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EcoChange Newsletter N. 3

Dec 15, 2010

Third 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 third edition of the electronic EcoChange newsletter. We are already approaching the last project year, thus more and more results are available from the project. Just in time before Christmas, we collected some news from the EcoChange activities. Moreover, find below an interview with our colleague Kari Anne Bråthen from the Tromsø University who supports the EcoChange team with her knowledge on plant ecology from sub-Arctic areas.

Enjoy reading!


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ecochange [at] seri [dot] at.



1) Plant ecology in sub-Arctic areas - interview with Kari Anne Bråthen
2) Short news from the project’s activities
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1) Plant ecology in sub-Arctic areas

Interview with Kari Anne Bråthen, University of Tromsø

Kari Anne Brathen

What is your role in the EcoChange project?


My role is to bring in knowledge of plant ecology from sub-Arctic areas. This has been fun, because in the EcoChange project I have met with many interesting researchers from other fields, and I find myself involved in several sub-projects. One remarkable sub-project was to test whether vascular plant species [also called higher plant species] diversity can be predicted from analysis of soil DNA, and we found that it can. This finding can cause a whole new change to the feasibility of diversity research and monitoring.

What is the role of the Arctic in your work within the EcoChange project?

The Arctic with its cool climate and few species makes it a quite simple study system. For this reason, we used a sub-Arctic study site to test whether vascular plant species diversity can be predicted from analysis of soil DNA.

Also, Arctic and alpine habitats have many climatic features in common, and several species that exist in the Alps can also be found in the Arctic. But to what extent these species keep their bioclimatic niche unchanged from the Alps to the Arctic is one of the questions we ask in the EcoChange project. To answer this question we have conducted labour intensive fieldwork throughout 20-30 bioclimatic zones in both the Alps and a sub-Arctic area of northern Norway, Finnmark.

What are the main challenges for biodiversity research in the Arctic?

Arctic areas are among the areas that are expected to be mostly affected by climatic change, and naturally so will the biodiversity of the Arctic.

But the knowledge status of the biodiversity and the ecosystems of the vast areas of the Arctic is still low. Thus, to me the main challenge for biodiversity research in the Arctic is to find a way to both increase our knowledge status and at the same time establish long term monitoring as an early warning for climatic changes. Merging research with monitoring in a network of environmental and ecological observational units throughout the Arctic could be one way to address these challenges.


2) Short news from the project’s activities

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. The activity consisted of five parts devoted to data preparation in the following fields: (1) general data assembly (GIS, species, study sites, etc.); (2) data on 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 (BS1_A1) 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.


Activity 2 (New DNA-based paleo-data):

Activity 2 working with activity 4 simulated past conditions with vegetation models and compared simulated distribution patterns of species with radiocarbon-dated palaeo-biological data in order to learn about the key features affecting plant response to climate change. A large run of fossil samples was carried out on the Copenhagen sequencer earlier this year, and a new database of molecular and geological data is being compiled, in anticipation of the first DNA-based vegetation reconstructions from ancient sediments.

A manuscript study entitled “Quick and Dirty: Metabarcoding of Soil DNA mirrors Plant Functional and Structural Diversity” has been achieved, based on the results of modern calibration of soils DNA and vegetation in Norway – see also the interview with Kari Anne Bråthen.


Activity 3 (New DNA-based data on plant dispersion):

After the very successful sampling season that took place during the preceding reporting period, the partners from Krakow and Cluj have begun with the genotyping work. A total of 1402 Arabis alpina individuals are being genotyped in Cluj while 1768 individuals of Dryas octopetala are being genotyped in Krakow. All DNA extractions, digestion/ligation and preselective amplifications have been completed. It only rests to finish with the selective amplification and capillary electrophoresis of the last pair of primers. We estimate that 80% of the lab work has been accomplished so we expect that the data set is soon ready for analyses.


