Ecolchange seminar – Ivika Ostonen and Biplabi Bhattara talk about grassland warming

Seminar of Department of Geography, UT and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speakers: Ivika Ostonen is a senior researcher, and Biplabi Bhattarai is PhD student in the Department of Geography, University of Tartu.

Titles of the talks: “Subarctic grassland ecosystem’s response to warming (by Ivika) and “Functional adaptation of root-rhizobiome in warming grassland” (by Biplabi)

Time: Wednesday, 29. January 2019 at 16.00

Place: Tartu, Vanemuise 46-327 (JG Granö auditorium)


It´s warming alright… We have plants flowering in Estonia in January, which is unprecedented. (pic from here)

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EcolChange seminar – Mander, Pärn & Kasak reflecting about AGU2020 meeting

Seminar of Department of Geography, UT and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speakers: Ülo Mander, Jaan Pärn and Kuno Kasak all work at the Department of Geography, University of Tartu.

Title of the talk: AGU 2020 – Experiences, Insights and New Trends in Earth Sciences Around the Globe

Time: Wednesday, 18. December 2019 at 16.00

Place: Tartu, Vanemuise 46-327 (JG Granö auditorium)



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New paper – Predictability of leaf morphological traits for paleoecological reconstruction: the case of leaf cuticle and leaf dry mass per area

Text by Linda-Liisa Veromann-Jürgenson and Tiina Tosens

We just published a paper about the plausibility of using cuticle thickness in gymnosperms as a proxy for leaf mass per dry area (LMA). It was as the result of a wonderful collaboration between six academic institutes from four countries. The paper titled “Predictability of leaf morphological traits for paleoecological reconstruction: the case of leaf cuticle and leaf dry mass per area” is one of the two papers representing our team in the International Journal of Plant Sciences special issue – Functional Trait Evolution.

The reasoning behind this paper was to test a paleoproxy for estimating LMA from cuticle thickness (CT) in broad-leaved gymnosperms, and expand it across different foliage types and through the light gradient. This LMA-CT paleoproxy is a very attractive concept for assessing past ecosystem properties as cuticles are much more likely to be preserved in fossils than mesophyll. At the same time LMA is connected to many traits underlying the leaf economics spectrum as well as to some growth conditions like CO2 concentration and light availability. Paleoproxies are indeed a great tool to reconstruct the past environmental and ecological conditions for the plant, whose minute piece paleobotanists are studying millions of years later. However, as large generalizations are made based on tiny tiny preserved plant bits, we must make sure the correlations hold across many species and in different conditions. Thus, we tested the LMA-CT relationship on 86 gymnosperm species with broad leaves, needles and scales and used a sub-set to study the effect of growth light conditions on CT as its effect on LMA has been previously well established.

The relationship between LMA and CT in different leaf form types (graph from the paper)

Our results were promising! The proxy could be used for broad- and scale-leaved species, while the correlation does not hold for needles. Importantly, the reliability of the proxy increases for species at the lower end of the leaf economic spectrum (LES) – for species with tough robust leaves with high LMA – which is good considering that many of the so-called “living fossils” belong to that end of LES. However, we advise caution as taxonomy and light conditions affected the LMA-CT relationship, so just measuring CT from a diverse set of fossils may give you wrong results. Further tests distinguishing the morphotype of the fossilized leaf and the LMA-CT relationship in the nearest living relatives should be carried out. Nevertheless, CT on itself can give valuable information about the environmental conditions and stresses for the plant!

Full citation: Veromann-Jürgenson, L. L., Brodribb, T., Laanisto, L., Bruun-Lund, S., Niinemets, Ü., Nuño, S. L., Rinnan, R., Puglielli, G. & Tosens, T. (2019). Predictability of Leaf Morphological Traits for Paleoecological Reconstruction: The Case of Leaf Cuticle and Leaf Dry Mass per Area. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 181(1), (link to full text)


A living fossil in its natural habitat in Australia (pic by Linda-Liisa)



Our power to predict the future relies on our knowledge of the past. Paleoproxies are a powerful tool for understanding environmental and ecological conditions, and changes across different time periods. However, constructing a functioning paleoproxy requires a well-constrained and robustly tested model. This is challenging, especially if ecological traits are involved. In the current study we constructed an extended dataset to test the reliability of the derivation of leaf dry mass per unit area (LMA) from the thickness of fossil gymnosperm cuticle. Specifically, we tested if different leaf types (broad leaves, needles, scales), intraspecific variability in cuticle thickness, and growing conditions affect the functioning of the proxy. Taxonomic groups were analyzed to uncover the possible taxonomic influence on LMA, cuticle thickness and the LMA-CT relationship. Our results indicate that the cuticle thickness versus LMA relationship depends on multiple factors that can have various and incongruous effects on this relationship, depending especially on leaf type and growing conditions. We conclude that cuticle thickness measured from gymnosperm fossils could be used as a proxy for LMA in past ecosystems for some broad- and scale-leaved, but not needle-leaved gymnosperms. However, caution must be taken when comparing species from different environments or growth conditions.

