Research Area “Biodiversity and Complexity”

This research area aims at understanding how the complex structure of natural ecosystems begets their high biodiversity. This includes environmental filtering, species interactions, spatial processes and macroevolution. Our approaches integrate theory and modelling with mechanistic experiments, distributed global experiments and global databases.

Research questions

How do functional traits of individuals and the environment determine fitness, coexistence and community composition?

Environmental conditions filter species’ functional traits according to fitness effects, which yields biodiversity patterns.
Understanding how communities respond to environmental gradients is key to understanding the past, current and future consequences of global change for biodiversity (Change, Society).

How do biotic interactions and the ecological networks they generate drive community composition and biodiversity across trophic levels?

Species in local communities interact in many ways and different strengths, which influences the structure and stability of networks and determines community composition and biodiversity.
Together with environmental gradients, the current changes in biodiversity (Change) restructure ecological networks of species interactions with profound implications for the ecosystem functions (Functions) they maintain.

Which processes drive the emergence of biodiversity patterns across spatial scales from local communities over metacommunities to biomes?

Species movement and dispersal drive the emergence of biodiversity patterns across spatial scales from local communities over metacommunities to biogeographic scales.
The spatial scaling of biodiversity patterns is strongly modified by human land use including habitat fragmentation (Change). Movement and dispersal processes drive local community assembly and the resulting ecosystem functions (Functions).

How does evolutionary diversification influence the broad-scale assembly and composition of biomes?

Current biodiversity patterns contain a signature of speciation, extinction and trait evolution on broad-scale biotic and abiotic gradients.
Macroevolutionary diversification may ultimately be determined by microevolutionary processes (Molecular), which can be strongly dependent of the intricate interaction between traits and the environment.

Key publications

Dunker, S., Motivans, E., Rakosy, D., Boho, D., Mäder, P., Hornick, T. and Knight, T.M. (2020). Pollen Analysis Using Multispectral Imaging Flow Cytometry and Deep Learning. New Phytologist 229, DOI: 10.1111/nph.16882

View media release: Efficient pollen identification


Gauzens, B., Rall, B. C., Mendonca, V., Vinagre, C., and Brose, U. (2020). Biodiversity of Intertidal Food Webs in Response to Warming across Latitudes. Nature Climate Change 10, DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0698-z



Karakoç, C., Clark, A.T., and Chatzinotas, A. (2020). Diversity and Coexistence Are Influenced by Time-Dependent Species Interactions in a Predator–Prey System. Ecology Letters 23, DOI: 10.1111/ele.13500

Rüger, N., Condit, R., Dent, D.H., DeWalt, S.J., Hubbell, S.P., Lichstein, J.W., Lopez, O.R., Wirth, C., and Farrior, C. E. (2020). Demographic Trade-Offs Predict Tropical Forest Dynamics. Science 368, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz4797.

View media release: A glimpse into the future of tropical forstest

Onstein, R. E., …, Barratt, C. D., …, and Kissling, W. D. (2020). Palm Fruit Colours Are Linked to the Broad-Scale Distribution and Diversification of Primate Colour Vision Systems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 287, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.2731

View media release: Colour vision in primates closely linked to palm fruit colours


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