All plants have a limited amount of time to acquire sufficient resources (light, water, nutrients) to maximise their individual performance, which is to grow, survive and ultimately to reproduce. During their life span, individual performance may either be facilitated or hampered by biotic and abiotic factors. For example, individual light acquisition may be impeded by competing species, and soil nutrient limitation may limit growth rates. The allocation of biomass and nutrients to specific plant organs plays a key role as a plant strategy and effects ecosystem properties like productivity and decomposition.
In my research I am interested in functional responses of plants to environmental factors, with a main emphasis on ecological stoichiometry. These responses are measured as plant functional traits, which are organismal properties impacting its fitness via effects on growth, reproduction and survival. Today society as entered a stage in which the effects of anthropogenic forces transforming the ecology of our planet cannot be denied. These effects include changes in atmospheric composition and climate, hydrology, fire and landscape regimes. Humans have driven changes in net primary production-patterns, as well as in local and global biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements. Further effects comprise both the extinction of species and the introduction of species into new systems. Against this background, my main research-emphasis is to disentangle intrinsic determinations of functionally different plant organs from the effects of the abiotic environment. Understanding the responses of plants to the environment, their trait-trait relationships and ultimately their effects on ecosystem properties is crucial for understanding ecosystem processes per se and allows predictions of consequences of the changing environment we live in.
Today’s research on plant ecology is challenged from two sides: identify fundamental principles of plant strategies and understand plant behaviour in the framework of environmental change. With my overall research interests I intend to tackle both challenges, through my work on plant functional traits. My research lines focus on different aspects of functional trait research, for example trait plasticity, ecological stoichiometry, trait-trait interactions and ecosystem functioning.
My research questions include:
Which are the intrinsic rules that govern allocation of biomass and nutrients between plant organs and which patterns are governed by abiotic conditions?
Which plant strategies can be derived from trait-trait relationships and trait-environment realtionships?
Do congeneric species differ in their trait-plasticity along the same environmental gradient and does this explain patterns of plant invasions?