Macroecology workgroup at the University of Tartu

The Macroecology workgroup at the University of Tartu in Estonia is led by Professor Meelis Pärtel and we focus on the biological diversity of plants. READ MORE about our workgroup and have a look at the Macroecology workgroup MAP of past and future meetings and field work sites!

Follow also our Twitter account and read more from Macroecology Workgroup blog.


February 2018 Science communication workshop in Tallinn University

15th of February Aveliina, Tsipe, Liis and Elisabeth participated in science communication workshop, led by science communication lector Arko Olesk from Tallinn University and researcher Asko Lõhmus from Tartu University. Communication with media is highly needed, but not an easy task for scientists, it requires certain knowledge, self-confidence and practice. One of the first advice from this workshop was that scientists should have clear message, which they publish in a right time and place, and for the right audience.

February 2018 Nature quiz for high school students

On February 7, Tallinn 32nd Secondary School held a traditional nature quiz, which was dedicated to plants this time. The guest members of the jury were Ülle Reier and Kai Vellak from the Department of Botany and Ester Valdvee from the Estonian Orchid Protection Club. As always, the fourth member was the school's physics teacher Aarne Silas. The event was organized by biology teacher Krista Kiisler and 12b class students. Seven teams of five members from the elementary level and eleven from the secondary level took part of the competition. Each member of the jury introduced its activities and presented five illustrated questions in its field. The quiz was well organized and very entertaining thanks to the event's managers and practical physics tasks. Winners and photos of the event can be seen here.

February 2018 Conservation Week in Novaator

In the beginning of February science news portal Novaator had a conservation week. During this week following articles-opinions about nature protection were published with the help of Tsipe, Aveliina and Mart Meriste:
Want to protect nature? - Become a conservation biologist! (in Estonian)
The price of nature's contributions: how much you would pay for pollination? (in Estonian)
Six new spider species were found from endangered alvar grasslands (in Estonian)

Also a photo story about beautiful alvar grasslands and video how Estonian only arachnologist identifies spiders (in Estonian).

January 2018 Expedition to Réunion island

Meelis and Aurèle together with colleagues from geology department Leho Ainsaar and Tõnu Meidla, and our doctoral school project manager Kristel Taits travelled on the Réunion island to prepare the next PhD expedition, which takes place in November 2018. During one week, they visited the island to analyze the scientific and logistical feasibility of the expedition. In a friendly atmosphere, they had interesting scientific and cultural talks with Dominique Strasberg and Claudine Ah-Peng from the Réunion University helping them to organize and make the expedition a true success.

January 2018 Meeting with nature conservation practitioners

On 23 of January, employees of the nature protection departments of the Ministry of the Environment, the Environmental Board and the National Forest Management Center, and scientists from the University of Tartu gathered in Tallinn to map out the research needed in nature conservation. From our workgroup, Tsipe and Aveliina participated in this workshop. A number of urgent issues were found, which needs to be solved based on scientific research. The event was organized by Asko Lõhmus, the leading researcher at the University of Tartu, whose main activity already for years has been protecting the ecological integrity of nature and developing science-based nature conservation.

January 2018 Visitor from the University of Helsinki

18 of January Etsuko Nonaka from Metapopulation Research Centre, University of Helsinki, visited our workgroup to discuss possible collaboration plans related to landscape genetics with Tsipe. Etsuko is an ecologist, who uses mathematical and computational tools to investigate questions in population ecology, community ecology, evolutionary biology and spatial ecology.

December 2017 Tsipe visited Stockholm University

Tsipe visited the Department of Physical Geography of Stockholm University to participate in the evaluation committee of Jessica Lindgren’s PhD thesis and to discuss plans for collaboration. The thesis „Small remnant habitats: Important structures in fragmented landscapes” focused on analyzing the role of small-area natural and semi-natural elements for preserving biodiversity and related ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.

December 2017 European ecological societies had a joint annual meeting in Belgium

Aveliina, Madli, Riin and Tsipe participated in the joint annual meeting of British Ecological Society and other larger European ecological societies. The event, where also the members of our working group presented their newest research findings, took place in Ghent, Belgium, in 11-14 December. Madli presented a poster ’An individual-based computer simulation can emulate realistic plant diversity patterns in oceanic archipelagos’. Tsipe gave an overview of her and Aveliina’s recent review article on restoration recommendations in a talk ’The role of landscape-scale dispersal in restoring plant species and genetic diversity’. Riin spoke about the importance of regional and local effects on grasslands biodiversity patterns.

December 2017 Meelis is a co-author in a new global paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution

Fig. 1 Local species richness and community dissimilarity interact to affect average multifunctionalityFig. 1 Local species richness and community dissimilarity interact to affect average multifunctionalityMeelis is a member of global research cooperative Nutrient Network (NutNet). The goal of this network is to collect data from a broad range of grassland sites in a consistent manner to allow direct comparisons of environment-productivity-diversity relationships among systems around the world. In the beginning of December new global paper, based on the data collected through this international network, was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Hautier et al. tested whether the variation in communities observed across landscapes (β-diversity) and the interplay between diversity at local and landscape scales also contributes to the functioning of real-world ecosystems such as natural and semi-natural grasslands. It is known from small scale experiments that low diversity communities and monocultures often function more poorly than more diverse alternatives that contain more species. But small scale experiments do not exactly replicate real world conditions. Their findings reveal for the first time that plant diversity, at both local and landscape scales, contributes to the maintenance of multiple ecosystem services provided by grasslands. Therefore, for preserving ecosystem functioning, it is important to conserve both diverse mixtures of species at single locations and to preserve a diverse variety of species across landscapes.

See also a press release of Utrecht University


December 2017 Review paper about the importance of landscape-scale factors in habitat restoration

Tsipe and Aveliina published a review article in Restoration Ecology about the importance of considering landscape-scale factors in planning successful restoration measures. They suggest that the creation of a network of habitats, where plant communities are related via landscape-scale seed dispersal and pollen flow, is an important prerequisite for successful restoration. Spatial connectivity as well as functional connectivity between habitats supported by seed and pollen vectors (e.g. rotational sheep grazing and pollinating insects) helps species to arrive at target sites as well as increases the long-term stability of communities. The authors also stress that in an era of ongoing global change, it is vital to aim at increasing genetic diversity of populations constituting the restored communities in addition to targeting the recovery of characteristic species composition and richness. Genetic diversity will increase the adaptive potential of restored populations to react to climate change.

