Ecosystem Functioning and Services

Prof. Vicky Temperton, head of Ecosystem Functioning and Services

Going for multifunctionality as a path to sustainability:

The two main foci of the ecosystem functioning and services lab in­vol­ve ac­qui­ring a bet­ter un­der­stan­ding and fos­te­ring of ex­ten­si­ve­ly ma­na­ged bio­di­ver­se sys­tems and ma­king in­ten­si­ve­ly ma­na­ged sys­tems more sustainable:  

  1. Extensive land use, land sharing and ecological restoration: testing the potential role of priority effects during assembly.
  2. Sustainable intensification: Improving the efficiency of nutrient-use in cropping systems by using functional diversity approaches.

Research topics:

  • Testing priority effects (order of arrival of plant species and functional groups) in assembly as a potential tool for the restoration of biodiverse ecological communities.
  • Investigating the importance of weather conditions on the creation and persistence of priority effects during assembly of grassland plant communities. POEM project
  • Elucidating the mechanisms leading to priority effects during assembly.  POEM project
  • The role of nitrogen facilitation in ecosystem functioning and assembly – with particular focus on legume-non legume interactions.
  • Using positive interactions (both between plants of different functional groups and in cropping systems) for the sustainable transformation of cropping and bioenergy systems. INPLAMINT projekt
  • Improving the integration and transfer of knowledge between ecology and policy at the science-policy interface.
  • Linking ecological know-how and knowledge based on the above topics with social and governance perspectives to help transform systems towards sustainability (including land sharing and land sparing).

The bigger picture:

Bio­di­ver­si­ty is a key com­po­nent of a func­tio­n­ing, sustainable pla­net, yet it is being lost at a rate ne­ver seen be­fo­re in the his­to­ry of the earth in the cur­rent 6th mass extinc­tion event. One of the main cau­ses of bio­di­ver­si­ty loss world­wi­de is land use chan­ge/ ha­bi­tat loss com­bi­ned with ex­cess nut­ri­ent in­put into our eco­sys­tems, as well as cli­ma­te chan­ge and in­va­si­ve spe­cies. Hence, key ques­ti­ons of our time on a crow­ded pla­net are:

  • How can we counter current biodiversity loss, whilst also allowing for food security and adequate livelihoods and social interactions?
  • What role can the restoration of biodiversity play in counteracting biodiversity loss, whilst helping to mitigate climate change and providing new forms of social and economic livelihood?

Pos­si­ble so­lu­ti­ons in­clu­de a com­bi­ned land sharing and land spa­ring ap­proach to land use, fo­cus­sing on both ex­ten­si­ve land use as well as a sustainable in­ten­si­fi­ca­ti­on of crop­ping sys­tems. Both bio­di­ver­si­ty and as­sem­bly re­se­arch in eco­lo­gy are of key re­le­van­ce to ad­dres­sing such ques­ti­ons, sin­ce in land sharing (e.g. na­tu­re-fri­end­ly far­ming) we need to main­tain or res­to­re high di­ver­si­ty whilst en­su­ring ade­qua­te agri­cul­tu­ral yield, and know­ledge from bio­tic in­ter­ac­tion re­se­arch will be es­sen­ti­al for im­pro­ving the ef­fi­ci­en­cy of in­ten­si­ve agri­cul­tu­re, as well as pro­vi­ding pos­si­ble le­ver­age in en­ab­ling both re­a­sonable yiel­ds as well as bio­di­ver­si­ty.

Extensive land use, land sharing and ecological restoration – the potential role of priority effects during assembly

It does matter who is interacting with who and at what time point

Bio­tic in­ter­ac­tions that oc­cur at ra­ther small sca­les bet­ween func­tio­nal­ly-dis­tinct plant spe­cies can dri­ve how eco­sys­tems func­tion at lar­ger sca­les, both in terms of po­si­ti­ve bio­di­ver­si­ty ef­fects as well as af­fec­ting as­sem­bly of plant com­mu­nities. Thus the re­se­arch in the Tem­per­ton lab fo­cu­ses on achie­ving a bet­ter un­der­stan­ding of smal­ler sca­le plant-plant in­ter­ac­tions with a view to in­for­ming eco­sys­tem ma­nage­ment and eco­lo­gi­cal resto­ra­ti­on/​con­ser­va­ti­on. Our aim is pro­vi­de buil­ding blocks of know­ledge cont­ri­bu­ting to in­cre­a­sing the pre­dic­tive and ap­p­li­ca­ti­on po­ten­ti­al of eco­lo­gi­cal know­ledge. 

