Modeling species-rich ecosystems to understand community dynamics and structures emerging from individual plant interactions

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Title: Modeling species-rich ecosystems to understand community dynamics and structures emerging from individual plant interactions
Authors: Schmid, Julia S.
Thesis advisor: Prof. Dr. Andreas Huth
Thesis referee: Prof. Dr. Kerstin Wiegand
Abstract: Grasslands cover 40% of the earth’s land area and provide numerous valuable ecosystem services. However, climate change, global land use change and increasing intensive anthropogenic interventions make grasslands to one of the most endangered ecosystem types in the world. Effective protection in the future requires a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of grasslands and their major drivers. Field experiments have been conducted for impact analyses, for example, with different management intensities, plant community composition and altered climatic conditions. Complementary, ecological models allow to extend the analysis to long-term effects of changes as well as to a deeper understanding of the underlying ecological processes. In this thesis, an individual-based grassland model and network science were applied to understand the community structure and dynamics emerging from individual plant interactions – in relation to plant traits, ecological processes, environmental and anthropogenic impacts, and the small-scale spatial distribution of plants. In the first study, an individual-based process-oriented grassland model was parameterized to simulate field data of a local biodiversity experiment using the concept of plant functional types. The influence of various functional plant traits and ecological processes on grassland productivity and functional composition were analyzed. Different functional plant traits showed partly contrasting effects on plant growth. With regard to the modeled ecological processes, competition for space between plants affected grassland productivity more than shading of plants. In the second study, the parameterized grassland model was used to analyze the impact of functional diversity, mowing frequency and air temperature on ecological processes that lead to changes in grassland productivity. The model reproduced the increase of biomass yields with functional diversity as observed in the field experiment. Modeled plant competition for space showed to be the dominant process and was responsible for an increase in biomass yields in more frequently mown grasslands. In the third study, an approach to generate a regionally transferable parameterization of the grassland model is presented. The impact of management, environment and climate change on productivity and functional composition of grasslands was analyzed within a German-wide scenario analysis. Management intensity had more influence on grassland productivity than environmental factors and correlations of productivity with environmental factors become stronger in less managed grasslands. Climate change showed to have only a minor influence on simulated vegetation attributes. In the fourth study, network science was applied to forest megaplots to quantify the spatial neighborhood structure of species-rich ecosystems. Networks at the individual-tree and tree-species levels revealed similar structures at three investigated forest sites. Tropical tree species coexisted in small-scale networks and only up to 51% of all possible connections between species pairs were realized. A null community analysis showed that details on the tree position and tree size have no major influence on the network structures identified. In summary, this thesis presents the development of advanced methods and analysis tools as well as their application to vegetation ecosystems with high diversity. Thereby, complex structures and dynamics of ecological systems could be systematically explored by combining ecological models with extensive field measurements.
Subject Keywords: grassland; individual-based modeling; tropical forest; network science; interactions; parameterization
Issue Date: 18-Aug-2022
License name: Attribution 3.0 Germany
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Type of publication: Dissertation oder Habilitation [doctoralThesis]
Appears in Collections:FB06 - E-Dissertationen

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