CORDIS - EU research results

Shaping functional ecosystems of the future

Project description

Researching functional assisted migration to preserve resilient ecosystems under climate change

Climate change is pushing ecosystems beyond known boundaries. Traditional conservation methods are no longer effective. Instead of resisting change, we should guide ecosystems towards desired outcomes. Assisted migration, the translocation of species to mimic range expansion under climate change, is a proposed strategy but faces controversy. Focusing on risks over benefits has hindered research and innovation in this area. The ERC-funded FutureNature project will shift the focus from minimising impacts to maximising contributions of translocated species to novel ecosystems. To achieve this, the research team will study the contribution of non-invasive alien species to ecosystem functioning and test novel, simulated grassland communities in a climate change experiment. This knowledge will help create resilient ecosystems under climate change.


Accelerating climate change is moving ecosystems rapidly beyond the bounds of historical variability. Many of the traditional conservation approaches trying to maintain a status quo are no longer effective. Rather than resisting change, we need to guide transforming ecosystems towards preferred ecological outcomes. Assisted migration, the active translocation of species to mimic range expansion under climate change, is a widely proposed adaptive management strategy. But it is also controversial, as it disrupts long-held views on biological conservation. Focusing on risks and ignoring benefits has hampered scientific research on assisted migration and halted necessary conservation innovation. Yet, the costs of inaction are too high and time is running out. In FUTURENATURE, I will approach the assisted migration of plant species from an innovative functional perspective, shifting the focus from minimising the impact of translocated species to maximising their contribution to the functioning of novel communities. I will advance our understanding of how assisted migration can safeguard functioning ecosystems by combining the wealth of large observational databases, state-of-the-art joint species distribution models and a cutting-edge climate change experiment. Specifically, I will (1) study the contribution of non-invasive alien species to ecosystem functioning; (2) incorporate species interactions and traits into species distribution modelling to simulate novel grassland communities; and (3) experimentally test the functionality of the best performing communities under future climate scenarios. With the knowledge gained, we will be able to shape ecosystems that will not only survive, but thrive under climate change. FUTURENATURE will provide a “greenprint” to study assisted migration across species groups and ecosystems, and, ideally, enable a paradigm shift in conservation thinking by lifting the psychological barriers preventing changes in natural ecosystems.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 414 937,00
3000 Leuven

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Vlaams Gewest Prov. Vlaams-Brabant Arr. Leuven
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 414 937,00

Beneficiaries (1)