Bild Funktionelle Ökologie und globaler Wandel

Senior Scientist Group

Functional Ecology and Global Change

Human actions globally jeopardise natural ecosystems. We investigate how these human impacts and anthropogenic climate change modify biodiversity and ecological processes and functions. Our research primarily aims to disentangle the functional causes and consequences of global biodiversity loss. The results of our research are also used to develop potential future scenarios of ecological communities and ecosystem functions.

Our work covers three main research fields: plant-animal-interactions, experimental plant ecology and global change models. In all fields, we examine the complex networks of species interactions in ecological communities. Most of our research is centred on plant-bird interactions, which are important for the stability of ecological communities as well as for ecosystem functions, such as pollination, seed dispersal and plant regeneration.

To investigate the interactions between plants and birds, we work in a variety of ecosystems, ranging from the tropics (e.g. the Andes and Mount Kilimanjaro) over the subtropics (e.g. South African Fynbos) to temperate systems (e.g. the Alps). In our research, we combine observational and experimental approaches with comprehensive collections of functional species traits from natural-history museums. We also test and evaluate our insights into the driving factors and processes in ecological communities in meta-analyses and simulation models at large, macroecological scales.

Selected Projects

Selected Publications

Bender et al. Ecography 2018, doi: 10.1111/ecog.03396

Neuschulz et al. Journal of Ecology 2018, doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12818

Schleuning et al. Nature Communications 2016, doi: 10.1038/ncomms13965 


PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning
Senior scientist, Head of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Fields of interest

I am fascinated by interactions between organisms, especially if they are mutually beneficial for both partners*. To disentangle webs of interacting organisms, I study species interactions in ecological communities along anthropogenic gradients and across large spatial scales. My research aims at the identification of the major ecological and evolutionary drivers of species interactions and at a better understanding of the functional importance of species interactions for entire ecosystems. I hope that this work will help to improve predictions of the consequences of species loss for ecosystem functioning. (*I usually become enthusiastic if one of the interaction partners has wings and a beak.)

– Mutualistic plant-animal networks
– Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
– Functional diversity of ecological communities
– Pollination and seed dispersal by animals
– Plant demography

– Observational and experimental field studies
– Meta-analyses across large spatial scales
– Trait-based network analysis
– Structural equation modeling

Study areas
– Tropical Andes
– Tropical and subtropical Africa
– Germany

Google Scholar Profile

Researcher ID H-2154-2015

ResearchGate Profile

Press coverage:

Interaction Networks
Picky fruit-eating birds are more flexible [English] 
Science Daily, 11 May 2017
Domino-Effekt beim Artensterben [German]
Spiegel Online, 6 January 2017
Fataler Domino-Effekt [German]
Frankfurter Rundschau, 5 January 2017
The loss of plant species triggers the extinction of animals [English]
Science Daily, 4 January 2017
Flexible Tropen-Arten [German]
Neue Züricher Zeitung (CH) – Print und Online, 26 September 2012 
Tropische Artenvielfalt macht Vögel nicht zu Spezialisten [German]
Der Standard (A), 21 September 2012

Conservation biology
Warum tropische Wälder dringend große Vögel brauchen [German]
Der Standard (A), 24 December 2016
Loss of large fruit-eating birds threatens tropical forests [English]
Science Daily, 7 December 2016
Ants plant rainforests, one seed at a time [English], 14 April 2014
Ants help plant tomorrow’s rainforests [English]
Science Magazine, 21 March 2014
Biodiversity = More (and Better) Coffee [English]
The Scientist, 11 February 2014
Functional Fragments [English]
Conservation Magazine, 29 November 2011 
Überraschender Nutzen – Auch Regenwaldinseln erfüllen ökologische Funktionen [German]
Deutschlandfunk (D), 16 December 2011 
Nützlicher Flickenteppich [German]
Welt (D), 28 November 2011 
Selbst fragmentierter Wald behält seine ökologischen Funktionen [German]
Der Standard (A), 25 November 2011

Curriculum Vitae

Recent publications:

Ferger, S.W., Peters, M.K., Appelhans, T., Detsch, F., Hemp, A., Nauss, T., Otte, I., Böhning-Gaese, K. & Schleuning, M. (online early). Synergistic effects of climate and land use on avian beta-diversity. Diversity and Distributions, doi: 10.1111/ddi.12615.

