FLF-Managing biodiversity and trophic cascades to enhance forest functioning and restoration

Project Details


The overarching aims of this project are to help us 1) understand the consequences of declines in global biodiversity for the ecosystem services that support humanity; and 2) generate data that will help manage the restoration of forests to reverse the decline in biodiversity and help mitigate global warming. To do this, we will i) determine how the diversity of complex below-ground communities affects carbon and nutrient cycling, tree growth and regeneration in European forests; and 2) quantify how large mammalian herbivores affect above and below-ground biotic communities, ecosystem processes and forest restoration.

How will declining global biodiversity affect the maintenance of self-sustaining ecosystems and quality of human life? There is an urgent need to address this question in order to predict and therefore mitigate the consequences of human-driven changes to the natural world. Forests are an ideal setting in which to investigate this environmental challenge because they are hugely important reservoirs of biodiversity and provide many ecosystem services upon which humanity relies, such as the provision of food, soil security and the capture and storage of CO2. Furthermore, because of the importance of forests as homes for many of Earth’s species and the ability of trees to remove carbon from the air, reforesting vast areas of land is a key strategy in reversing declines in biodiversity and addressing the climate emergency.

Soil invertebrates and microbes are vitally important for carbon sequestration because of their key role in carbon and nutrient cycling, which underpin seedling establishment and tree growth. We know that ecosystems with a greater variety of above-ground vegetation species are more productive and capture more carbon, but we don’t know how diversity in below ground communities effects these biodiversity-ecosystem productivity relationships. However, studying complex below-ground food webs is extremely challenging and time consuming because life in the soil is so small and so diverse. Therefore, we use genetic sequencing techniques (eDNA and high through-put sequencing) to determine how the diversity of these difficult to study organisms influences carbon sequestration and therefore climate change mitigation strategies.

There also remain gaps in our understanding of how current increases in deer and elk populations across Europe will influence soil biotic communities and the functioning and regrowth of forest ecosystems. To help to fill these gaps, we are establishing a long-term, large-scale mammal exclusion experiment across a broad range of forest types and climates in Europe (in Finland, Romania, Germany, Italy and the UK). This will help us to understand how changes in browsing by large mammals affects forest regeneration and soil processes

Effective start/end date1/02/2131/01/25


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