Aavik, T. & Helm, A. (2018). Restoration of plant species and genetic diversity depends on landscape-scale dispersal. Restoration Ecology, doi: 10.1111/rec.12634.


December 2017 Liis gave a speech

1st of December 2017 University of Tartu celebrated its 98th birthday. On this day also the honorary doctorates and doctorates were conferred. Liis also received her diploma and gave a short speech on the behalf of all new doctors. The take home message of her speech was that young scientists have the knowledge to solve any problems in the society and world, but to be more efficient cooperation between different disciplines is essential. Her speech can be viewed in UTTV.


November 2017 World scientists are warning humankind

Alarming trends over time for environmental issuesAlarming trends over time for environmental issuesMeelis, Aveliina and Riin together with other 15,000+ scientists from 184 countries signed the global environmental article „World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice“, which constate that current and future human health and wellbeing are at serious risk from climate change, deforestation, loss of access to freshwater, species extinctions, and human population growth.

Scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors!

Read, hear and watch news also in Estonian media:
article in Novaator
interview with Meelis in Postimees
Aveliina in radio broadcast Uudis+
Aveliina in national television (starting from 38 min)


November 2017 New paper about estimating the rarity of any ecological unit

Basic steps to build TPDs and estimations of functional distinctiveness at various scalesBasic steps to build TPDs and estimations of functional distinctiveness at various scales Carlos and Meelis, together with colleagues from Czech Republic and Japan published a response letter to a paper by Violle and colleagues in TREE. In their paper, Violle et al. proposed a series of methods to estimate the rarity of species at the local and regional scale, and a classification of the rarity of species based on these indices. Carlos, Meelis, and colleagues suggested in their response that rarity needs not to be estimated differently depending on the considered scale, and most importantly, that the concept of rarity is not necessarily restricted to species, but it can be applied to any organizational level, such as communities or landscapes within broader contexts. This can be done by applying probabilistic estimations of the functional structure of ecological units (Trait Probability Density; TPD), which can be estimated at any spatial scale, from individual organisms to the whole world.

In this context, Carlos just submitted the TPD package to CRAN. TPD is a freely available package including tools to calculate TPD functions at any scale (e.g. populations, species, communities), as well as to partition functional diversity across scales, and includes an implementation of the rarity concept presented in the TREE paper. These indices constitute a unified framework that incorporates the underlying probabilistic nature of trait distributions into uni- or multidimensional functional trait-based studies.

Carmona, C.P., de Bello, F., Sasaki, T., Uchida, K. & Pärtel, M. (2017). Towards a common toolbox for rarity: a response to Violle et al. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32: 889-891.


November 2017 Workgroup autumn seminar

Our workgroup autumn seminar was held on 16-17th of November in Räpina. This time the seminar was focused on the impact of anthropogenic activities on biodiversity. In addition to presentations by our workgroup members, we had three guest presenters - Liina Remm (researcher in conservation biology), Evelyn Uuemaa (senior research fellow in geoinformatics) and Argo Ronk (our previous PhD student, who is now postdoc in Brenda Casper´s lab at University of Pennsylvania, USA). After exciting presentations we continued discussions at a dinner table and sauna. Next morning, before coming back to Tartu, we visited one of the most unique industrial architecture in Europe, the Räpina paper mill, which has been active since 1734.


November 2017 This year’s last fieldwork on alvar grasslands

From 5-10th of November Ignacio, Elisabeth and Liis carried out field work measuring forest biomass and wood production of afforested alvar grasslands in Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Muhu and on the mainland of Western Estonia. While in summer the grasslands are dry and easily passable, then on wetter seasons big rubber boots are essential to reach to the site.


November 2017 Aveliina and Tsipe participated in a seminar organised by Estonian Landscape Architects’ Union

Aveliina and Tsipe gave talks at a seminar „Low impact design – landscape architecture in combination with nature“, which was organised by Estonian Landscape Architects’ Union. The seminar focused on using wild plants in landscape design and gardening. Special attention was given to the paradigmatic change in landscape and gardening architecture towards approaches, which enable to support biodiversity and are based on using local plant material for ‘greening’ public spaces.

October 2017 International environmental conference in Tallinn

Aveliina, Kersti and Liis participated in the international conference “Nature-based Solutions: From Innovation to Common-use”, organized by the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia and the University of Tallinn in relation to the Presidency of the Estonian Republic of the Council of the European Union. The conference hosted leading scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs from around the world who shared their experience on how nature-based innovation and eco-innovative technologies can be implemented in many areas of life. Aveliina had an opportunity to introduce her “Everyman’s nature conservation” idea.

October 2017 Science meets reality! 20 people, one table, one idea: Tartu´s urban nature

Aveliina together with other scientists, urban-planners, landscape architects and Tartu citizens discussed how to make Tartu´s nature more diverse, which improves human well-being, and provides habitats for Estonian native flora and fauna. A win-win situation, which should finally help to make Tartu European Cultural Capital 2024.


October 2017 Aveliina believes that science can save the world

Aveliina together with biorobotic Maarja Kruusmaa and marine mathematician Tarmo Soomere were invited to Estonian radiobroadcast Labor to discuss ‘Whether science can save the world’. Discussion can be listened here (in Estonian).


October 2017 Norbertas went to Soil Biodiversity conference in China

Great Wall of ChinaGreat Wall of ChinaNorbertas participated at the Second Soil Biodiversity conference in Nanjing, China, 15-19th of October. He gave a talk about his findings on biodiversity-productivity relationships in old-growth boreo-nemoral forests. And of course, heard many interesting talks (and posters) covering the newest findings and challenges in the soil biodiversity research. There were plenty of opportunities for discussions with the colleagues from around the world. Finally, he had a chance to participate in the post-conference tour to Beijing, where he visited Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Great Wall of China and other famous objects.


