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EcoChange Newsletter N. 2

Jan 07, 2010

Second newsletter of the EcoChange project, which assesses the capacity of ecosystems to supply humans with required goods and services and to buffer against climate and land use change.


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Dear reader,

we are pleased to publish the second edition of the electronic EcoChange newsletter, which again provides you with the latest news on the project.

The three EcoChange partners Antoine Guisan, Wilfried Thuiller and Martin T. Sykes were recently ranked among the top 15 “Highly Cited Authors in Climate Change Research 1999-2009”. We asked them what they think is unique about EcoChange and what the project can add to the current debate on Climate Change. The ‘hot topic’ presents EcoChange research which shows that not only mean avarage temperature and precipitation, but that  also climatic extremes affect the occurrence of tree species. Moreover we present short summaries of recent activity news and new briefing sheets.

Enjoy reading!

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In case you have any comments, questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact
the newsletter team: ecochange [at] seri [dot] at.



  1. Top ranked EcoChange researchers about the project
  2. How climatic extremes affect tree species and ranges - Hot topic
  3. Short news from the project's activities
  4. New Briefing Sheets
  5. (Un)Subscribe and Imprint

1) Top ranked EcoChange researchers about the project


Three EcoChange partners were recently ranked among the top 15 “Highly Cited Authors in Climate Change Research 1999-2009” by Science Watch (see news and science watch article): Antoine Guisan (University of Lausanne), Wilfried Thuiller (CNRS, Grenoble), and Martin T. Sykes (Lund University). We asked them about the “unique selling point” of EcoChange, what the EcoChange project could add to the current debate on climate change, and what they find most interesting about it.

Antoine Guisan
Wilfried Thuiller
Martin T. Sykes


What would you consider the 'Unique Selling Point (USP)' of the EcoChange project?

Antoine Guisan: The Unique Selling Point of EcoChange is to my opinion its wide scientific coverage. Within EcoChange scientists from different fields collaborate in order to learn more about the capacity of ecosystems to supply humans with required goods and services and to buffer against climate and land use change. As EcoChange focuses on developing advanced modelling approaches, there are many modellers involved – but also geneticists, paleoecologists or socio-economists give their input. This diversity of approaches should help us understand and anticipate how ecosystems will respond to global change.

Wilfried Thuiller: The  USP of the Ecochange project is the combination of researchers from different fields (ecologists, geneticists, paleoecologists, socio-economists, climatologists, physicists and biostatisticians) under the main objective of estimating the vulnerability of biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and associated goods and services to both climate and land use change. The unique combination is a prerequisite to achieve this objective throughout an integrated project.

Martin T. Sykes: The USP of Ecochange is its integrative approach through time. It uses new data from the palaeorecord with regard to species and dispersal which help to parameterise and validate modelling activities. Modelling includes a range of different approaches to modelling biomes, habitats, species and land use changes. These different approaches are being used in a much more integrative way than earlier to project into the future the effects of global change on ecosystem services and biodiversity.

In your opinion, what kind of 'added value' will the EcoChange project results bring to the current debate on climate change?

Antoine Guisan: EcoChange creates important novel data on past flora and fauna. Combined with existing data and improved modelling approaches, it brings different perspectives on how ecosystems (or some of their components, like plant communities) have assembled in the past, assemble in the present and may thus assemble in the future. This may pave the way towards a new generation of projections of global change impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Wilfried Thuiller: The added value is two-fold: First, the use of a new generation of paleo data (e.g. DNA-based) allows more robust tests of the predictive ability of the models to predict the effects of environmental changes. If biodiversity models are able to predict past changes, they have a stronger chance to be reliable into the future. The second kind of 'added value' is the development of a new generation of hybrid-models which combines existing models in an integrated framework.

Martin T. Sykes: EcoChange has a strong palaeo aspect in the context of exploring global change effects, including climate and land use change impacts on ecosystem services. This is original in its extent and has clear added value. Additionally the combining of different modelling approaches under an agent based modelling agenda (i.e. modelling human behaviour and its impacts on land use and land cover) is a step forward in obtaining a more holistic approach to understanding climate change effects on society.


What do you personally find most interesting about the project?

Antoine Guisan: A large bulk of biodiversity theory and forecasts is based on the concept that species have well defined, stable ecological niches in time and space. Novel perspectives on this hypothesis are expected to be derived from the newly generated paleodata and from overall biodiversity data compiled or collected for Europe, with huge implications for the assemblage of future ecosystems. I personally find these new perspectives on the stability of niches and how ecosystems assemble among the most fundamental research directions of EcoChange.