Long-term bio­di­ver­si­ty ex­pe­ri­ments ge­ne­ral­ly in­vol­ve ar­ti­fi­ci­al­ly as­sem­bled plant com­mu­nities and find strong po­si­ti­ve bio­di­ver­si­ty ef­fects on eco­sys­tem func­tio­n­ing, thus more spe­cies leads to mul­ti­ple func­tions in the eco­sys­tem. The re­le­van­ce of the­se ex­pe­ri­men­tal re­sults for na­tu­ral­ly as­sem­bling com­mu­nities in the real world, in­clu­ding the role of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­text, is an im­portant field in cur­rent eco­lo­gy and of high re­le­van­ce for sustaina­bi­li­ty. It is not yet cle­ar to what extent fin­dings from ex­pe­ri­ments are ap­p­lica­ble in na­tu­ral ha­bi­tats un­der­go­ing as­sem­bly with im­mi­gra­ti­on/emi­gra­ti­on, spe­cies sor­ting by en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­ti­ons, ma­nage­ment and his­to­ri­cal con­tin­gen­cy ef­fects. In the Tem­per­ton lab we test to what extent his­to­ry mat­ters in eco­lo­gy by stu­dy­ing prio­ri­ty ef­fects cau­sed by so­wing spe­ci­fic plant spe­cies and func­tio­nal groups whilst then al­lo­wing sub­se­quent na­tu­ral as­sem­bly. This research is of high re­le­van­ce to eco­lo­gi­cal resto­ra­ti­on, whe­re hu­man in­ter­ven­ti­on is slot­ted into the dy­na­mics of na­tu­ral sys­tems.

A key fo­cus is on root-root in­ter­ac­tions and the po­ten­ti­al role of priority effects du­ring as­sem­bly as a tool for eco­sys­tem ma­nage­ment and resto­ra­ti­on. In­cre­a­sin­gly, we are in­ves­ti­ga­ting the me­cha­nisms be­hind prio­ri­ty ef­fects (which oc­cur when spe­cies ar­ri­ving first at a site si­gni­fi­cant­ly af­fect fur­ther as­sem­bly), with a view to in­for­ming resto­ra­ti­on of de­gra­ded sites.  Prio­ri­ty ef­fects ge­ne­ral­ly last for qui­te a num­ber of ye­ars and can lead to al­ter­na­ti­ve sta­tes in ve­ge­ta­ti­on, thus being of high re­le­van­ce to the crea­ti­on of hig­her (beta) di­ver­si­ty at land­scape sca­les.

Sin­ce spe­cies-rich grass­lands and other open ha­bi­tats are cur­rent­ly par­ti­cu­lar­ly threa­te­ned by ha­bi­tat loss, both due to land use in­ten­si­fi­ca­ti­on and land aban­don­ment, we need in­cen­ti­ves for far­mers to con­ser­ve/res­to­re spe­cies-rich grass­lands and keep ex­ten­si­ve­ly ma­na­ging such ha­bi­tats. The sta­tus of gras­sy bio­mes does not cur­rent­ly re­flect its im­port­an­ce in terms of eco­sys­tem ser­vices they pro­vi­de world­wi­de. Being able to send plant com­mu­nities along spe­ci­fic de­si­red tra­jec­to­ries that in­crea­se pro­duc­tivi­ty and car­bon sto­r­a­ge whilst at the same time main­tai­ning or res­to­ring bio­di­ver­si­ty could form an in­cen­ti­ve for land ow­ners to go for both and food se­cu­ri­ty wi­t­hin an ex­ten­si­ve­ly ma­na­ged sys­tem.