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.


December 2018 New paper about the importance of belowground diversity

In collaboration with our colleagues from the Plant Ecology group, Maarja Öpik and Martti Vasar, and Scott Wilson from the University of Regina, Canada, Sabrina published an article about the importance of belowground plant richness measured by roots for a comprehensive estimation of total plant species richness in different vegetation types. The authors combined a molecular next-generation sequencing approach and vegetation surveys to demonstrate that aboveground but also belowground plant richness alone was a poor estimator of total plant richness within and across contrasting vegetation types along an elevation gradient. This highlights the need to account for both above- and belowground plant richness to estimate potential changes in plant communities in a changing environment.

Träger, S, Öpik, M, Vasar, M, Wilson, SD (2018). Belowground plant parts are crucial for comprehensively estimating total plant richness in herbaceous and woody habitats, Ecology, doi: 10.1002/ecy.2575

December 2018 Lisanna received a PhD degree!

On 12th of December, Lisanna Schmidt successfully defended her thesis “Phenotypic and genetic differentiation in the hybridizing species pair Carex flava and C. viridula in geographically different regions“ and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Botany and Mycology. Lisanna was supervised by Tatjana Oja, and the official opponent during the defence was Professor Paul Ashton from Edge Hill University, UK.

Congratiolations, Dr. Schmidt!

December 2018 Marianne won 1st prize in Estonian National Contest for University Students

Our workgroup master student Marianne Kaldra won 1st prize (960 eur) for her bachelor thesis „Heterostyly of Primula veris in fragmented populations“ in Estonian National Contest for University Students. Marianne’s supervisor was researcher Tsipe Aavik.


December 2018 Expedition to volcanic Réunion island

18th of Nov – 1st of Dec Meelis, Ülle, Aurele, Madli, Miina, Elisabeth and Diego participated at the scientific expedition to Réunion island. Despite the good preparation everything did not go as expected due to "yellow jackets".

The expedition was organised by the Doctoral School of Earth Sciences and Ecology. Its purpose was to give opportunity to different Estonian universities doctoral student to explore the nature of Reunion island and collect valuable scientific data and samples. Unexpectedly, most of the roads were blocked, gas stations and local university closed because of the protests against the gas price rise and general poverty on the island. Therefore, our young scientists could move around mostly by foot and on a limited area around their guest house. But thanks to locals help and quick reorganization of students plans almost everybody still managed to make their fieldwork.

Read more about their adventures from Heureka, Novaator and Õhtuleht

November 2018 Aveliina was given a media friend prize called "Ökul"

21st of November Estonian Research Council organised a science communication conference in Tartu. Conference topic was this year 'Science in social media - between entertainment and noise?'. In addition to presentations and round table discussions there were given several prizes related to science popularization. The Estonian Association of Science Journalists acknowledged Aveliina Helm as being very active in social and 'classical' media this year.

Congratulations Aveliina!

November 2018 New paper studies how lifeless volcanic islands are populated by different plant and animal species

Madli Jõks and Meelis Pärtel used a computer simulation for studying the plant communities on the Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos Islands, Canary Islands, Cape Verde and the Azores. The simulation imitated the arrival of plants on the islands, their spread in the archipelago, competition between species, their evolution and extinction. In particular, the study looked at what factors influence the biodiversity and species’ composition of island plants, whether the size of the island and the number of varied habitats on the island are important, and what role the location of the island in the archipelago plays. Computer simulations offer opportunities for research that cannot be done in nature, e.g., relocate islands within the archipelago. By changing the virtual maps of archipelagos, the simulations imitated realistic and less realistic conditions in which the biological diversity might have developed over millions of years. At the end of the simulation, the results were compared with the reality. From the results, it can be concluded that the diversity of the habitats has been a more important designer of island biodiversity than was previously assumed. In addition, the location of the island in the archipelago plays a significant role, especially with elongated archipelagos.

Jõks, M. & Pärtel, M. 2018. Plant diversity in Oceanic archipelagos: realistic patterns emulated by an agent‐based computer simulation. Ecography

November 2018 Workgroup autumn seminar

Our workgroup autumn seminar was held on 1-2nd of November in Carl Schmidti Maja, Põltsamaa. The topic was this time 'grant applications' as many of us are planning to apply a research grant in spring. We had nice constructive discussions, which hopefully lead to successful project applications. Next morning we had guided excursion in the museum of Põltsamaa to get to know a bit the exciting history of this city.