Wilfried Thuiller: The opportunity to work with researchers from different fields who have different perceptions of biodiversity and vulnerability. In more scientific terms, this project brings together dynamic and talented researchers which make this project at the fore-front of the European research on global change impacts of ecosystems.

Martin T. Sykes: There are a number of different models and modelling paradigms within the project. The interaction among these groups is very stimulating and has the potential to really progress the science. In addition, I am interested in the developments that are underway with regard to integrating the models in an agent based approach to address in a more coherent way different aspects of climate and land use change in Europe I think these are two main highlights of EcoChange. They clearly will have relevance for policy makers and stakeholders.


2) How climatic extremes affect tree species and ranges

A hot topic from the EcoChange project


Up until now, researchers had assumed that long-term mean annual or seasonal temperatures and precipitations are adequate indicators for predicting the occurrence of tree species. Niklaus Zimmermann (Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL) and his international team of researchers (University of Trømso, Utah State University, Université Joseph Fourier Grenoble, University of Lausanne) found out that including data on climate extremes in models that predict spatial patterns in tree species significantly adds to the explanation accuracy of those predictions. Especially intense draughts in summer as well as severe frosts in winter or spring can be considered as determining factors that influence spatial patterns of tree species.

According to Zimmermann, “measures of climatic extremes statistically significantly add to explain species distribution patterns, and modify the shape of these patterns, meaning that they are important in understanding where a species occurs, and where the climate with its mean and extremes is unsuitable.” As climate changes, the researchers expect that extremes will become more important for two reasons: "First, extremes will become more frequent because the means are changing, e.g. a 'deviation towards a hot summer' will result in even hotter summers," explained Zimmermann. "And second, most climate models also predict that the variation around means will generally increase, so that even with no change in mean climates we will expect more variation and thus more frequent and stronger extremes." (1)

The results demonstrate that measures of climate extremes are essential for understanding the climatic limits of tree species. According to Zimmermann and his colleagues, these findings are trend-setting for future research as not only mean annual or seasonal temperatures are expected to rise in the coming decades, also extreme weather events are supposed to increase according to most IPCC climate scenarios. Thus, including climate extremes in prediction models supports a more precise prediction of the potential future distribution of tree species. In this respect, Zimmermann states: “Understanding the relationship between climate extremes and species ranges should improve our ability to forecast plant responses to climate – in short, where plants are likely to thrive under projected climate change scenarios.” (1)

Sources for further reading:


(2) (German)



3) Short news from the project's activities


Please click on the titles to get more background information.

Activity 1 (Gathering existing and sample new data): Activity 1 aimed at preparing all relevant data and information for later modelling and analysis activities throughout EcoChange. Necessary information and data was collected, assembled, and data gaps were filled in a wide range of scientific fields comprised in EcoChange. The activity consisted of five parts devoted to data preparation in the following fields: (1) general data assembly (GIS, species, study sites, etc.); (2) land cover and change; (3) new remote sensing-based predictors; (4) climate change projections; and (5) land use change projections.

Activity 1 finished in 2009. A Briefing Sheet provides further information on the generation of land cover and land use data sets for the assessment of global change impact in biodiversity and ecosystems. Further Briefing Sheets will be published in 2010.

Activity 2 (New DNA-based paleo-data): The Activity 2 team has further developed the barcoding catalogue to resolve key plant groups better, and has extended barcoding to other taxonomic groups. Hundreds of ancient DNA (aDNA) extracts from Arctic localities are amplified and in the sequencer queue. In June 2009 further samples for calibration tests were taken in Longyearbyen (Svalbard); these are also in the sequencing queue, together with samples collected in July/August 2009 by a field that team traveled to Cherskiy (northeast Siberia) and successfully sampled the Kolyma River exposure at Duvanny Yar, which contains deposits dating to 100,000 yr BP. Radiocarbon dating of new samples is underway, and a database for site data and metadata (geology, sediment properties, dates, etc.) is currently established. The Duvanny Yar data will serve as an input for Activity 4 in order to assess niche properties through time. Moreover aDNA sequences and data from pollen databases are used to assess niche models in collaboration with Activity 5.

