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Ecological interactions

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All creatures interrelate with one another and with their environment. We examine the ecological interactions between various life forms, from microorganisms in the soil to large mammals, and relate these to ecosystem processes and services.

 

All creatures interrelate with one another and their environment through a wide variety of interactions. They may form symbiotic relationships with other creatures, and in doing so derive mutual benefit from the relationship (e.g. mycorrhiza and plants), compete with one another for food or habitat, or coexist in a predator-prey relationship.

We research the ecological interactions between various life forms, from microorganisms in the soil, to plants, insects and large mammals, and relate these to ecosystem services such as productivity, stability, nutrient cycles and nutrient storage.

Interactions between different species, for example between insects and plants, are determined by the characteristics of the species involved. We analyse how changes in land use, land use intensification and climate change affect the composition of species communities in terms of their characteristics, for instance the body size or behaviour of insects. If the composition of characteristics of species communities changes, then the interactions between species within the ecosystem also change. We examine the impacts of these changes on ecosystem processes, for example on biomass production or decomposition in the forest.

Long-term experiments and computer models

How do herbivores affect the nutrient content of the soil in Alpine pastures, and how do they affect the composition of the plant and microorganism community? What effect do ants and decomposers, such as earthworms, have on the processes and nutrient content of the soil? What role do insects and birds play in the pollination of plants? We answer these and other questions in field experiments which we conduct in a wide variety of ecosystems, from the Swiss Alps to the tropical rainforest.

We supplement our findings with statistical models. These enable us, for example, to predict future interactions between plants and plant pests in a changed climate.

  

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