October 2018 Dark Diversity Network

Together with the Plant Ecology Lab and several collaborators from abroad we have initiated the Dark Diversity Network (DarkDivNet). DarkDivNet is a coordinated global sampling network to explore the dark diversity of plant communities and compare this between habitats and regions. We have asked ecologists all over the world to join in the project and sample a study area using the exact same methodology – so far, we have over 90 global study sites planned!

October 2018 New article about plants dispersal in fragmented landscape

In collaboration with our Swedish colleagues Jan Plue and Sara Cousins, Tsipe was a co-author in an article about domestic animals enhancing plant dispersal among isolated grasslands in Stockholm archipelago, Sweden. They used landscape genetic approaches to demonstrate that the genetic diversity and gene flow of the grassland perennial Campanula rotundifolia was higher in grasslands connected by grazing livestock. Populations in grasslands, which were no longer part of grazing networks, exhibited lower genetic diversity and were genetically more isolated from each other. The authors suggest that domestic livestock within rotational grazing networks function as important mobile corridors for the dispersal of grassland plants among spatially isolated grassland patches and is a useful tool for creating and managing landscapes for higher species and genetic diversity.

Plue, J., Aavik, T. & Cousins, S.A.O. (2018) Grazing networks promote plant functional connectivity among isolated grassland communities. Diversity and Distributions, doi: 10.1111/ddi.12842.

October 2018 Laelatu autumn academy

13-14th of October the department of botany organised already second time the event called ’Laelatu academy’. The aim was to discuss whether continuous cover forestry can be realistic solution for species-rich and sustainable forest management in Estonia. Kaido Kama, Rainer Kuuba, Raul Rosenvald and Eerik Leibak were invited to share their knowledge and experience on this field. There were alltogether more then 30 people, mostly secondary school students and 1-2. year bachelor students. From our workgroup Meelis, Liis and Ene helped to organise and participated actively.

More pictures can be found here!

September 2018 Sabrina received a Mobilitas Pluss post-doc grant

Sabrina Träger received the Mobilitas Pluss postdoctoral research grant from the Estonian Research Council for her project "The effect of landscape configuration on the functional connectivity of Primula veris - a landscape genomic approach". Sabrina finished her PhD in 2016 in Canada and has already been working in our workgroup since 2017. She will start her new project in September, analyzing the effect of landscape elements on the genetic diversity of Primula veris.

September 2018 Restoration ecology conference in Iceland

Sabrina and Liis participated at the SER Europe 11th biannual conference, Restoration in the Era of Climate Change held in Reykjavík, Iceland 9-13 September 2018. Liis introduced the Estonian large-scale alvar grassland restoration project ’Life to Alvars’. Sabrina gave a talk titled ’Landscape genetics as a perspective tool for guiding grassland restoration: a case study from Estonia’. Conference had great keynote speakers and days full of exciting presentations. In addition they had a chance to get to know Icland surprising nature and weather a bit.

September 2018 New PhD student

New doctoral student, Iris Reinula, has joined our workgroup. One of the aims of her doctoral thesis is to find out if genetic diversity reacts to landscape change with a time lag. In addition she will try to detect loci with adaptive relevance and the response of adaptive (under natural selection) genetic diversity to landscape change and study if and how much do spatially isolated plant populations exchange diaspores and pollen that ensures genetic diversity of populations. Her supervisor is researcher Tsipe Aavik.


August 2018 New paper about Neolithic plant invasions hypothesis

Potential pathways of invasionPotential pathways of invasionMeelis is a co-author in an article which aimed to clarify how trait differences, evolutionary context both present and past, and human-based perturbations (defined as disruptions to natural disturbance regimes) may combine to influence the invasion process in contemporary anthropogenic landscapes. They do not provide an extensive review of temperate grassland invasion as this topic has been examined numerous times, instead they highlight studies that have tested some of the ‘Neolithic Plant Invasion Hypothesis’ (NPIH) derived predictions.

MacDougall, A. S., McCune, J. L., Eriksson, O., Cousins, S. A. O., Pärtel, M., Firn, J., & Hierro, J. L. (2018). The Neolithic Plant Invasion Hypothesis: the role of preadaptation and disturbance in grassland invasion. New Phytologist, 220(1), 94-103.

