Hi! I am an ecologist who always wonders why there is incredible biodiversity in the soil. My research focuses on soil invertebrates, especially springtails (Collembola), one of the most abundant, diverse but primitive terrestrial arthropods. To understand the mechanisms underlying species coexistence and community compositions, I integrate research approaches from community ecology and evolutionary biology to soil biodiversity studies.

Current topics are

  1. Soil biodiversity and species coexistence (Chen 2018, dissertation at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen; Xie, Chen et al. 2022, Journal of Biogeography),
  2. Evolution and ecology of functional traits (Chen et al. 2017, Ecology and Evolution; Kreider, Chen et al. 2021, Ecosphere) and
  3. Multidimensional trophic niches (Hao, Chen et al. 2020, Soil Biology and Biochemisitry; Potapov et al. & Chen 2021, Journal of Animal Ecology).
Inferring assembly processes in soil animal communities through a trait and phylogenetic framework

My soil animal research field specifically focuses on the intersection (grey area) of biogeography, evolutionary biology, and community ecology.
According to the niche concept, species coexist because they utilize different resources, food and space. Soil, among the other terrestrial ecosystems, has the highest biodiversity, but why so many species coexist in limited spaces without competing each other out has long intrigued ecologists.
My studies use traits and phylogenies to study the assembly processes of soil animal communities. I study the traits that reflect multidimensional niches, including those helping species in food resource exploitation (α niche traits) and those in tolerance to abiotic environments (β niche traits).
Since traits vary among species and communities, I wonder the causes of such variation: On the one hand, functional traits ecologically inform species interactions with environments and other biotic components. On the other hand and from an evolutionary point of view, traits are characters that species inherit from the common ancestors. Phylogenetically closely related species inevitably possess similar traits. In my study, the underlying mechanisms regulating soil animal diversity are revealed by exploring the functional traits from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives, and my study can help elucidate the functional roles of soil animals in terrestrial ecosystems.

Selected publications

  • Xie, Z. (equal), T.-W. Chen (equal), M. Potapov, F. Zhang, D. Wu, S. Scheu & X. Sun. (2022) Ecological and evolutionary processes shaping belowground springtail communities along elevation. Journal of Biogeography, 49: 469-482 doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14317
  • Potapov, A. M., M. M. Pollierer, S. Salmon, V. Šustr & T.-W. Chen (correspondence). (2021) Multidimensional trophic niche revealed by complementary approaches: gut content, digestive enzymes, fatty acids and stable isotopes in Collembola. Journal of Animal Ecology, 90: 1919-1933 doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.13511
  • Kreider, J. (equal), T.-W. Chen (equal), T. R. Hartke, D. Buchori, P. Hidayat, R. Nazaretta, S. Scheu & J. Drescher. (2021) Rainforest conversion to monocultures favours generalist ants with large colonies. Ecosphere, 12: e03717 doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3717
  • Hao, C. (equal), T.-W. Chen (equal), Y. Wu, L. Chang & D. Wu. (2020) Snow microhabitats provide food resources for winter-active Collembola. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 143: 107731 doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2020.107731
  • Gong, X. (equal), T.-W. Chen (equal), S. L. Zieger, C. Bluhm, K. Heidemann, I. Schaefer, M. Maraun, M. Liu & S. Scheu. (2018) Phylogenetic and trophic determinants of gut microbiota in soil oribatid mites. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 123: 155-164 doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.05.011
  • Chen, T.-W. (2018) Assembly processes in soil animal communities: Integrating phylogeny and trait-based approaches. Dissertation. Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
  • Zhang, B. (equal), T.-W. Chen (equal), E. Mateos, S. Scheu & I. Schaefer. (2018) Cryptic species in Lepidocyrtus lanuginosus (Collembola: Entomobryidae) are sorted by habitat type. Pedobiologia, 68: 12-19 doi.org/10.1016/j.pedobi.2018.03.001
  • Chen, T.-W., P. Sandmann, I. Schaefer & S. Scheu. (2017) Neutral lipid fatty acid composition as trait and constraint in Collembola evolution. Ecology and Evolution, 7: 9624-9638 doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3472