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Tana about moderating a workshop in EcolChange PhD conference

Text by Tana Wuyun

A fun experience as one of the workshop moderators in EcolChange PhD Conference 2019 “EcolChange in World of Synergies”

Few weeks ago, I gladly participated the annual EcolChange conference in Voore, East Estonia. It went well, without saying, with a lot of sunshine from the sky and my heart.

As one of the organizing members, I was involved from the very beginning on all the details discussed. I felt so lucky for being with the team, since everyone was eager to share their thoughts and offer their knowledge. As a first year PhD, it was definitely a great learning experience.

In the afternoon workshop, I was the moderator for the group “Biogeochemistry Cycling in Ecosystems ‘To Growth or To Adapt? Carbon Cycling Under Stress’”. I came up with this idea because the topic of how plants react under different current and future climate stresses is a big concern nowadays and is quite relevant to the aim of the EcolChange team. With consideration of the different research areas in the organization, I intentionally made the topic fairly flexible, hoping everyone can share some thoughts so people could widen their horizon after the discussion and enlighten by each other. Overall, it was quite successful, each of the sub-group had come up with the answers for the broad questions.

Personally, I enjoyed this conference very much both as a PhD student organizer and audience. I hope there will be more conferences like this in the future that PhD students could take the initiative!


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EcolChange seminar – John Davison about the niches of mycorrhiza

Seminars of Department of Botany and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speaker: Dr. John Davison is senior researcher at the Plant Ecology Laboratory, Department of Botany, University of Tartu. His research addresses the role of biotic interactions in shaping biodiversity.

Title of the talk: The realised niches of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Time: Thursday, 28. November 2019 at 14.15

Place: Tartu, Lai 40-218 (Vaga auditorium)

Summary: Understanding the ecology of unculturable soil microbes is extremely challenging. Here I make use of a stable molecular taxonomy and global datasets to investigate the abiotic and biotic niches of different arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal taxa. I identify patterns of phylogenetic correlation in niche characteristics throughout the diversity of the group.

“Phylogenetic trees of Glomeromycota and other fungi. A. Bayesian tree based on 1539 bp of small subunit rDNA sequences” (from Redecker & Raab 2017 Mycologia;

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EcolChange seminar – Rauno Lust about nitrate removal from water

Seminar of Department of Geography, UT and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speaker: Rauno Lust is a PhD student in the Department of Geography, University of Tartu.

Title of the talk: Enhancing nitrate removal from waters with low organic carbon concentration using bioeletrochemical systems

Time: Wednesday, 27. November 2019 at 16.00

Place: Tartu, Vanemuise 46-327 (JG Granö auditorium)

Summary: Assesments of groundwater aquifiers made around the world show that in many cases nitrate concentrations are exceeding the safe drinking water threshold. This seminar will give overview how microbial electrosynthesis could be used to enhance nitrate removal from waters with low organic carbon concentration.


That´s how nitrogen gets to groundwater, honestly… (pic from here)

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EcolChange annual conference underlines its attractivity for young researchers

The Estonian Centre of Excellence EcolChange investigates global change ecology from molecular to biome-level in both natural and managed ecosystems. Annual meeting provides a great chance to meet and discuss current research questions in a cross-discipline environment. In 2019, team formed of PhD students from all research groups participating in EcolChange organised the annual doctoral conference, which took place on November 12th in Voore, Jõgevamaa. Target audience was EcolChange PhD students and junior scientists, but students and researchers outside the centre of excellence were also welcomed, and more than 70 participants followed the invitation of the organisers to listen and discuss the newest trends and highlights of EcolChange´s research groups.

In addition to presentations from the group leaders, there were intensive group discussions in the afternoon – three workshops with the following focuses: carbon cycle pathways in future climate scenarios; how to work on the challenge of big data in eco-sciences; and the increasing importance of internal and external communication in scientist’s everyday activities. PhD student and postdocs from all over the world gathered together, shared their knowledge and experiences, and found new friends and collaborators within and beyond EcolChange.

ecolch doc summit Voore 2019 nov

Participants (all pics by Aurele Toussaint)

The Centre of Excellence EcolChange involves research groups from the Estonian University of Life Sciences and University of Tartu. The conference was supported by the EU Regional Development Fund through the Center of Excellence EcolChange and the ASTRA project.



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EcolChange seminar – Colin Averill about forest fungi and the future of the Earth

Seminars of Department of Botany and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speaker: Dr. Colin Averill is a Senior Scientist at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, where he studies how the soil microbiome affects forest carbon sequestration and forest community ecology.