Dalsgaard, B., Schleuning, M., Maruyama, P.K., Dehling, D.M., Sonne, J., Vizentin‐Bugoni, J., Zanata, T.B., Fjeldså, J., Böhning‐Gaese, K. & Rahbek, C. (online early). Opposed latitudinal patterns of network‐derived and dietary specialization in avian plant‐frugivore interaction systems. Ecography, online early, doi: 10.1111/ecog.02604. [highlighted on the Ecography blog]

Vollstädt, M.G.R., Ferger, S.W., Hemp, A., Howell, K.M., Töpfer, T., Böhning-Gaese, K. & Schleuning, M. (2017). Direct and indirect effects of climate, human disturbance and plant traits on avian functional diversity. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 26, 963-972.

Donoso, I., Schleuning, M., García, D. & Fründ, J. (2017). Defaunation effects on plant recruitment depend on size matching and size trade-offs in seed-dispersal networks. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284, 20162664.

Bender, I.M.A., Kissling, W.D.K., Böhning-Gaese, K., Hensen, I., Kühn, I., Wiegand, T., Dehling, D.M. & Schleuning, M. (2017). Functionally specialised birds respond flexibly to seasonal changes in fruit availability. Journal of Animal Ecology, 86, 800-811.

Muñoz, M.C., Schaefer, H.M., Böhning-Gaese, K. & Schleuning, M. (2017). Importance of animal and plant traits for fruit removal and seedling recruitment in a tropical forest. Oikos, 126, 823-832.


mehr Publikationen


Dr. Eike Lena Neuschulz
PostDoc, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests

I am interested in species communities and their ecosystem functions and services. In particular, I study ecosystem functions provided by birds across elevational gradients in temperate and tropical mountain regions. My recent work centres on experimental community ecology, so I combine field observations with experiments to analyse the interactions between plants and animals. In one of these studies, we examine seed dispersal pattern by nutcrackers (Nucifraga caryocatactes) along micro-environmental gradients in alpine pine forests. We seek to investigate, how directed seed dispersal by nutcrackers relates to the potential of Swiss stone pine seedlings (Pinus cembra) to establish. We also study how abiotic drivers and other biotic interaction partners, such as seed predating rodents or soil fungal communities, determine the range limits of the Swiss stone pine.

DFG project NE 1863 2-1 “Differential effects of seed dispersal interactions on plant regeneration across environmental gradients” ; PhD Student Dominik Merges

In another project, we study bird communities and fruit-frugivore interaction networks across an elevational and disturbance gradient in the tropical Andes of Southern Ecuador.

My previous field studies focused on plant-animal interactions (pollination and seed dispersal) across gradients of land-use intensity in subtropical South African forests. Furthermore, I investigated how habitat changes influence the movement behaviour of bird communities in this mosaic landscape.


Biodiversity, species interactions, ecosystem functions, ecosystem services, experimental community ecology, birds, seed dispersal, nature conservation, habitat fragmentation, global change


Selected Publications

Merges, D., M. Bálint, I. Schmitt, K. Böhning-Gaese & E. L. Neuschulz (2018) Spatial patterns of mutualistic and pathogenic fungi across the elevational range of a host plant, Journal of Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12942

Quitián, M., V. Santillán, C. I. Espinosa, J. Homeier, K. Böhning-Gaese, M. Schleuning & E. L. Neuschulz (2017) Elevation-dependent effects of forest fragmentation on plant-bird interaction networks in the tropical Andes, Ecography, 40:1-10, doi: 10.1111/ecog.03247

featured in the Ecography Blog

Neuschulz, E. L., D. Merges, K. Bollmann, F. Gugerli & K. Böhning-Gaese (2017) Biotic interactions and seed deposition rather than abiotic factors determine recruitment at elevational range limits of an alpine tree. Journal of Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12818

featured among others in NZZ

Neuschulz, E. L., T. Mueller, M. Schleuning & K. Böhning-Gaese (2016) Pollination and seed dispersal are the most threatened processes of plant regeneration. Scientific Reports 6: 29839, doi:10.1038/srep29839

featured among others in ScienceDaily.

Neuschulz, E. L., T. Mueller, K. Bollmann, F. Gugerli & K. Böhning-Gaese (2015) Seed perishability determines the caching behavior of a food-hoarding bird.Journal of Animal Ecology 84: 71-78.

featured among others in SpektrumScientific American & Naturzyt.

Plant-animal interaction networks

Dr. Jörg Albrecht
PostDoc, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research  interests

I am an ecologist with a research focus on community ecology, functional ecology, biotic interactions and ecosystem functions. I am particularly interested in the mechanisms that determine the responses of species, communities and ecosystems to climate and land-use change. One focus of my research projects is to understand natural and human-induced dynamics in the structure of plant–animal interaction networks and animal-mediated ecosystem functions, e.g. pollination and seed dispersal. Moreover, I combine biogeographic and paleodietary analyses to explore the effects climate change on species interactions.