October 2017 Meelis visited University of South Bohemia

On the 16-18th of October, Meelis visited University of South Bohemia, department of botany and gave a talk titled ‘Dark diversity: concept, methods and applications’. In addition, he developed collaboration with old friends and created new contacts.


October 2017 Aveliina represented "LIFE to alvars" project in Brussels

Aveliina participated in the LIFE Platform Meeting: "Reintroduction of species: a tool for the restoration of habitats" in Brussels, Botanic Garden Meise, 11-12 October. Meeting brought together representatives of relevant LIFE projects and other experts, practitioners and policy-makers to exchange know-how and collate best practice in the ecological restoration of habitats degraded by human activities. Aveliina represented Estonian LIFE+ Nature programme project "LIFE to Alvars" and introduced species reintroduction actions that have been carried out in the alvar grassland restoration project.


October 2017 Aveliina gave a seminar in Estonian Literary museum

On October 10th, Estonian Literary museum invited Aveliina Helm to give a seminar about the importance of indigenous and local knowledge in biodiversity conservation and ecology. She introduced studies connecting historical human activities and community ecology, and discussed the applicability of indigenous and local knowledge for biodiversity research and conservation.


October 2017 Riin received the Mobilitas returning researcher grant

Riin Tamme received the Mobilitas Pluss returning researcher grant from the Estonian Science Foundation for her project 'Functional diversity-area relationship: disentangling the roles of dispersal and niche limitation in plant communities'. She started her project in October and will stay here for at least a year. Riin finished her PhD in our workgroup in 2015 and then spent two years in Australia doing a post-doc in the Big Ecology Lab with Angela Moles. Welcome back, Riin!


October 2017 New paper about the global diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Meelis together with his colleagues from Estonia and abroad published recently a paper in New Phytologist, where they modelled the global diversity of symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The availability of standardized global microbial diversity data, makes microorganisms promising models for investigating the role of regional and local factors in driving biodiversity. To differentiate between regional and local effects, they (1) estimated species pools (sets of potentially suitable taxa) for each site, which are expected to reflect regional processes, and (2) calculated community completeness, an index showing the fraction of the species pool present, which is expected to reflect local processes.

They found significant spatial variation, globally in species pool size, as well as in local and dark diversity (absent members of the species pool). Species pool size was larger close to areas containing tropical grasslands during the last glacial maximum, which are possible centres of diversification. Community completeness was greater in regions of high wilderness (remoteness from human disturbance). Local diversity was correlated with wilderness and current connectivity to mountain grasslands. Applying the species pool concept to symbiotic fungi facilitated a better understanding of how biodiversity can be jointly shaped by large-scale historical processes and recent human disturbance.


September 2017 New doctoral students

We have three new PhD students starting their exciting research projects!

Elisabeth Prangel finished her master's studies this year at the Department of Botany. Now, she will start her PhD project 'Importance of landscape and biodiversity on the provision of ecosystem services in grassland ecosystems' in our workgroup. Elisabeth's supervisor is Aveliina Helm.

Diego Trindade received his master's degree in Brazil. His doctoral thesis topic in macroecology workgroup is 'Dark diversity dynamics linked to global change: taxonomic and functional perspective'. Diego's supervisor is Meelis Pärtel.

Miina Rikka received her master's degree last year at the Department of Botany and will now start her PhD studies in our workgroup. Her doctoral project is titled 'The relations between mire and freshwater bryophytes’ dark diversity with environment'. Miina's supervisor is Nele Ingerpuu.

September 2017 Successful field work season

Although Estonian summers are notoriously short, our workgroup made the most of the field season.

For the ‘Life to Alvars’ project, Aveliina, Tsipe, Marge and Ignacio studied cowslip (Primula veris) populations on Muhu and Saaremaa alvars. In addition, Liis, Aurèle and Elisabeth recorded species composition information on one of the restored grasslands in Undva to study species dynamics after restoration.

The 'Smart protection of the biodiversity' project focuses on old forests and already includes data about plants, lichens and mycorrhizza collected last year. This year, Norbertas, Ene, Liis, Kersti and Elisabeth also sampled ground beetle diversity.

Carlos, Kersti, Riin, Leo and Ignacio resampled our permanent plots on abandoned agricultural fields and collected plant trait data.

September 2017 Liis received a PhD degree!

On 15th September, Liis Kasari successfully defended her thesis “Plant diversity of semi-natural grasslands: drivers, current status and conservation challenges“ and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Botany and Mycology. Liis was supervised by Aveliina Helm, and the official opponent during the defence was Professor Vigdis Vandvik from University of Bergen in Norway.


August 2017 New information boards for alvar grasslands

The ‘Life to Alvars’ project included 52 new information boards in Western Estonia to introduce the biodiversity and ecology of alvar grasslands. Aveliina and Krista Takkis (Estonian University of Life Sciences) prepared the texts for all the boards. Keep an eye out for the new information boards when visiting Western Estonia!


August 2017 Aurèle received the Mobilitas post-doc grant

We are happy to announce that Aurèle Toussaint received the Mobilitas Pluss mobility grant from Estonian Research Council for his project 'Macroecology of functional diversity: comparison of taxonomic groups'. Aurèle finished his PhD in 2016 in France and he has already been working in our workgroup for almost a year. He will start his new project in September, comparing functional diversity of plants, fungi, fish and other taxa at the global scale.


July 2017 Aveliina participated in the IPBES meeting

Aveliina participated in the third IPBES European and Central Asia Assessment authors meeting, 24-28 July. IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body, established by member States in 2012. Its mission is to strengthen knowledge foundations for better policy through science, for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.


July 2017 XIX Botanical Congress

The XIX Botanical Congress was held on 23-26 July in Shenzhen, South-China. This year, the congress was combined with the symposium of the International Association of Bryologists. The congress was the largest yet, there were almost 7000 participants from 109 countries. Our workgroup was represented by Ülle Reier and Nele Ingerpuu. The congress included almost 1500 talks and nearly 1000 posters. In addition, 1000 e-posters were presented, including the poster by Estonian researchers about the diaspore bank of mire bryophytes. The Congress announced the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences, which highlights the importance of uniting plant sciences and society to build a green, sustainable Earth. Ülle and Nele had also opportunities to visit the Fairy Lake Botanical garden, China National GeneBank and an exhibition of moss paintings by Chinese artists. The next Botanical Congress will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2023.