August 2018 Meelis opposed a doctoral thesis in Belgium

31st of August Meelis was invited to be a member of defense committee of Yongjie Liu doctoral thesis at the University of Antwerpen. The title of thesis was ‘Effects of three-dimensional soil heterogeneity on the structure and functioning of plant communities in experimental mesocosms’.

August 2018 GLOBE Estonia educational expedition

Ene was one of the supervisors of GLOBE Estonia educational expedition 2018, Educational program GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit Environment) is promoting scientific thinking and scientific worldview and stands for environmental awareness.

GLOBE Estonia expedition 2018 was held 13-16th of August in Jõulumäe Sports and Recreation Centre, Pärnu county. More than hundred schoolchildren (age 13-16), supervised by PhD students and scientists of University of Tartu, explored the soil, water bodies (chemical composition of water and biota), peat layer in the paludified coastal grassland, forest vegetation, carbon cycle in the local forest and weather. The results and conclusions were presented and discussed during the last day. The event was opened by the representer of the U.S Embassy of Estonia, important visitors were Jennifer Bourgeault (coordinator of the GLOBE in U.S.) and Terje Tuisk (Estonian Scientific Agency). The creativity and high scientific level of young people gave a special value and shine to the whole GLOBE Estonia 2018 expedition.

July 2018 Vegetation scientists from all over the world gathered in Montana, USA

22-27th of July many our current and former lab members participated at the IAVS 61st Annual Symposium at Montana State University in Bozeman. Meelis and Carlos organised a special session ‘Species pools across scales: an integrative perspective’, where also our former post-doc Jody Price made a presentation. Jon Bennett was talking about functional traits, Inga Hiiesalu about mycorrhiza and Triin Reitalu about vegetation history. The primary theme of the meeting was "Natural Ecosystems as Benchmarks for Vegetation Science".

June 2018 Congress of Conservation Biology

There isn't much time left to save the remaining biodiversityThere isn't much time left to save the remaining biodiversity12th - 15th of June 2018 took place 5th European Congress of Conservation Biology in Jyväskylä, Finland. The theme of ECCB 2018 was planetary wellbeing – a concept that captures the wellbeing of people as well as the integrity and sustainability of Earth's ecosystems. From our workgroup Aveliina gave a talk about her work in IPBES. Liis introduced the Estonian alvar grassland restoration project ‘Life to Alvars’. Carlos was invited to carry out workshop ‘From fungi to flies: broadening the use of functional traits in conservation’. Ignacio and Elisabeth had poster presentations about ecosystem services of semi-natural grasslands. In general the conference was well organised and the topics presented and discussed were very actual and important. All plenary speakers had strong and charismatic presentations.

June 2018 Liina also received a doctoral degree

Two weeks later, on the 8th of June, Liina Saar also successfully defended her thesis “Dynamics of grassland plant diversity in changing landscapes“ and was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Botany and Mycology. Liina was supervised by senior researcher Aveliina Helm and prof. Meelis Pärtel, and the official opponent during the defense was prof. Robin Pakeman from the James Hutton Institut, UK.

Mai 2018 Kersti received a doctoral degree

On the 28th of May, Kersti Riibak successfully defended her thesis “Importance of dispersal limitation in determining dark diversity of plants across spatial scales“ and was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Botany and Mycology. Kersti was supervised by prof. Meelis Pärtel, and the official opponent during the defense was senior researcher Borja Jiménez-Alfaro from University of Oviedo, Spain.

Mai 2018 Laelatu spring academy

26-27th of May the department of botany organised for the first time event called ’Laelatu spring academy’. The aim of the event was to bring together more experienced people from the field of plant science and 1-2. year bachelor students and secondary school students to discuss how plant sciences can help to solve 21th century environmental issues. From our workgroup Meelis, Aveliina, Liis and Ene helped to organise and participated actively.

May 2018 Aveliina was chosen as the laureate of the Estonian Nature Conservation Mark

Ecologist Aveliina Helm was chosen as the silver mark laureate of the Estonian nature conservation. The nature protection mark highlights people whose services are recognized in the study of nature, in the dissemination of natural sciences and in the development of nature conservation, both nationally and internationally.

Congratulations, Aveliina!

May 2018 Workgroup spring seminar

Our workgroup spring seminar was held on 10-11th of May at Laelatu field station. This time the seminar was focused on the macroecology of interactions. In addition to presentations by our workgroup members, we had three guest presenters - Maarja Öpik (senior researcher in plant ecology), Tiit Teder (senior researcher in entomology) ja Krista Takkis (post-doc at the University of Life Sciences). We had high diversity of exciting presentations - global patterns of plants, fungi and fish, climate change effect on pollinators, species-genetic diversity correlations, interaction debt etc. Next morning we visited Salevere broad-leaved forest and Tuhu bog, which were full of colorful spring flowers.