Activity 4 (Assessment of spatial and temporal stability of niches and communities):

The main attention was on assembly rules. We conducted a meta-analysis of published assembly rules in plant communities, showing that while there is some evidence of non-random co-occurrence of plant species and niche limitation, the evidence of functional assembly rules (guild proportionality, limiting similarity) is scarce. This result may reflect the true nature of plant communities, but might also indicate methodological problems when detecting assembly rules. Analogous results were received with empirical data, collected either from Estonian forest or Swiss grassland vegetation.

We are currently elaborating the methods to address assembly rules in paleocommunities, based on ancient DNA data from permafrost soil samples. The samples have been collected, DNA sequences are being analyzed.


Activity 5 (Improvement of modelling and uncertainty assessment):

This activity has now significantly progressed, with about two third of its tasks completed. Niche-based models have been improved in three aspects:

i) scale effects have been assessed,
ii) new remotely-sensed and landscape predictors tested
iii) and the ensemble forecasting approach have been tested and implemented into a computer platform (BIOMOD).

Two computing programmes (MIGCLIM and CATS) have been developed for simulating future plant species migration at different scales. MIGCLIM is currently tested for reconstructing plant invasions. CATS have also been coupled with a dynamic model (CARAIB) for simulating species past migrations. Three dynamic vegetation models have been developed (BioMove) or improved (CARAIB and LPJ-GUESS). The identification of sources of uncertainty in models is ongoing and a detailed protocol for evaluating models has been designed on the basis of an extensive review of the literature. Evaluation of models by back projection is now under progress.


Activity 6 (Integrating data and models to derive final projections and link results to humans):

Activity 6 officially started this year and has the objectives to integrate and combine findings from all EcoChange activities in order to allow for policy conclusions to be drawn. Four studies which deal with the improvement of current tools for conservation planning were conducted: 1) developing a new method for assessment of effectiveness of protected areas under climate change; 2) applying ensemble models developed in WP5 and the above mentioned method to assess climate change impacts on European conservation areas; 3) exploring fine-scale impacts of climate change among Finnish birds in protected areas; 4) providing “news and views”  about protected areas and climate change.

Further, the ABM (agent-based model) has been expanded and refined and contains now a range of submodels representing technological progress, societal attitudes, policy decisions and market behaviour. By making use of this framework, the mechanisms of action for the scenarios can be described, providing a strong link between narrative storylines and model behaviour. Basic model simulations can be set up for specific case studies with some degree of intelligence on the part of the land managers.


Activity 7 (Scientific and non-scientific dissemination of results): 

First EcoChange results can now be found within a new section “results” ( on our website. This section will be updated continuously in order to present EcoChange outcomes as fast as possible. At the moment you can find results on Activity 4 and 5.

A new Briefing Sheet on “Plants’ life conditions in topographic rich mountain terrains” (BS_Act4) describes recent results from investigations on the thermal living conditions of plants in topographically rich mountain terrain. The outcomes of this task from Activity 4 suggest that topographically rich mountain terrain is, for the majority of species, a much ‘safer’ place to live under conditions of climate change than flat terrain, as a wide range of micro-habitats is available within a short distance. Moreover, it can be concluded that modelling the responses of plants to climate change in alpine regions should not be based solely on elevation data.

EcoChange Briefing Sheets inform interested stakeholders on the results of the work packages within the project activities and can be downloaded from our website ( ).


Activity 8 (Training of (young) researchers):

After the large success of the first EcoChange Summer School in Lausanne, the next edition was held at the WSL in Birmensdorf, the 20-24 September 2010 and was organized by Niklaus Zimmermann, Wilfried Thuiller and Antoine Guisan. Lectures and practicals given by the three co-organisers focused on Predictive Habitat Suitability Models for nature conservation, species management, and global change projections on biodiversity. This year the formation benefited from knowledge and experience of two invited speakers: Nigel G. Yoccoz (University of Tromso) and Thomas C. Edwards Jr (USGS, USA).


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