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Content archived on 2024-05-21

Biodiversity in herbaceous semi-natural ecosystems under stress by global change components


Problems to be solved
Biodiversity is threatened by various human activities. Land-use change appears to be a major threat worldwide. In Europe, direct impacts of present alterations in land-use practices are still of significant importance, in particular for semi-natural ecosystems which rely on particular management practices. However, other drivers of biodiversity have also to be taken into account. The BIOSTRESS consortium is convinced that tropospheric ozone represents a global change component of major importance as a driver of biodiversity. Ozone concentrations in the boundary layer of our planet have been increasing dramatically over the past one hundred years and have now reached phytotoxic levels perturbing plant growth. The BIOSTRESS project aims, in support of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the European Community Biodiversity Strategy, to understand and detect changes in biodiversity as affected by ozone, and to provide end-users of ecological information with a user-friendly, general expert system tool for vegetation science.
Scientific objectives and approach
In order to gain a general understanding of the processes driving biodiversity, computer models are used to carry out experiments on virtual plant communities.
Two types of model are employed for these virtual experiments:
(1) mechanistic plant community growth based on physiological plant traits, and
(2) cellular automata plant community growth based on plant functional types (C-S-R classification of vegetation). The mechanistic model serves primarily to simulate short-term effects (some seasons) whereas the cellular automata model simulates long-term effects. Both types of model are in interaction with, and calibrated against, each other, and compared with results recorded by the consortium in real world experiments. Real world experiments are carried out on a broad spectrum of European herbaceous semi-natural ecosystems established either as mesososms of model plant communities or as complex and realistic systems. These real world systems are exposed to tropospheric ozone as a global change component, and the effects of this pollutant both on plant species diversity and on structural diversity of soil microbial communities are assessed.
Expected impacts
The project will result in an extensive experimental data set on the effects of global change components such as ozone on biodiversity in various herbaceous semi-natural ecosystems. Real world experiments within BIOSTRESS are focussing on selected herbaceous, semi-natural ecosystems that have high conservational value on a European, or a national, scale. Data will be used for the refinement of critical levels for ozone for the protection of semi-natural ecosystems under the UN/ECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The project will provide unique modelling tools able to run virtual experiments on the effects of global change components which can be applied to other potential drivers of biodiversity. The most important project output with respect to the European Community Biodversity Strategy is represented by a user-friendly, unique general expert system tool for vegetation science. It will provide the user, after setting of some start conditions (ozone regimes, specification of the vegetation) with a prediction of future impacts of tropospheric ozone on biodiversity in herbaceous ecosystems and enable the user to derive recommendations for future biodiversity strategies. The expert tool is designed in close cooperation with, and in accordance with the requirements of, the user community that is consulted throughout the project duration. The final expert-system model will also be made available in a simplified form on the World-Wide-Web to be used by European citizens. By this means, the project aids in creating and increasing public awareness of environmental issues related to biodiversity and to the European Community Biodiversity Strategy.

Call for proposal

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EU contribution
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Schloss-Mittelbau (West)

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Total cost
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Participants (8)