July 2017 International Code of Nomenclature meeting in China

The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants can be modified only at the International Botanical Congress which takes place every six years. This time the session was held from 17 to 21 July in Shenzhen, China, and the Estonian delegate was Ülle Reier. The session had participants from nearly 30 countries, and more than 400 proposals for code amendment were submitted for consideration. The meeting agreed to set up an open-access online database for new names, where details about newly described species can be easily looked up. The nomenclature section also voted to include all of the rules that only apply to fungi into a special chapter, which will be developed further following the nomenclature sessions of the International Mycological Congresses.

July 2017 Aveliina gave a keynote presentation at the Eurasian Grassland Conference

(Photo: Lauma Gustina)(Photo: Lauma Gustina)The 14th Eurasian Grassland Conference took place in Riga on 4-11 July 2017. This year the topic of the conference was ‘Semi-natural grasslands across borders’ and the participants had a great opportunity to visit a range of semi-natural grasslands in Latvia and Western Lithuania. Aveliina was invited as a keynote speaker and she gave a talk titled ‘Semi-natural grasslands in Estonia: importance, ecology and conservation’.

June 2017 60th IAVS symposium in Sicily

Liis´ poster was selected in Top 3!Liis´ poster was selected in Top 3!
On the 20 – 24 June, many people of our workgroup participated in the annual symposium of International Association of Vegetation Science (IAVS) in Palermo, Italy. Auréle introduced his recent global scale research exploring the relationship between species richness of vascular plants and symbiotic fungi. Carlos had a memorable talk on how agricultural intensification influences plant functional trait variability. Liis and Kersti introduced their latest research on seed dispersal at the poster session, whereas Liis´ poster received also an honourable mention! Everyone had an opportunity to visit natural and cultural landscapes of Sicily during the traditional mid-symposium excursion.
The next symposium will take place in the USA, in the close vicinity of Yellowstone National Park.

June 2017 Visit of foreign journalists

In the beginning of summer several foreign journalists visited the restored alvar grassland sites in Saaremaa and Muhu. Aveliina, Sabrina, Maarja Öpik, Tanel Vahter, Mart Meriste and Annely Esko from the Environmental Board gave interviews about the current status and restoration success of these species-rich grasslands. This visit led to the coverage of our work in New Scientist and Finnish e-magazing Also in a German and Estonian radio shows.

June 2017 European Commission LIFE+ programme monitors visited Estonian alvars

In 2014 the large-scale alvar grassland restoration project 'LIFE to Alvars' was launched in western Estonia, financed by the European Commission LIFE+ Nature program and Estonian Environmental Investment Centre. Macroecology workgroup, in collaboration with experts from other fields, observe the effect of restoration on biodiversity. During previous summers they firstly quantified the pre-restoration environmental conditions of habitats and recorded the status of vascular plants, bryophytes, spiders, butterflies, bumblebees, birds and mycorrhiza. This summer Aveliina introduced the biodiversity monitoring methods and preliminary results to ca 40 European Commission LIFE+ programme monitors.

June 2017 MSc thesis about ecosystem services in alvar grasslands

Our master student Elisabeth Prangel successfully defended her thesis ‘The provisioning of ecosystem services on open and successional alvar grasslands’. She found that open grasslands maintain more ecosystem services including pollinator diversity and recreational activities for humans, whereas juniper encroachment reduces diversity and aesthetical value. Elisabeth was supervised by Aveliina Helm.

May 2017 Welcome to a new postdoctoral researcher Ignacio

We are happy to welcome Ignacio M. Hernández-Agramonte, a new postdoctoral researcher from Spain. Ignacio finished his PhD in Argentina studying biotic interactions between plants, fungi and herbivores. In our workgroup he will focus on the provisioning of ecosystem services in alvar grasslands.

May 2017 New visiting PhD student from Brazil

Leonardo Magalhães, a PhD student from the Federal University of Pará in Brazil is visiting our workgroup for four months (April-July). He is working with Meelis to shed light on the factors determining the dark diversity of Amazonian floodplain forests.

May 2017 Macroecology workgroup spring seminar

Our spring seminar took place on 11-12th May at Laelatu field station in Western Estonia. The theme of the seminar was "The role of history in the macroecology of biodiversity" and we heard many interesting talks focusing on palaeontology, evolutionary history and past landscape use. In addition to talks by our workgroup members, we had guest presentations by Oive Tinn, Triin Reitalu, Francesco de Bello and Sergey Znamenski. We also found time to go for a nice walk in the Laelatu wooded meadow that holds the small-scale species richness record.

May 2017 Doctoral students learned about altitudinal vegetation zonation in Tenerife

Eight doctoral students from Tallinn University, Tallinn University of Technology and University of Tartu participated in a field course on Tenerife, organized by Doctoral School of Earth Sciences and Ecology. During the week on this classical model island, they learned about altitudinal vegetation zonation and ecological and evolutional processes that form the vegetation patterns. In addition, students had the chance to get familiar with methods of modern ecology by collecting soil samples for Plant Ecology Laboratory. From our workgroup, Madli took part in the expedition.

May 2017 New article about the effects of landscape composition on the genetic diversity of an endemic Rhinanthus osiliensis

Tsipe Aavik, Marge Thetloff, Evelyn Uuemaa, Tiina Talve and Tatjana Oja examined the effects of landscape composition on the genetic diversity of an endemic plant Rhinanthus osiliensis growing mainly in calcareous spring fens. The study revealed that all populations of this rare species have recently experienced a severe bottleneck, i.e. a strong decline in population size, most likely as a consequence of the loss of suitable habitats. Furthermore, a higher proportion of forests surrounding the populations caused a notable decrease in the genetic diversity within these populations. This demonstrates that in addition to the area and connectivity of suitable habitats, dispersal and pollen flow between populations is largely affected by the characteristics of the landscape matrix between suitable habitats.

