Functional diversity and biotic interactions in tropical ecosystems under global change
Research interestsClimate change and land-use intensification are among the most important threats to the Earth’s ecosystems. For instance, it is well documented, how habitat fragmentation and deforestation events may lead to important declines of biodiversity as well as changes in species composition. Yet, we still lack a deeper understanding of how this in turn affects ecosystem processes. Many ecosystem processes, such as pollination and seed dispersal benefit from biotic interactions, which is particularly evident in tropical ecosystems (e.g. up to 90% of woody plants in the tropics may rely on animal seed dispersers). However, it is very difficult to measure effects of global change on such processes in hyper-diverse communities of tropical ecosystems.
More recently, the study of functional diversity has become increasingly popular in the context of ecosystem process research. For instance, particular species traits may reflect a species’ contribution to a certain ecosystem process (such as pollination or seed dispersal). Thus, studying how abundance and distribution of certain traits change across environmental gradients can give promising insights into the relationships between drivers of global change and ecosystem processes.
Similarly, the study of complex interaction networks may give us a more holistic understanding of the mechanisms shaping ecosystem processes at the community level and may allow us to compare such processes across ecosystems as well as across environmental gradients and thus allow us to better understand the effects of global change.