Find out more about our research
We aim to understand and predict changes in the distribution, abundance, and diversity of plant communities as a result of human influence, particularly human-caused climate change.
Key research themes
Arctic ecosystem change
Global climate change causes ecosystem changes all across the world, but in the Arctic the climate is changing even faster. Arctic ecosystems are characterised by their extreme environments and often host species that are specifically adapted to their local circumstances. Short summers lead to short growing seasons, and even small changes in temperatures can have a large effect on snow and rainfall dynamics. Understanding how these vulnerable ecosystems respond to climate change helps our understanding of potential changes at lower latitudes in the (near) future.
While species extinctions are incontrovertibly leading to a decline in diversity at the global scale, local-scale changes in diversity are varied and complex. We use long-term monitoring records to understand how multiple aspects of biodiversity, including functional diversity, are changing at local to regional scales. In addition, we aim to understand how various human influences, e.g. climate warming and forest conversion, influence these changes over space and time.
Comparing ecological communities is difficult when they only share a few species. This hinders the discovery of globally applicable ecological rules. We address this problem by considering plant species responses to the environment in the context of their measurable properties, also called functional traits. This approach has already revealed that climate warming has enabled taller plants to invade tundra plant communities around the world. Our ongoing research focuses on the importance of microclimatic variation for community composition, on synthesizing patterns of trait change across the world, and on the consequences of changes in trait composition and diversity for ecosystem functions. By conducting our research in the rapidly changing Arctic environment we can not only make predictions of how plant species are likely to respond to environmental change, but also address the question of how these changes influence the global carbon balance.
As global climate is rapidly changing, understanding the ways in which species can respond is critical to the conservation of biodiversity. Besides migrating, adapting to changing conditions will be required if species are to avoid extinction. We use common garden and climate change experiments to understand the factors that determine whether arctic plants are adapted to local environments and how well they can adapt to warming conditions. So far, it seems that arctic plants are adapted to local conditions in such a way that migrating north to track warming temperatures will not be enough to ensure survival. We continue to use observations and experiments to understand how arctic plants are adapted to varying environments.