Aavik, T., Talve, T., Thetloff, M., Uuemaa, E., Oja, T. (2017) Genetic consequences of landscape change for rare endemic plants – A case study of Rhinanthus osiliensis. Biological Conservation 210: 125-135.


April 2017 New paper disentangles the relationship between dark diversity and dispersal limitation in Europe
Positive values indicate dispersal limited sites.Positive values indicate dispersal limited sites.
Kersti, Argo, Meelis and their German colleague Jens Kattge published recently a new paper in Journal of Biogeography exploring the relationship between dispersal ability of plants and dark diversity in Europe. Ca. 10 x 10 km vegetation grid cells across seven regions in Central and Northern Europe were used to compare dispersal traits of observed and dark diversity. The study shows that poor dispersal abilty (i.e. low seed production and short dispersal distance) restricts largely species dispersal to potentially suitable sites in Europe. Additionally, the results indicate that dispersal limitation decreases with increasing human activities, especially with agriculture, and the importance of dispersal limitation decreases with strong abiotic stress and biotic resistance.

Riibak, K., Ronk, A., Kattge, J., Pärtel, M. (2017) Dispersal limitation determines large-scale dark diversity in Central and Northern Europe. Journal of Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/jbi.13000.

March 2017 Jon and Meelis developed a new method to predict species establishment and invasion

Understanding which species establish in which habitats is fundamental to community ecology and to more applied pursuits, such as the restoration of degraded sites and the prevention of invasion by exotic species. Jon and Meelis developed a method that compares the characteristics of species across the regional species list, the site-specific species pool and locally observed species to predict which other species will be able to establish. As part of this method, we developed a new way to measure dissimilarity among species which we call functional neighborhood distances. Using this method in Estonian grasslands, we were able to predict approximately 50% of species establishment from seed, indicating that the new method may be a robust means to predict establishment and potentially invasion.

Bennett, J. A., & Pärtel, M. (2017). Predicting species establishment using absent species and functional neighborhoods Ecology and Evolution, doi:10.1002/ece3.2804.


February 2017 We welcome a new postdoctoral researcher Sabrina

We are happy to welcome a new postdoctoral researcher Sabrina Träger from Germany who studies landscape genetic patterns of alvar grassland species, in particular Primula veris. Sabrina’s research is embedded in the large alvar grassland restoration project which focuses on possible changes of different biodiversity aspects before and after restoration of this unique ecosystem.


Veebruar 2017 Aveliina visited Prof. Jens-Christian Svenning's lab

Aveliina spent one week at Prof. Jens-Christian Svenning's lab in Aarhus, Denmark. She introduced her latest research and had a fruitful scientific discussions with the lab members.


January 2017 Madli visited Holger Kreft’s lab in Germany

Our PhD student Madli spent three months in Göttingen, Germany, working by prof. Holger Kreft’s macroecology lab. During the visit, she improved her simulation models about island species richness development. In collaboration with prof Holger Kreft and other workgroup members, simulations were supplemented with last glacial maximum situation and geological dynamics. Scientific work in Germany was financed by the Archimedes Foundation.
Besides science, the lovely german town offered some other ways to spend time as well and visiting the Christmas market with lab members was definitely a must-do.


January 2017 Biogeography conference across the Atlantic Ocean

Meelis and Robert took a break from winter by travelling to Tucson, Arizona to attend the 8th Biennial Conference of the International Biogeography Society held January 9-13. In addition to hearing many interesting talks and meeting with several presenters, Meelis presented his latest research on local and regional drivers of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi and Robert presented his latest ideas on quantifying species aggregation.


January 2017 New paper revealing that species assembly patterns in grasslands depend on habitat history

Liina Saar, Meelis Pärtel and Aveliina Helm together with their colleague Francesco de Bello from Czechia (University of South Bohemia) published a paper in Oecologia, where they demonstrated that grasslands with regular and long management history are assembled differently from abandoned grasslands and young developing grasslands, but these differences become evident only at finer scales. They showed that long-term management of grasslands allows small-scale coexistence of many species with different life-history traits and habitat requirements, whereas in abandoned or young grasslands, species with more similar characteristics and requirements co-exist. Understanding the mechanisms that control species coexistence is essential for designing biodiversity conservation and restoration schemes and mitigating the effects of global change.

Saar, L., de Bello, F., Pärtel, M., Helm, A. (2017). Trait assembly in grasslands depends on habitat history and spatial scale. Oecologia, in press DOI 10.1007/s00442-017-3812-9.


November 2016 New paper disentangles the relationship between plant diversity and invasion

We have a new paper just published in Ecology Letters in which we show that species pools are critical for understanding the relationship between plant diversity and species invasion. This was a large field experiment, led by former postdoc Jonathan Bennett that required a large effort from many current and former members of the Macroecology group.
The authors transplanted hundreds of plants and added thousands of seed into 29 grassland sites in South-East Estonia, while extensively measuring both species pools and local diversity at each site. The study showed that species pools and local diversity (measured as community completeness) affect different life stages of invading plants and that these effects are frequently opposite. Consequently, measuring only species richness poorly explains invasion relative to species pools and completeness. This represents a major step forward in understanding the relationship between diversity and invasion.

Bennett, J. A., Riibak, K., Kook, E., Reier, Ü., Tamme, R., Guillermo Bueno, C., Pärtel, M. (2016) Species pools, community completeness and invasion: disentangling diversity effects on the establishment of native and alien species. Ecology Letters 19, 1496–1505.


November 2016 Workgroup autumn/winter seminar

Macroecology workgroup autumn/winter seminar took place on 8-9th of November at Peetrimõisa guesthouse in Viljandi. Seminar focused on the different aspects of functional diversity this time. In addition to the people of the workgroup our colleague Kalle Olli and previous member Lauri Laanisto participated in the seminar and shared their freshest results and ideas. Let´s hope the seminar was useful and helped to build a good foundation for future collaboration! See also the photo gallery!