May 2018 Meelis gave a talk at an agricultural seminar

In March, the agricultural company Väderstad organised a seminar, where they introduced the latest news of the company, but also prof. Meelis Pärtel from University of Tartu and Evelin Loit from University of Life Sciences were invited. Meelis gave a presentation about globally changing environment and climate and how it affects farmers and vice versa. Evelin spoke about the cereal breeding.

Read more from here (in Estonian).

April 2018 XIII Estonian ecology conference

20th of April took place thirteenth Estonian ecology conference 'Ecological science in a changing world', in Tartu. From our workgroup Aveliina gave a talk titled ’Estonian grasslands – to whom and for what?’. All presentations were informative and exciting, covering wide array of ecological studies in Estonia. Conference was organised by Estonian Ecological Society and Centre of Excellence of EcolChange.

Read also science news portal Novaator (in Estonian)

April 2018 Macroecology conference in Switzerland

From 10-13th of April Meelis and Aurèle participated at the annual meeting of macroecologists hosted by the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL in Birmendorf. The theme of the conference was 'Macroecolgy in the age of big data'. Aurèle presented his study about the global co-variation of diversity in plants and mycorrhizal fungi and Meelis presented the study he made together with Argo Ronk (his former PhD student) about the plant diversity patterns in Europe. During this conference, they had very interesting talks with a lot of researchers, updating their knowledge on the development of new methods and approches thanks to excellent keynotes and exciting presentations. They recommend this conference to everybody interested in macroecology and big data to meet the top researchers in this field.

March 2018 Global assessment of biodiversity status is now public

On 23rd of March the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published a global assessment about the status of biodiversity and what are the main threats and opportunities for biodiversity and how can we adjust our policies and institutions for a more sustainable future. This region-based assessment was written by more than 550 leading experts, from over 100 countries. Aveliina helped to compile the assessment of Europe and Central Asia region.

Read more from here!

March 2018 Soil seedbank experiment

In the beginning of March Liis and Elisabeth sowed over 150 samples of soil seedbank in our Oa street greenhouse. Samples were collected last summer from the areas of restoration project ’Life to alvars’, to see whether there is any viable seeds of characteristic grassland species in the soil, especially on the sites which are strongly overgrown with junipers and pines. Restoration of species-rich grassland community would be faster if there are still viable seeds present in the soil.

February 2018 Annual Meeting for Conservation Genetics in Vienna

From 26-28 February 2018 Sabrina and Iris, a master student of Tsipe, represented our workgroup at the 3rd Annual Meeting for Conservation Genetics in Vienna, Austria, presenting their first results of effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on genetic diversity of Primula veris in Estonian alvar grasslands. The Natural History Museum of Vienna as venue for this meeting stimulated inspiring discussions and exchange of ambitions to bring research and conservation practices closer together.

February 2018 Nordic Oikos conference in Trondheim

Aveliina, Liis and Liina participated at the Nordic Oikos conference 2018, held in Trondheim, Norway, 19-22 February. Aveliina gave a presentation titled ’Extinction debt of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi on declining grasslands’. She was also invited to share her ideas in a panel debate “The importance of ecological science in society “– Or: How can ecology and ecologists make a difference? Liis made a poster presentation about the disappearance of good dispersers from European grasslands. Liina had also poster about winners and losers in European grasslands.
The theme of the conference was “The importance of ecological science in society”, with a solid focus on the need for fundamental ecological science. There were excellent keynote speakers and days full of exciting presentations.


February 2018 Sabrina participated in a bioinformatics winter school in Switzerland

Between 11-17 February Sabrina participated in the winter school "Bioinformatics for Adaptation Genomics" (BAG) in Weggis, Switzerland, hosted by ETH Zurich. She returned to Tartu with invaluable know-how on bioinformatics-related topics, such as genetic analyses using restriction-site associated DNA (RADseq) and RNA sequencing, whole genome sequencing and methods for dealing with low quality sequencing data. Among 30 participants from 11 countries all over the world, Sabrina got a chance to get a hands-on experience with bioinformatics analysis of real-life data and to discuss relevant topics with leading experts in the field.


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.


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