23.04.2024 | Media Release, Research, TOP NEWS, iDiv Members

Study shows how plants regulate the climate in Europe

Functional plant characteristics, such as the unique characteristics of leaves and roots, affect the local climate. (Picture: S. Bernhardt / iDiv)

Functional plant characteristics, such as the unique characteristics of leaves and roots, affect the local climate. (Picture: S. Bernhardt / iDiv)

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Local differences in plant traits partially explain variation in climate-regulation processes

Based on a media release of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

The climate regulates plant growth, but the climate is also regulated by plants. Depending on the vegetation composition, ecosystems even have a strong influence on the climate in Europe, a study by Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) in the journal Global Change Biology shows. The researchers linked satellite data with around 50,000 vegetation records from across Europe. A good five per cent of regional climate regulation can be explained by local plant diversity. The analysis also shows that the effects depend on many other factors. Plants regulate the climate by reflecting sunlight or cooling their surroundings through evaporation.

"Plants and climate have an extremely complex relationship: on the one hand, the climate has a considerable influence on plant growth and also on plant characteristics, such as growth height, leaf thickness or root depth. On the other hand, plants regulate climatic conditions in many different ways," says Dr Stephan Kambach from MLU. For example, if plants reflect a lot of sunlight, less heat accumulates on site. Plants can also cool their surroundings by evaporating water and capture large quantities of carbon dioxide.

However, according to Kambach, little was previously known about the extent to which the various functional plant characteristics, such as the unique characteristics of leaves and roots, affect the climate. In order to close this knowledge gap, the team combined regional data from satellite observations with local surveys of plants and plant traits at almost 50,000 locations in Europe. "It was important for us to combine areas from very different habitats. Our data therefore includes information from coniferous, deciduous and evergreen broadleaf forests as well as various shrub and open land formations," explains Professor Dr Helge Bruelheide, senior author of the study. Bruelheide is a member of iDiv and head of the Geobotany working group at MLU.

"We show that a significant proportion of the observed climate-regulating processes can be explained by differences in the functional traits of the local plants. It therefore depends very much on which plants grow in which quantities in an ecosystem," continues Kambach. However, the effects differed greatly between individual ecosystems, for example between evergreen coniferous and deciduous forests. "Overall, we were nevertheless able to prove that a taller plant communities generally reflect less sunlight and that larger leaves are associated with higher evaporation and more sequestered carbon," Kambach says.

The study is a key outcome of the European research project FeedBaCks, which is investigating the feedback mechanisms between biodiversity and climate and their consequences for humans. It is coordinated by the University of Zurich. In addition to MLU, partners include the universities of Brno (Czech Republic), Frankfurt/Main and Grenoble (France) as well as the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL, Switzerland), the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden).

"Our study also provides important indicators for nature conservation and politics. When planning measures to mitigate climate change, the potential impacts and feedbacks of biodiversity should be taken into account," Helge Bruelheide concludes.  


Original publication

Stephan Kambach, Fabio Attorre, Irena Axmanová, Ariel Bergamini, Idoia Biurrun, Gianmaria Bonari, Maria Laura Carranza, Alessandro Chiarucci, Milan Chytrý, Jürgen Dengler, Emmanuel Garbolino, Valentin Golub, Thomas Hickler, Ute Jandt, Jan Jansen, Borja Jiménez-Alfaro, Dirk Nikolaus Karger, Zdeňka Lososová, Valerijus Rašomavičius, Solvita Rūsiņa, Petra Sieber, Angela Stanisci, Wilfried Thuiller, Erik Welk, Niklaus E. Zimmermann, Helge Bruelheide. Climate regulation processes are linked to the functional composition of plant communities in European forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Global Change Biology (2024). doi: 10.1111/gcb.17189

Further informationen




Dr Stephan Kambach
Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Email: stephan.kambach@botanik.uni-halle.de


Prof Helge Bruelheide
Professor for Geobotany
Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Phone: +49-345 5526222
Email: helge.bruelheide@botanik.uni-halle.de
Web: www.botanik.uni-halle.de/geobotanik/helge_bruelheide/


Kati Kietzmann
Media and Communications
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Phone: +49 341 9739222
Email: kati.kietzmann@idiv.de


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