October 2016 New article about the conservation value of hybrid ecosystems

Liis, Liina and Aveliina together with our former PhD student Krista Takkis and colleague from the Czech Republic, Francesco de Bello, published recently paper in Biodiversity and Conservation. They investigated the changes in plant species richness, and functional and phylogenetic diversity in northern Estonian calcareous (alvar) grasslands resampled after 90 years of land-use change. Although grasslands in the studied region had lost most of their original area (~90 %), species richness had substantially increased due to invasion by more competitive, nutrient-demanding native species. Overall, these grasslands have lost their integrity as calcareous grassland habitat type in the region, because the relative amount of habitat-specific characteristic species has declined significantly. At the same time they suggest that such altered communities that are out of their historical range (i.e. hybrid and novel ecosystems) can still be recognized as important habitats to preserve high local biodiversity and be considered as a target of nature protection.

Kasari, L., Saar, L., de Bello, F., Takkis, K., Helm, A. (2016) Hybrid ecosystems can contribute to local biodiversity conservation. Biodiv Conserv, doi:10.1007/s10531-016-1218-3.


September 2016 Aveliina spoke about nature conservation in national television

Estonian Public Broadcasting nature program Osoon (Ozone) visited our senior researcher Aveliina Helm in her home to talk about nature conservation and importance of sheep and native flowers in preserving biodiversity of landscapes. Aveliina has recently introduced the idea of "Everybody's nature conservation", a concept emphasizing that we all should take action to halt the biodiversity loss. See the clip (in Estonian).


September 2016 Three new postdoctoral researchers joined our workgroup

Carlos Pérez Carmona is a Spanish postdoctor, whose current research focuses on merging approaches considering habitat-specific species pools and dark diversity with those based on the functional diversity of communities. He is particularly interested in incorporating within-species trait variability into trait-based approaches, and for that he combines the development of analytical tools with experimental approaches.

Aurèle Toussaint is a postdoctor from France. He is interested in understanding species distribution patterns and comparison of functional diversity distribution of different taxa at large spatial scales. Aurèle aims to develop statistical models, combining development of biodiversity indices in R software and its application on traits and spatial databases.

Norbertas Noreika comes from Lithuania. His research at macroecology workgroup aims to disentangle the biodiversity-productivity relationship in forests considering various taxonomic groups (plants, soil organisms, carabids). Norbertas is participating also in alvar grassland restoration project where they look at how various aspects of biodiversity are changed due to degradation and restoration of this highly valuable and unique ecosystem.


September 2016 Ene Kook and Argo Ronk received a PhD degree!

On the 5th of September, Ene Kook successfully defended her thesis “Genetic diversity and evolution of Pulmonaria angustifolia L. and Myosotis laxa sensu lato (Boraginaceae)“ and was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Botany and Mycology. Ene was supervised by Silvia and Ülle, and the official opponent during the defence was Professor Jan Kirschner, Institute of Botany, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

On the 15th of September, soon after Ene´s defence, Argo Ronk also defended his Ph.D thesis “Plant diversity patterns across Europe: observed and dark diversity”. Argo was supervised by Meelis and the official opponent during the defence was Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from University of Aarhus in Denmark.
Argo will continue his scientific work in the Professor Brenda Casper´s lab at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

Congratulations, Dr. Kook and Dr. Ronk!


September 2016 Fieldwork on Saaremaa and Muhu

At the end of the summer, Marge and Iris (who’s a master student) carried out fieldwork on Muhu and Saaremaa alvar grasslands, collecting Mountain Clover (Trifolium montanum) seeds. During the fieldwork they were also monitoring environmental conditions, such as soil moisture, light conditions, population size and soil depth etc, and recorded sites’ status to get more information about the effect of landscape structure on genetic diversity and fitness within plant populations.


August 2016 Aveliina and Tsipe attended 10th European Conference on Ecological Restoration

The 10th European Conference on Ecological Restoration took place on 22-26 August in Freising, Germany. The conference gave an overview about the latest developments in the theory and practice of different restoration techniques of various types of ecosystems. Aveliina gave a talk on the recent progress in biodiversity monitoring of the alvar grassland sites of „LIFE to Alvars“ project. She also presented her ideas in the session dedicated to the potential of soil seed banks and seed dispersal in restoration. Tsipe gave a talk about the potential genetic and fitness consequences of using commercially produced wildflower seed mixes in restoration. They also attended an interesting excursion, which took them to one of the seed companies producing seeds for restoration projects.


August 2016 Field work in Pärnu and Viljandi county, and Southern Estonia for the „Smart protection of the biodiversity“ project

The aim of the project is to reveal the optimal diversity measures and management strategies for Estonian forests. For finding it out Kersti, Ülle, Ene, Liis, Madli, Norbertas, Aveliina and Meelis carried out extensive field work describing the plant diversity in old-growth forests. In spring they selected 100 forest sites, with the least anthropogenic disturbance, and marked the study plots. Then, during summer, they collected data about the species composition and coverage of each species in all layers of forest vegetation (mosses on the ground, herbs/dwarf shrubs, shrubs, trees). In addition they estimated the forest regeneration, and stand volume and structure. For investigating soil nutrient content and species composition of mycorrhizal fungi they collected soil samples and measured the extent of soil horizons (O, A). Investigations of lichenised fungi and mosses on the trees and on the dead wood are still in progress, directed by Tiina Randlane from department of mycology.


August 2016 New article about dark diversity at large scale

Argo Ronk and Meelis Pärtel together with colleagues from the Czech Republic, Francesco de Bello and Pavel Fibich, published a new paper about dark diversity in Ecology and Evolution. In this work the authors used two mathematical methods in order to estimate the size and composition of dark diversity at the European scale. They found that both methods showed similar results, but both methods also carried a unique part, therefore authors applied a semi-quantitative approach to dark diversity estimates – consensus and composite dark diversity, i.e. whether support was from both or only one method. Consensus dark diversity has greater confidence; it could be preferred for nature conservation to decide whether a particular species should be included in the dark diversity of a site. By contrast, composite dark diversity could be used for analyses of large-scale diversity patterns as it contains all information from both methods. A new perspective in dark diversity studies entails a combination of different methods.