Community ecology, functional ecology, biotic interactions, network theory, biodiversity, ecosystem functions, seed dispersal, pollination, global change biology


External Links

Jörg Albrecht on ResearchGate

Selected Publications

Albrecht J, Barton KA, Selva N, Sommer R, Swenson JE & Bischof R (2017) Humans and climate change drove the Holocene decline of the brown bear. Scientific Reports 7:10399.

Farwig N, Berens DG & Albrecht J (2017) Trait-associated loss of frugivores in fragmented forest does not affect seed removal rates. Journal of Ecology 105:20–28. (Invited paper for special feature: ‘Dispersal processes driving plant movement: challenges for range shifts in a changing world’)

Albrecht J, Bohle V, Berens DG, Jaroszewicz B, Selva N & Farwig N (2015) Variation in neighbourhood context shapes frugivore-mediated facilitation and competition among co-dispersed plant species. Journal of Ecology 103:526–536.

Albrecht J, Berens DG, Jaroszewicz B, Selva N, Brandl R & Farwig N (2014) Correlated loss of ecosystem services in coupled mutualistic networks. Nature Communications 5:3810.

Albrecht J, Berens DG, Blüthgen N, Jaroszewicz B, Selva N & Farwig N (2013) Logging and forest edges reduce redundancy in plant-frugivore networks in old-growth European forest. Journal of Ecology 101:990–999.

Albrecht J, Neuschulz EL, Farwig N (2012) Impact of habitat structure and fruit abundance on avian seed dispersal and fruit predation. Basic and Applied Ecology13:347–354

Dr. Robert Modeste Byamungu
Postdoc, Member of Research Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'
Alexander Neu
PhD Student, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests and current projects

ProteaNet: Spatiotemporal dynamics of plant-animal interaction networks

ProteaNet is the follow-up project of ProteaBird and investigates Protea communities in South African fynbos. I will extend spatial and short-term analyses of ProteaBird, conducted by Baptiste Schmid and Henning Nottebrock, and will study how plant-based resources determine long-term dynamics of animal communities. I will address fundamental ecological questions about mechanisms that underlie life-history variation, species coexistence, and the structuring of mutualistic and antagonistic plant-animal interaction networks.

I will specifically study the resource allocation for animal-mediated indirect interactions among Protea plants. I will also test how the spatiotemporal dynamics of Protea-based resources (nectar, pollen, seeds) affect the functional and interaction diversity of bird, rodent, and insect pollinators and seed predators. This will enable us to investigate how mutualistic and antagonistic plant-animal interaction networks assemble in space and time and how the spatiotemporal dynamics of these networks affect plant community dynamics.

I am working under the supervision of PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning. The project is conducted together with Prof. Dr. Frank Schurr and the PhD student Huw Cooksley from the University of Hohenheim, in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Karen Esler and with Prof. Dr. Anton C. Pauw at the University of Stellenbosch. The project is funded by the German Research Foundation.

Functional diversity of birds along land-use and elevational gradients on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

For my Diploma thesis, I worked within the DFG-funded research unit KiLi. The aim was to test whether differences in avian ecomorphological traits depict the functional roles (dietary and foraging preferences) of bird species on Mount Kilimanjaro. I also investigated changes in the functional diversity of the bird communities along an elevational gradient and with land-cover change. This research gives insights into how anthropogenic impacts could modify ecosystem functions of birds.

Mutualistic and antagonistic plant-animal interaction Networks, Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, Functional diversity, Pollination by animals, Observational and experimental field studies, Trait-based network Analysis


Vinicio Santillán
Ph.D. student, Member of Research Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Experimental plant ecology

Dominik Merges
Ph.D. Student, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests

My research interests focus on how abiotic and biotic interactions can limit or facilitate plant regeneration. Abiotic conditions like temperature have long been the main focus in ecosystem research, but in recent years the importance of biotic factors like seed dispersal by animals or interactions between plants and soil communities have become increasingly recognised. In order to fully understand plant regeneration, and thus species distribution, it is important that a multi-trophic approach is taken, taking both abiotic and biotic factors, and the interaction between the two in account. I make use of elevational gradients in order to investigate the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on plant regeneration. As elevational gradients have a wide range of conditions over a narrow area (several hundred of m a.s.l.) they provide a great natural system for studying effects of biotic and abiotic factors on seedling recruitment.