Title of the talk: Forests and Their Fungi: Mycorrhizal Symbiosis and the Future of Earth

Time: Monday, 11. November 2019 at 12.00

Place: Tartu, Lai 40-218 (Vaga auditorium)

Forest fungi and the past of Earth (pic from here)


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EcolChange seminar – Jiska van Dijk about human-wildlife conflicts

Seminars of Department of Botany and Centre of Excellence EcolChange

Speaker: Jiska Joanneke Van Dijk is a researcher in NINA – Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Title of the talk: Human-wildlife conflicts or human-human conflicts – what’s in the name?

Time: Wednesday, 30. October 2019 at 14.15

Place: Tartu, Lai 40-218 (Vaga auditorium)

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EcolChange PhD Conference 2019 “EcolChange in World of Synergies”

Our Center of Excellence will have it´s annual conference in Voore puhkekeskus entitled: “EcolChange in World of Synergies“. It will also have several workshops. (link to conference home page). Registration is open until the end of October (link to registration).


Conference Day:  November 12th, 2019

General Aim and Outcome

The conference highlights the Centre of Excellence EcolChange activities of 2018/2019. In addition, all participants are kindly invited to stipulate enthusiastic contribution in the further development of Centre of Excellence EcolChange. Hereby, actively sharing their knowledge and experiences, and discussing cross-disciplined ideas in EcolChange relevant, specified topics during selected workshops is the key of success. Underlining the importance of Estonian Centre of Excellence EcolChange it will become a great chance to widen our research scope and meet domestic partners for future collaborations.

Target Audience

Primarily PhD students and junior scientists (incl. Post-docs) plus supervisors and other experienced scientists from EcolChange Centre of Excellence.

In addition: limited number of external PhD Students, junior scientists, and interested specialists/experts.

Program overview:

09:30 Welcome coffee

09:45 – 10:00 Welcome and introduction

10:00 – 10:30 Facts and figures of EcolChange 2019 Ülo Niinemets

10:30 – 12:00 Research Group Activities – Group Highlights 2019

Workshop preparation: grouping and gathering in workshop areas

12:00 – 13:00 Lunch Break

13:00 – 16:00 Workshop Session (parallel workshop subjects)

Individual Coffee break

16:00 – 17:30 Workshop Outcomes to all audience (prepared by each workshop group)

Wrap up, socialising, light dinner


Biogeochemistry Cycling in Ecosystems

“To Grow or To Adapt? Carbon Cycling Under Stress”

AIM We will look at different carbon cycling pathways in terms of different future climate scenario, to understand plant’s role under global change. Hereby, we brainstorm with junior scientists from different EcolChange fields on possible ways to cope with the future biotic and abiotic stress challenge in the context of plant management (identify or cultivate more adaptive species, more cutting-edge study on specialized metabolites).

OUTCOME We will briefly put together plant carbon cycling pathways under stress and conclude the possible ways of dealing with various stress in terms of plant management.

Communicating Science/EcolChange/Global Change to Society

“Communicating EcolChange – by who and to whom”

AIM We want to openly discuss a sample scheme of science communication – should it be organised or is it enough letting people do it on their own initiative? Should we follow the model of action groups to communicate as much as possible about everything, or do we have to be careful, whereas, what is too careful then?

OUTCOME Showing importance and preparing sensitivity, we will highlight relevant aspects of our open discussion briefly to the overall audience.

Open Data / Open Science

“Open Science – from state supported projects to piracy”

AIM Open Science is aimed to make research more accessible, which is accomplished through free distribution of publications, raw data, software, data production procedures and even physical samples. The implementation of Open Science principles makes research more efficient, visible and transparent, increases reproducibility, stimulates collaboration and, therefore, benefits the society as a whole. In the workshop we will take a look on several successful applications that are heavily based on Open Data, and will discuss problems that emerge in the transition between “Closed” and Open Science.

OUTCOME We will outline Open Science principles and supply them with with real-life examples, and briefly discuss benefits and challenges that come along with Open Science advance.

Big Data

“Handling Big Data in Eco Sciences”

AIM Ecology, together with many other sciences, has entered the world of big data as a result of rapid growth in data volumes worldwide. Growing amounts of data from remote sensing, automated sensor networks, global community data resources or citizen-science initiatives create exciting opportunities as well as many challenges related to data management and analyses. In this workshop, we explore these new opportunities and challenges, and look for the common approaches that may be useful in several branches of EcolChange.

OUTCOME Brief take-home messages about big data storage, management and analyzing solutions shall be provided to overall audience by workshop attendants.


“Centre of Excellence EcolChange Mid-Terms – Critical Review from Student’s perspective”

AIM Centre of Excellence EcolChange is now almost in its project mid-terms, worth to internally critically review. This session aims to become an open discussion forum rather a workshop about past, present and future of EcolChange from a student’s perspective. Sample questions that may be addressed: how PhD student were, are, or would like to be involved in further development of EcolChange. What are pros and cons of being part of EcolChange ? How see PhD students EcolChange benefits and what might become improved in the future?

OUTCOME At the end, it is intended to share generalised impressions with the overall audience.

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