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Soil and cycles

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Forests can only provide ecosystem services like clean water, pure air and nutrients for plants when the soil is healthy. We examine how external factors like pollutants, climate change and land management affect the functions and biogeochemical cycles in the soils of near-natural ecosystems.


Soils fulfill various functions, including provision of water and nutrients for plant growth (“production function”), habitat for numerous organisms (“habitat function”) and regulation of water, carbon and nutrient fluxes (“regulation function”). These functions are important factors for the provision of ecosystem services, including wood and energy production, carbon sequestration, flood protection and provision of drinking water.

External influences such as pollution, rising temperatures and human interventions alter the water and nutrient cycle and therefore the growth conditions for roots and microorganisms in the soil. The composition of the soil community also changes as a result. Managing woods using heavy forestry machinery, for example, consequently has an impact on soil fertility.

We investigate these interactions through field and laboratory experiments and long-term monitoring projects. With the findings, we are able to draw conclusions on the living conditions encountered by trees, their roots and soil organisms – both now and in the future – in forest soils and other uncultivated soils as well as the networks in which they are linked.


Focus Areas

Forest-site science

Using spatially-explicit data, we constrain the ecological niches of plant species and assess how the forest soils in Switzerland change.

Soil water

We investigate the chemical and physical properties of water in soils. Thus we provide the forest sector with a sound basis for decision-making.

Microbial ecology

Bacteria in the soil play a crucial role in global material cycles. We research the effects of soil pollution on soil microbes.

Soil carbon

We investigate how soils, forests and the carbon cycle influence each other in order to predict the impact of climate and land use changes.