The European Alps provide an especially useful elevational gradient to investigate the factors effecting plant regeneration. Here a mutualistic relationship exists between the Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra) and the Spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes). The pine seeds are dispersed by the nutcrackers along temperature gradients in alpine treeline ecotone, exposing them to harsh conditions. It has been hypothesized that interactions between Swiss stone pine and mutualistic fungi facilitate seedling recruitment in the extreme habitat at the alpine treeline. This system is a good opportunity for us to investigate the effects of climatic (abiotic) factors as well as variety of biotic factors e.g. interactions with birds and fungi on plant regeneration.

By combining a variety of different methods such as field observations and experiments, as well as next-generation sequencing (NGS) of soil communities, I try to answer how the pine regeneration is either limited or facilitated in its environmental space.

We can make use of this study to understand how mutualistic relationships effect plant regeneration and how these factors alter across the elevational/climatic gradient. This is particularly important in the light of ongoing global climate change, which could drive apart the ranges of interdependent species with a mismatch of future habitats potentially leading to extinction.


Global change models

Dr. Isabel Donoso
PostDoc, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research Interests

I am a nature enthusiast and community ecologist interested in the effect of plant-animal interactions on ecosystem functioning under anthropogenic impacts. In particular, I study the consequences of defaunation and climate change on seed dispersal from a community-wide perspective. I combine trait-based studies of interaction networks with simulation models of avian seed dispersers to understand how seed dispersal is affected by anthropogenic impacts at community level. I work on this project in association with the research groups of Matthias Schleuning and Thomas Müller.

Previously, during my PhD in the research group of Daniel García (University of Oviedo), I have worked on unravelling the spatial and temporal patterns of interactions between fleshy-fruited trees and frugivorous birds in a temperate and highly fragmented forest of north Iberian Peninsula. I also examined the mechanisms driving species interactions and the mechanisms underpinning the consequences of animal loss in plant-frugivore networks for forest regeneration. Thus, my line of research aims at improving predictions of how communities respond to global change and it seeks to provide insight into how biodiversity loss impacts on ecosystem functioning.


External Links

List of publications on Google Scholar
Profile at ResearchGate


Donoso, I., García, D., Martínez, D., Tylianakis, J.M and Stouffer, D.B. Complementary effects of species abundances and ecological neighborhood on the occurrence of fruit-frugivore interactions (2017). Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Special issue “Timely insights on fruit-frugivore interactions”. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2017.00133.

Donoso, I., Schleuning, M., García, D. and Fründ, J. (2017). Defaunation effects on plant recruitment depend on size matching and size trade-offs in seed dispersal networks. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 284:20162664

Donoso, I., García, D., Rodríguez-Pérez, J. and Martínez, D. (2016). Incorporating seed fate into plant-frugivore networks increases interaction diversity across plant regeneration stages. Oikos. 125:1762-1771

Donoso, I., Stefanescu, C., Martínez-Abraín, A. and Traveset, A. (2016). Phenological asynchrony in plant–butterfly interactions associated with climate: a community-wide perspective. Oikos. 125:1434-1444

Press coverage

Why losing big animals causes big problems in tropical forests [English], 14 June 2017

Efectos negativos de la defaunacion en la regeneración forestal [Spanish] La Nueva España, 5 June 2017

Efectos de la perdida de aves de gran tamaño en bosques tropicales [Spanish] Radio Television Española, 5 June 2017

Mariposas, flores y cambio climático [Spanish] Agencia SINC, 18 July 2016

Larissa Nowak
Ph.D. student, Member of Research Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'
Mathias Templin
Technical Assistant, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'


Stein, K., M. Templin, I. Hensen, M. Fischer, D. Matthies, and M. Schleuning (2012) Negative effects of conspecific floral density on fruit set of two neotropical understory plants. Biotropica 45: 325-332.

Schleuning, M., N. Farwig, M. K. Peters, T. Bergsdorf, B. Bleher, R. Brandl, H. Dalitz, G. Fischer, W. Freund, M. W. Gikungu, M. Hagen, F. H. Garcia, G. H. Kagezi, M. Kaib, M. Kraemer, T. Lung, C. M. Naumann, G. Schaab, M. Templin, D. Uster, J. W. Wägele, and K. Böhning-Gaese (2011) Forest fragmentation and selective logging have inconsistent effects on multiple animal-mediated ecosystem processes in a tropical forest. PLoS One 6: e27785.

Schleuning, M., M. Templin, V. Huamán, G.P. Vadillo, T. Becker, W. Durka, M. Fischer, and D. Matthies (2010) Effects of inbreeding, outbreeding, and supplemental pollen on the reproduction of a hummingbird-pollinated clonal Amazonian herb. Biotropica 43: 183-191.