Activity 3 (New DNA-based data on plant dispersion): Sampling for Activity 3 was very successful thanks to the careful planning and great effort invested by all teams involved in the fieldwork (Cluj, Krakow, Lausanne and Vienna). A dense and regular sampling coverage was achieved in the Eastern Alps study site with 50 Arabis alpina (Aal) and 51 Dryas octopetala (Doc) population samples. In the South-Eastern Carpathians study site the distribution of high-mountain plants is more disrupted but virtually all potential areas were sampled, with 31 Aal and 26 Doc populations. Additional populations were sampled in the Western Carpathians (17 Aal and 16 Doc) providing a full coverage of the Carpathians. An additional study site in the Swiss Alps was very well sampled but only for Dryas octopetala (20 populations) since Aal was absent. All samples have been transferred to Cluj and Krakow. Extractions will be carried out in Poland. The Romanian team will do all extractions of Aal in December. The Krakow team will carry out Doc extractions in January 2010 and AFLP analyses will start shortly thereafter.

Activity 4 (Assessment of spatial and temporal stability of niches and communities): The main attention within Activity 4 has been on three issues. First, we finalized studying niche stability in space, with the emphasis on comparison of niches of the same plant species in Norway and Switzerland. The transferability of species distribution models complied in both areas was analyzed. It has been found that models were more transferable from Norway to Switzerland, but so much vice versa. Second, niche conservatism in time was addressed, at this stage mainly focusing on elaboration of the proper methodological approach how to treat paleo-data describing ancient distribution of species. Third, we started elaborating the theoretical basis of the assembly rules approach, addressing making and stability of communities. In particular, those issues were discussed in a workshop ‘Assembly rules’ (Tartu Sept.29-30th 2009), held jointly with the FP7 project Scales.

Activity 6 (Integrating data and models to derive final projections and link results to humans): The implementation of an integrated sustainability assessment (ISA) of the impacts of environmental change on ecosystem goods and services was continued in three case study areas (Brabant-Wallon in Belgium, Aargau in Switzerland and Poieni and Sacuieu in Romania). The agent-based-model (ABM) is being developed. In parallel, scenarios of possible futures in the case study areas were developed with input from regional stakeholders.  These scenarios depict how life could look like in the case study regions, if a strategy of economic growth or of sustainable development would be followed or if policy would continue as usual. The Briefing Sheet provides further information on the ISA.

Activity 8 (Training of (young) researchers): In the framework of Activity 8, the fist EcoChange Summer School “Predictive habitat distribution models: tools for building projection of global change impact on biodiversity” was held in Lausanne, September 7-10, 2009. The Summer School was organized and led by Antoine Guisan (University of Lausanne), Wilfried Thuiller (National Center for Scientific Research, Grenoble) and Niklaus Zimmermann (Swiss Federal Research Institute, Zurich), with three guest lecturer, Stefan Dullinger (University of Vienna), Martin Sykes (Lund Unviersity) and Thomas Edwards (Utah State University), and with many post-doc and PhD student helping with practicals. The lectures and the practical training dealt with the main aspects of predictive habitat distribution models, going from data issues, to sampling design, to spatial scale, model fitting and evaluation and ensemble forecasting. All participants (27 students coming from 13 different European countries, from Canada, Chile, South Africa and Australia) presented briefly their ongoing research with both a presentation and a poster. The Summer School will have at least a second and third edition in 2010 and 2011, that will be organized in Grenoble and Zurich. Possibly further dates and locations will be considered.


4) New Briefing Sheets

After a first series of briefing sheets that gives an overview of the EcoChange activities (download here) further briefing sheets will concentrate on special topics and results within the activities and will be issued on an irregular basis. Two further briefing sheets are available so far:

Land use and land cover data: Land use and land cover data are important for our understanding of how environmental systems function, and their assessment of change over time is crucial for making informed statements and projections of global change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. This Briefing Sheet presents two aspects of the work within Activity 1 of EcoChange in regard to land cover and land use data: (1) The updating and reconstruction of land cover data; and (2) the downscaling and extension of land use change scenarios.

Integrated Sustainability Assessment: The EcoChange project is built around a number of activities that aim at improving models in order to get better projections of biodiversity and ecosystem changes. In order to derive at conclusion on the consequences for human life, the outcomes of the modelling work are directly linked to an “Integrated Sustainability Assessment” (short ISA) – a process that supports a transition towards sustainable development. Within EcoChange, the process is implemented in three case study regions in Belgium, Romania and Switzerland.

5) (Un)Subscribe and Imprint


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