Ronk, A., de Bello, F., Fibich, P., Pärtel, M. (2016) Large-scale dark diversity estimates: new perspectives with combined methods. Ecol Evol, doi:10.1002/ece3.2371.


August 2016 New paper about the effects of soil heterogeneity on species coexistence

Our former PhD student Riin Tamme together with Meelis Pärtel and past lab members Antonio Gazol, Jodi Price and Inga Hiiesalu published a new paper in Journal of Vegetation Science. This is the third paper from our heterogeneity experiment and focuses on individual species’ responses to small-scale soil patchiness. Growing 15 grassland species in heterogeneous and homogeneous soils they found that only a few dominant species benefit from heterogeneity and produce more biomass in heterogeneous conditions. This alters competitive interactions and excludes smaller plants from communities. Their findings help to explain the negative heterogeneity-diversity relationship found in several small-scale studies.

Tamme, R., Gazol, A., Price, J. N., Hiiesalu, I. and Pärtel, M. (2016) Co-occurring grassland species vary in their responses to fine-scale soil heterogeneity. Journal of Vegetation Science, doi: 10.1111/jvs.12431.

See also previous papers from this experiment exploring the effects of heterogeneity on species diversity and plant traits.


July 2016 Madli attended the Island Biology 2016 conference

Ph. D student Madli attended the Island Biology 2016 conference on 18.-22. July on Terceira Island in Azores archipelago. During the five days many inspiring talks about island ecology, evolution and conservation were held. Among the others, well-known ecologists Robert J Whittaker, Daniel Simberloff, Rosemary Gillespie and Lawrence R. Heaney gave a talk.

Madli presented a poster about her work on computer simulations that copy the development of island species diversity and got a lot of interesting feedback.


July 2016 New paper about the macroecology of biodiversity

Meelis together with Jon Bennett (our former postdoctor) and Martin Zobel (head of the Plant Ecology Laboratory) published a short, timely focussed review (Tansley insight) about the importance of macroecological perspective at regional as well as at local scale. They claim that a full understanding of local biodiversity drivers, including human impact, demands that regional processes be taken into account. Macroecology of biodiversity is currently advancing quickly owing to an unprecedented accumulation of biodiversity data, new sampling techniques and analytical methods, all of which better equip us to face current and future challenges in ecology and biodiversity conservation.

Pärtel, M., Bennett, J.A. & Zobel, M. (2016) Macroecology of biodiversity: disentangling local and regional effects. New Phytologist 211: 404–410.


June 2016 Meelis gave an interview to The IAVS Bulletin

From the June issue of The IAVS Bulletin you’ll find an interview with Meelis who is not only the leader of the macroecology workgroup but also a chief editor of two prominent IAVS journals (Journal of Vegetation Science and Applied Vegetation Science). The IAVS Bulletin asked him how he became a chief editor, what are the best things about being a journal editor and, last but not least, how to relax from work. He also shares his ideas on good reviews, inspiring scientific literature and on his own scientific work.
The newsletter of the International Association for Vegetation Science contains items of potential interest to the membership and serves as the official record of IAVS meetings and activities. It is published in digital format with four issues per year.


May 2016 Blog post “What is Dark Diversity?“ has reached in top 10 in just over one week!

Dr. Rob Lewis and Meelis Pärtel launched recently a blog post about the concept, estimation methods, and application of dark diversity in the official blog of Methods of Ecology and Evolution. The compendious post is easy to read, comprising many illustrative figures; links to previously published dark diversity papers are included as well. We are happy that the followers of the blog have appreciated the writing - it was listed in the top 10 blog posts of 2016 in just over one week!


April 2016 Macroecology workgroup spring seminar in Laelatu

Macroecology workgroup spring seminar took place on 14-15th of April at Laelatu field station in West-Estonia. In addition to the people of our workgroup, the previous members Dr. Rob Lewis and Jon Bennett, and colleagues from Martin Zobel´s workgroup also participated in the seminar. Let´s hope that those two days filled with talks and discussions were useful and helped to build a good foundation for future collaboration! See also the photo gallery!


March 2016 New paper about utilizing dark diversity concept in nature conservation

Dr. Rob Lewis, the previous member of our workgroup, published recently an essay in Conservation Biology, discussing how the dark diversity concept can be used in nature conservation. The article developed from a workshop discussion between Estonian and Czech-based ecologists and examines in depth the potential benefits resulting from utilizing the dark diversity concept (together with existing ecological metrics, concepts and conservation tools) to facilitate habitat prioritization, habitat restoration and the management and mitigation of ecological invasions. Read more about the new paper and about Rob´s earlier studies in our blog.

Lewis, R. J., Bello, F., Bennett, J. A., Fibich, P., Finerty, G. E., Götzenberger, L., Hiiesalu, I., Kasari, L., Lepš, J., Májeková, M., Mudrák, O., Riibak, K., Ronk, A., Rychtecká, T., Vitová, A., and Pärtel, M. (2016) Applying the dark diversity concept to nature conservation. Conservation Biology, doi:10.1111/cobi.12723.


March 2016 Exciting workshops on the Open Doors Day

On the 23rd of March, Department of Botany introduced the secret life of plants and fungi on the Open Doors Day. School students had an opportunity to participate in several workshops encompassing mycology, plant physiology, genetics, and ecology. Our Ph.D student Marge Thetloff demonstrated how to extract banana´s DNA. Kersti Riibak (together with Taavi Paal from Kristjan Zobel´s workgroup) guided how to estimate seed dispersal distances by using plant traits and modelling tools. See also the photo gallery.


March 2016 Goodbye, Jon!

Jon Bennett spent two and half years in our workgroup as a post-doctoral researcher. Now he has returned to Canada and is working at the University of British Columbia. During his post-doc in Estonia, Jon launched a major experimental project in collaboration with other people from our workgroup to test how community completeness may affect invasion success by using abandoned agricultural fields in Southern Estonia as a model system. In addition, Jon managed to set up a pot-experiment to investigate the reciprocal relationship between competition and trait variation. Jon published six papers and several more are in preparation.

