TER Mission

Soil microorganisms and plants are key players in the production and breakdown of organic matter, and together control global biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. TER, the Division of Terrestrial Ecosystem Research, aims to advance our fundamental understanding of how plants and soil microorganisms respond to, and in turn shape, their abiotic and biotic environment, and to determine the consequences for the functioning of Earth’s ecosystems.

Primarily dedicated to basic research, TER addresses pressing environmental issues, such as the impact of climate and land-use change on ecosystem functioning and the role of soils in the global carbon cycle and in food security. In doing so, we work on scales from µm (i.e. the scale at which microbes operate) to the biosphere (i.e. where plant and microbial processes become evident), and in ecosystems spanning the Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests. We integrate this scale of thinking with state-of-the-art methods, including stable isotope tracing and biomarker fingerprinting, and are developing novel approaches to estimate gross environmental processes with isotope pool dilution techniques.

We are strongly committed to conduct world-leading research in a motivating and intellectually stimulating environment, and to train our students to become independent and internationally competitive scientists who enjoy research and contribute to society as conscientious citizens.

Research projects

  • SPACE - The spatial aspect of rhizosphere priming

    Higher plants release a significant proportion of the carbon (C) they assimilate into the rhizosphere – mainly as sugars, amino acids or organic acids. This labile carbon has been shown to substantially accelerate microbial decomposition of ‘old’ or ‘recalcitrant’ soil [...]

  • Time & Energy, fundamental microbial mechanisms that determine methane dynamics in a warming arctic

    Arctic peatlands are dynamic, fluctuating environments exposed to frequent temperature changes within as well as between seasons. The effect of temperature changes on the carbon balance in Arctic peatlands depends on short-term (hours-days), medium-term (weeks-months) and long-term (years) microbial acclimation [...]

  • The Biogeochemistry of Tungsten (W) in the Plant-Soil Environment

    In the past decades, increasing industrial and military use of Tungsten (W)-based products opened new pathways of W into natural systems and raise the need for a better understanding of the behaviour of W in the environment. Soils play a [...]

  • CryoCARB - Advancing organic carbon estimates for cryoturbated soils

    CryoCarb is an international project that includes seven research groups from Europe and Russia.
    Our main goal is to (i) advance organic carbon estimates for cryoturbated soils focusing on the Eurasian Arctic and (ii) to
    understand the vulnerability [...]

  • EU-PolarNet - Connecting Science with Society

    We are part of the Horizon 2020 project "EU-PolarNet - Connecting Science with Society", the world’s largest consortium of expertise and infrastructure for polar research. EU-PolarNet consists of 22 of Europe’s most respected multi-disciplinary research institutions. From 2015-2020, EU-PolarNet will [...]

  • Microbial Nitrogen Cycling - From Single Cells to Ecosystems (Graduate Program)

    Understanding the contribution of microorganisms to ecosystem processes remains one of the most compelling challenges in ecology and requires a high degree of interdisciplinary research. Ten faculty members from three departments have designed a joint PhD program with highly integrated, [...]

  • ClimGrass C – Grassland carbon dynamics in a changing climate

    Climate changes and elevated CO2 have major impacts on biogeochemical cycles, which may in turn feed back on the climate system. ClimGrass-C is a new project that aims to assess effects of multiple levels of elevated CO2 and warming and [...]

  • INT5153 - Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Land-Water-Ecosystem Quality in Polar and Mountainous Regions

    The interregional IAEA project aims to improve the understanding of the impact of climate change on fragile polar and mountainous ecosystems on both a local and global scale for their better management and conservation. Seven core and five related benchmark [...]

  • COUP - Constraining uncertainties in the permafrost-climate feedback

    Permafrost ecosystems hold more carbon than the atmosphere. There is mountain concern that rapid warming in the Arctic will accelerate the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) from these ecosystems, resulting in a positive feedback to climate change. [...]

  • Modeling emergent phenomena of complex microbial communities

    Microbial soil organic matter transformations are traditionally investigated from a bird’s eye view, that means at scales that are considerably larger than those relevant to soil microbes, in both empirical and modeling studies. This approach constrains our understanding of the [...]

  • ROMY - Carbon and Nitrogen flow through the Plant-Mycorrhiza-Soil continuum

    All plants release a substantial fraction of the carbon they assimilate via photosynthesis as root exudates into the soil, an input that significantly shapes soil microbial processes. Root exudates are known to accelerate microbial decomposition of soil organic matter in [...]

  • Ecological stoichiometry

    Terrestrial microbial decomposer communities thrive on a wide range of organic matter types that rarely ever meet their elemental demands in terms of C, N and P (and other nutrients). The stoichiometric imbalance between microbial communities and their organic substrates [...]

  • Tropical Biogeochemistry

    Tropical forests are centers of global biodiversity and integral parts of the global water and biogeochemical cycles. They play a key role in global climate control and terrestrial carbon sequestration, and are indispensable as reservoirs of terrestrial organic carbon and [...]

  • Soil fluxomics and tracing SOM decomposition at the molecular level

    Soil organic matter (SOM) represents a vast store of carbon, exceeding that of the atmosphere by at least 3-fold. Global change effects on the formation and breakdown of SOM therefore can have strong repercussions on the global C cycle and [...]

  • Soil organic N cycling – MicrON

    Nitrogen (N) availability in soils exerts a strong control on the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle, through effects on plant production and on microbial processes, such as organic matter decomposition and soil microbial respiration. The predicted global changes in temperature and [...]