Maria Sporbert

Doctoral Researcher (PhenObs)

My research project


Relationship between local abundance, regional co-occurrence and range-wide niche characteristics in vascular plants

Biodiversity is spatially structured via the geographical distribution of organisms. These geographical distribution patterns are the results of complex environmental, ecological and evolutionary processes over time that results in species-specific realized environmental niches. Species' niches are thus one of the main units in biodiversity research. The understanding of niche dynamics and niche structures is tightly coupled with the idea that the niche represents a species' performance space.

The knowledge gap

Until now, studies on species distribution and abundance where mainly performed with data for bird or amphibian species, threatened species or tree species on regional or country scale, only. In this project the relationship between range size, realized niche breadth, abundance and cover in vascular plants will be investigated systematically in a large number of vascular plant species over the European range, for the first time, in both geographical and environmental space.

Research question / Hypotheses

As major objectives, I seek to answer the following questions:

·        (I) Can I find types of different (species specific) range-wide abundance patterns?

·        (II) Is there a positive relationship between macroclimatic niche volume, regional niche width (co-occurrence), local species abundance and cover?

·        (III) Is there a relationship between certain abundance patterns and certain profiles of morphological and physiological plant traits?

Links to the main questions of iDiv / Links to other iDiv projects?

My work is obviously linked to iDiv's research area 'Biodiversity patterns', as I am interested in the quantification of the state of species niches across space and time in response to natural drivers. By connecting species geographical distribution data and the species realized environmental niches with phylogenetic and functional trait profiles, I will gather insights into patterns and drivers of abundance structures across environmental gradients.



I am a plant ecologist with special interest in macroecology and biogeography and I joined iDiv because it offers me the chance to build a scientific network for active exchange in iDivs international research environment. Further it gives me the opportunity to take part at the variety of courses of the yDiv program and to participate in the workshops of the sDiv synthesis centre.

Background/ previous research

In my master thesis I conducted a macroecological study with focus on niche dynamics in weedy species. I am convinced that analysis of large scale environmental niches will be crucial for the understanding of spatial patterns in biodiversity. In my PhD project I want to strengthen this focus on macroecological niche analyses for a large number of vascular plant species and additional include local species abundance and trait data in my research.

Research focus/interest/current research

In my PhD project I will examine the relationship between local abundance and regional to range-wide niche characteristics at different spatial scales. Specifically, the combination of species distribution and abundance data from vegetation databases will enable investigations of abundance patterns in both, geographical and environmental space.

Short CV


10/2015- now

PhD student, Institute of Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Helge Bruelheide, Dr. Erik Welk

10/2011 - 02/2015

Master of Science Biology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg;

Focus: Field ecology, Nature conservation, Methods in Systematic Botany

10/2008 - 09/2011

Bachelor of Science Biology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Focus: Population and Vegetation Ecology, Molecular plant physiology

Conference contributions



Hock M, Plos C, Sporbert M, Erfmeier A. UV-B radiation and drought − Combined stress effects on native and exotic origins of Verbascum thapsus L. 44th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland; Hildesheim, Germany. Poster

iDiv publications


Hock, M., Plos, C., Sporbert, M., Erfmeier, A.

(2020): Combined Effects of UV-B and Drought on Native and Exotic Populations of Verbascum thapsus L. Plants 9(2) *

Sporbert, M., Keil, P., Seidler, G., Bruelheide, H., Jandt, U., Acic, S., Biurrun, I., Campos, J. A., Carni, A., Chytry, M., Custerevska, R., Dengler, J., Golub, V., Jansen, F., Kuzemko, A., Lenoir, J., ..., Virtanen, R.,  Welk, E.

(2020): Testing macroecological abundance patterns: The relationship between local abundance and range size, range position and climatic suitability among European vascular plants. Journal of Biogeography (in press) *

Sporbert, M., H. Bruelheide, G. Seidler, P. Keil, U. Jandt, G. Austrheim, I. Biurrun, J. A. Campos, A. Čarni, M. Chytrý, J. Csiky, E. De Bie, J. Dengler, V. Golub, J.-A. Grytnes, A. Indreica, F. Jansen, M. Jiroušek, J. Lenoir, M. Luoto, C. Marcenò, J. E. Moeslund, A. Pérez-Haase, S. Rūsiņa, V. Vandvik, K. Vassilev, E. Welk

(2019): Assessing sampling coverage of species distribution in biodiversity databases. Journal of Vegetation Science 30(4), 620-632

Bruelheide, H., Dengler, J., Purschke, O., Lenoir, J., Jimenez-Alfaro, B., Hennekens, S. M., Botta-Dukat, Z., Chytry, M., Field, R., Jansen, F., Kattge, J., Pillar, V. D., Schrodt, F., Mahecha, M. D., Peet, R. K., Sandel, B., van Bodegom, P., Altman, J., Alvarez-Davila, E., Khan, M., Attorre, F., Aubin, I., Baraloto, C., Barroso, J. G., Bauters, M., Bergmeier, E., Biurrun, I., Bjorkman, A. D., Blonder, B., Carni, A., Cayuela, L., Cerny, T., Cornelissen, J. H. C., Craven, D., Dainese, M., Derroire, G., De Sanctis, M., Diaz, S., Dolezal, J., Farfan-Rios, W., Feldpausch, T. R., Fenton, N. J., Garnier, E., Guerin, G. R., Gutierrez, A. G., Haider, S., Hattab, T., Henry, G., Herault, B., Higuchi, P., Holzel, N., Homeier, J., Jentsch, A., Jurgens, N., Kacki, Z., Karger, D. N., Kessler, M., Kleyer, M., Knollova, I., Korolyuk, A. Y., Kühn, I., Laughlin, D. C., Lens, F., Loos, J., Louault, F., Lyubenova, M. I., Malhi, Y., Marceno, C., Mencuccini, M., Muller, J. V., Munzinger, J., Myers-Smith, I. H., Neill, D. A., Niinemets, U., Orwin, K. H., Ozinga, W. A., Penuelas, J., Perez-Haase, A., Petrik, P., Phillips, O. L., Partel, M., Reich, P. B., Römermann, C., Rodrigues, A. V., Sabatini, F. M., Sardans, J., Schmidt, M., Seidler, G., Espejo, J. E. S., Silveira, M., Smyth, A., Sporbert, M., Svenning, J. C., Tang, Z. Y., Thomas, R., Tsiripidis, I., Vassilev, K., Violle, C., Virtanen, R., Weiher, E., Welk, E., Wesche, K., Winter, M., Wirth, C., Jandt, U.

(2018): Global trait-environment relationships of plant communities. Nature Ecology & Evolution 2(12), 1906-17
Icon institutes

Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Friedrich Schiller University Jena

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