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Unraveling long-term soil organic matter dynamics under drought in forest soils and their link to ecosystem properties

Project description

How soil is affected by extreme drought

Record-breaking summer temperatures and prolonged dry spells led to much of central Europe being devastated by drought during 2018. Weather experts fear this could be repeated or exceeded in the coming years as extreme drought conditions do not only leave a trail of destruction aboveground. The EU-funded DRYSOM project will take a look at what’s happening belowground. It will investigate the effects of recurring summer drought on the long-term dynamics of soil organic matter (SOM). The research will be carried out in a 15-year-long irrigation experiment in a dry oak and pine forest.


Severe drought periods are predicted to increase in Central Europe. The increasing frequency of drought will affect the growth and carbon (C) storage in forests. While drought effects have intensively been studied for plants, much less is known about their impact on soil processes. Soils store more C than atmosphere and vegetation together, and contribute to CO2 removal and thus to mitigate climate change.
The proposed project aims to estimate how reoccurring summer drought affects long-term dynamics of soil organic matter (SOM) in forest soils. Our research will be carried out in a unique 15-year-long irrigation experiment in a dry oak and pine forest. The project will advance the knowledge and improve its transfer between disciplines by (1) tracing C inputs and fluxes from roots and mycorrhiza into soils and losses of ‘old’ SOM by applying novel isotopic approaches, and relating these changes to soil microbiota analyzed by DNA, (2) determining drought impacts on SOM stability and its sources by innovative marker molecules approaches in SOM pools, and (3) linking these results ecosystem properties measured by collaborating research groups. The use of a long-term experimental set up, together with novel techniques, will offer a unique opportunity to identify the unknown drought-induced effects on belowground C cycling at long time scales. These results will be important for facing current climate change impacts, and will be communicated not only to scientists but also to policy makers and to a wider public.
The project will enhance the researcher’s skills in cutting-edge methodologies and techniques, boost teaching and writing skills and increase communication competences, through an ad-hoc spectrum of training activities. As such, future career opportunities will highly improve and the fellowship will be a key milestone for the researcher to become an independent and leading scientist in research on SOM dynamics in forests under long-term drought.


Net EU contribution
€ 237 007,68
8903 Birmensdorf

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Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera Zürich Zürich
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 237 007,68