We wish you all the best, Jon, and hope to see you soon!


February 2016 Aveliina participated in IPBES plenary meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but focuses on the assessment of status and trends of biodiversity. As an Estonian delegate, Aveliina participated in plenary meeting of IPBES, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 20th to 29th of February. During the plenary, first thematic assessments were approved by 124 participating governments, one focusing on pollination, pollinators and food production, and other on scenarios and modelling that provides tool for policy makers to evaluate the impacts of their decisions related to biodiversity and ecosystems services protection. Additionally, launch of a new global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services was announced. Global assessment will be completed in 2019.


February 2016 Effects of landscape dissimilarity and environmental factors on Myosotis laxa s. lato genetic and phenotypic variability

Ene, Silvia, Ülle, Marge, Tsipe & Aveliina recently published an article in Annales Botanici Fennici, where they explored how genetic and phenotypic variability of M. laxa s. lat. is affected by landscape structure, environmental conditions and geographic distance between populations. They aimed to reveal if coastal form of M. laxa (M. laxa ssp. baltica) is ecotypic origin arising in the suitable environmental conditions independently or it originates from Åland and SW Archipelago of Finland. They found significant correlation between genetic variability and landscape structure in the 1 km radius around the populations. There was no correlation between genetic variability and geographic distance between populations. So they can conclude that coastal form of M. laxa is ecotypic origin. Unexpectedly, genetic and phenotypic variability in the M. laxa s. lat. was not affected by environmental conditions in the populations. Likely, phenotypic differentiation of the coastal form from the mainland form of M. laxa is caused by epigenetic regulation of life cycle.

Kook E., Pihu S., Reier Ü., Thetloff M., Aavik T., Helm A. (2016) Do landscape dissimilarity and environmental factors affect genetic and phenotypic variability in Myosotis laxa s. lato (Boraginaceae)? Ann. Bot. Fennici 53: 56–66


February 2016 The true meaning of functional diversity indices

The field of ecology is awash with terminology whose meaning is often nebulous. This creates much confusion amongst ecologists when trying to decipher which interpretation is being used at any time. Robert and Meelis recently teamed up with colleagues from the Czech Republic and Spain to address this topic in an article in a recent special issue of Oecologia. This article sheds light on the true meaning and nature of measures of functional diversity and offers an R function for ecologists to calculate these indices.

de Bello, F., Carmona, C. P., Lepš, J., Szava-Kovats, R., & Pärtel, M. (2016) Functional diversity through the mean trait dissimilarity: resolving shortcomings with existing paradigms and algorithms. Oecologia 1-8.


January 2016 Articles about the applications of genetic tools in nature conservation

The members of Macroecology workgroup published two outreach articles in Eesti Loodus about the potential applications of genetic tools in nature conservation. Eesti Loodus is an Estonian magazine that features news of nature and nature-related science and research. Tsipe Aavik and Aveliina Helm introduced the importance of genetic diversity for maintaining biodiversity. Tatjana Oja, Ülle Reier, Silvia Pihu and Ene Kook provided an overview about the role of genetic research in the protection of Estonian rare plant species. Both papers are illustrated with various examples about conservation genetic research carried out in Macroecology group and elsewhere.

Aavik, T., Helm, A. (2015) Geneetilised uuringud aitavad loodust kaitsta. Eesti Loodus 12:16-20.
Oja, T., Reier, Ü., Pihu, S., Kook, E. (2016) Geneetilised uuringud haruldaste taimeliikide kaitsel. Eesti Loodus 1:24-28.


January 2016 Workshop on dark diversity of mycorrhizal fungi

On January 24-27, the teams of Plant Ecology and Macroecology organised a workshop on "Dark diversity of co-occurring arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and host plants". The workshop had 14 participants, including eight international participants from seven countries and six local participants from the Department of Botany. The workshop included discussions and empirical data analyses on how the applying of concepts of dark diversity and species pool would improve understanding the biodiversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal fungi and its relationships with diversity of host plants. The workshop was funded by New Phytologist Trust. See more at New Phytologist Trust homepage and Twitter.


January 2016 New paper in Nature disassembles complex relationships of biodiversity

There has been a long-lasting debate on how biodiversity and ecosystem functioning might be related. It has been suggested that the highest biodiversity occurs at average productivity values. At the same time, there has been doubt that a general relationship exists. On January 13, Nature published a study which revealed the complex relationships concerning biodiversity. The research was done by an international group led by James Grace, an ecologist from USA. Meelis Pärtel from our workgroup was also part of the team.
The authors used a global grassland dataset and more complex analytical tools. Into a single structural model they included biodiversity values at small scales and in the landscape, as well as data on biomass, productivity, soil and light conditions, and regional environmental conditions, describing the effect of species pool. The integrative model revealed several relationships which were not evident in pairwise examination of same parameters.
One of the most important results is that biodiversity at the landscape level determines ecosystem functioning - more species-rich ecosystems have higher annual productivity. Therefore, it is not enough to have just a handful of different species, as some theory suggests. By contrast, each species contributes to ecosystem welfare. In addition, the study shows that local biodiversity is jointly determined by regional processes (species pool) and competition for light. These two processes work together in all ecosystems. Overall, this study shows that theoretical views and statistical tools have reached a level that allows both understanding and prediction of biodiversity – the challenge we urgently need to cope with global changes. See a commentary about the paper in Nature and news items over here and here.

Grace, J.B., Anderson, T.M., Seabloom, E.W., Borer, E.T., Adler, P.B., Harpole, W.S., Hautier, Y., Hillebrand, H., Lind, E.M., Pärtel, M., Bakker, J.D., Buckley, Y.M., Crawley, M.J., Damschen, E.I., Davies, K.F., Fay, P.A., Firn, J., Gruner, D.S., Hector, A., Knops, J.M.H., MacDougall, A.S., Melbourne, B.A., Morgan, J.W., Orrock, J.L., Prober, S.M. & Smith, M.D. (2016) Integrative modelling reveals mechanisms linking productivity and plant species richness. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature16524


Older news are in the archive!