will affect biological invasions. We investigate this question for the recent trend of field borders. The latter are installed on arable land to buffer nutrient and biocide efflux from crops and are considered to become new `reservoirs' of biodiversity in our fragmented landscapes. However, because their installation represents a severe disturbance and because species influx in field borders is not intensively controlled, they could become future hot spots for invasion. First, we will compare a series of methods to maximise diversity in field borders (spontaneous introgression of vegetation, sowing with commerical seeds vs. local seeds, etc.). Next, the invasibility of field borders is tested by introducing the species examined in our model ecosystems. The aim is to devise management options which minimise risks of invasion, both into field borders and from field borders into arable land. The overall goal of the project is to provide a better scientific foundation for protective strategies towards biological invasions in grasslands and field borders, so that management policies can eventually become pro-active rather than curative today.

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