German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)

Aims & Scope

General Description

The advantage of the iDiv Ecotron over laboratory and field studies lies in the combination of the ability to construct complex ecosystems under near-natural conditions (unlike laboratory studies) and at the same time to eliminate or reduce the variance of unknown factors by controlling environmental conditions (unlike field studies). Therefore, the iDiv Ecotron offers the possibility to study ecological interactions of plants and invertebrates at multiple levels and on an adequate spatial scale, allowing a comprehensive investigation of multiple functions as well as the mechanisms underlying the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Our main aims are:

  • to study the impact of horizontal (i.e., diversity within trophic levels) and vertical diversity (i.e., the number of trophic levels - multidiversity) on ecosystem functioning
  • to study the impact of the interactions of aboveground and belowground organisms and processes on ecosystem functioning
  • to study the impact of the interactions of multidiversity and global change drivers on ecosystem functioning


Recent research highlights that diversity at higher trophic levels (above- and belowground) can simultaneously influence multiple ecosystem functions (multifunctionality) [1] [2] [3].These higher trophic levels, however, are often strongly negatively affected by anthropogenic pressures, such as land-use intensification[4] [5]. The ecological consequences of non-random, trait-based biodiversity changes in complex food webs have rarely been studied so far[6]. The iDiv Ecotron was explicitly designed to address the perpetual claim that biodiversity–ecosystem function (BEF) research in terrestrial ecosystems needs to move beyond the manipulation of diversity at single trophic levels to embrace the multitrophic complexity of ecological communities[7] [8] [9].

Research possibilities within the iDiv Ecotron experimental units (EcoUnits):

  • Manipulation of abiotic conditions including light intensity, irrigation, nutrient supply, or toxins
  • Investigation of the interaction of primary producers, decomposers, herbivores, predators, mutualists, parasites, and pathogens under various abiotic conditions
  • Manipulation of diversity within and across trophic levels and functional groups in combination with different global change scenarios



[1] Lefcheck, J. S., Byrnes, J. E. K., Isbell, F., et al. and Duffy, J. E. (2015) Biodiversity enhances ecosystem multifunctionality across trophic levels and habitats. Nature Communications, 6, 6936.

[2] Soliveres, S., van der Plas, F., Manning, P., et al. and Allan, E. (2016) Biodiversity at multiple trophic levels is needed for ecosystem multifunctionality. Nature, 536, 456-459. 10.1038/nature19092.

[3] Schuldt, A., Assmann, T., Brezzi, M., et al. and Bruelheide, H. (2018) Biodiversity across trophic levels drives multifunctionality in highly diverse forests. Nature Communications, 9, 2989. 10.1038/s41467-018-05421-z.

[4] Allan, E., Bossdorf, O., Dormann, C. F., et al. and Fischer, M. (2014) Interannual variation in land-use intensity enhances grassland multidiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 308-313. 10.1073/pnas.1312213111.

[5] Attwood, S. J., Maron, M., House, A. P. N. and Zammit, C. (2008) Do arthropod assemblages display globally consistent responses to intensified agricultural land use and management? Global Ecology and Biogeography, 17, 585-599. doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2008.00399.x.

[6] Eisenhauer, N. (2017) Consumers control carbon. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 1596-1597. 10.1038/s41559-017-0352-y.

[7] Naeem, S., Thompson, L. J., Lawler, S. P., Lawton, J. H. and Woodfin, R. M. (1994) Declining biodiversity can alter the performance of ecosystems. Nature, 368, 734-737.

[8] Cardinale, B. J., Duffy, J. E., Gonzalez, A., et al. and Naeem, S. (2012) Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature, 486, 59. 10.1038/nature11148

[9] Hines, J., van der Putten, W. H., De Deyn, G. B., et al. and Eisenhauer, N. (2015) Chapter Four - Towards an Integration of Biodiversity–Ecosystem Functioning and Food Web Theory to Evaluate Relationships between Multiple Ecosystem Services. In Woodward, G. and Bohan, D. A. (eds), Advances in ecological research, Academic Press. pp. 161-199.

A Short History

iDiv researchers started in 2013 to develop first designs of the iDiv Ecotron. Multiple workshops (e.g., sEcotron) with international guests helped to develop the final design of an EcoUnit prototype.

The test phase of the EcoUnit prototype started in July 2015. This test was essential to revise the settings, sensors, and other equipment. In autumn 2016, the 24 EcoUnits were implemented in a climate-controlled hall on an area of 580 m2, located within the research station of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt (Saxony-Anhalt). In May 2017, the iDiv Ecotron was inaugurated with an opening ceremony as central experimental platform of iDiv.

How To Conduct Research Within The iDiv Ecotron

With the iDiv Ecotron, a framework was created which offers the opportunity to carry out various collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects and experiments.

The scientific strategy of the iDiv Ecotron follows the objectives of integrative biodiversity research as defined in the iDiv Consortium (iDiv Charter) and the iDiv Cooperation Agreement.

Research in the iDiv Ecotron focuses on understanding relationships between horizontal and vertical biodiversity, as well as environmental change drivers and ecosystem functioning. Exemplary key questions that guide research in the iDiv Ecotron are:

  • Does complexity of species interaction networks influence ecosystem functioning?
  • How are ecosystem functions depending on the connections between aboveground and belowground organisms and processes?
  • What is the impact of global change on biodiversity, interaction networks, and ecosystem functions?

The Ecotron Committee steers the scientific strategy of the iDiv Ecotron. It designs and selects studies according to these principles. Studies can be either self-financed by applicants or partly or fully financed by the Ecotron budget (see iDiv Ecotron Calls).

For more details see “Ecotron Research Guidelines.

The Ecotron Committee

To develop experiments and to organize collaborations in the iDiv Ecotron project, we established an Ecotron Scientific Committee dealing with all scientific and administrative issues related to the research platform. The members of the Committee are:

Nico Eisenhauer
(iDiv/UL; head of the committee)

Uli Brose

François Buscot

Stan Harpole

Martin Schädler

Anja Schmidt
(iDiv/UL; project coordinator)

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