Functional ecology and global change



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

Associate Editor of Functional Ecology

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
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
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

Bender et al. 2019. Projected impacts of climate change on functional diversity of frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Scientific Reports,

Dehling et al. 2020. Similar composition of functional roles in Andean seed‐dispersal n etworks, despite high species and interaction turnover. Ecology,

Donoso et al. 2020. Downsizing of animal communities triggers stronger functional than structural decay in seed-dispersal networks. Nature Communications,

Nowak et al. 2019. Projecting consequences of global warming for the functional diversity of fleshy‐fruited plants and frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Diversity & Distributions,

Peters et al. 2019. Climate–land-use interactions shape tropical mountain biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Nature,

Sonne et al. 2020. Ecological mechanisms explaining interactions within plant–hummingbird networks: morphological matching increases towards lower latitudes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B,

Schleuning et al. 2020. Trait-Based Assessments of Climate-Change Impacts on Interacting Species. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 2020,

Dr. Eike Lena Neuschulz
Senior Scientist, 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 centers on experimental community ecology, so I combine field observations with experiments to analyze 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 investigate, how seed deposition by nutcrackers and other biotic and abiotic drivers relate to the potential of Swiss stone pine seedlings (Pinus cembra) to establish.

DFG project NE 1863 2-2 “The role of intraspecific variation in seed dispersal, traits, and genetic diversity for the response capacity of plants to climate change”; PhD student Valentin Graf

In other projects in the tropical Andes, we study how abiotic and biotic filters affect the regeneration of plants of various life history traits across an elevational and disturbance gradient in Southern Ecuador. In Northern Ecuador, we study how seed dispersal networks (birds and rodents) reassemble across a forest disturbance gradient in the Chocó region.

DFG projects NE 1863 3-1 “Trait-dependent effects of biotic and abiotic filters on plant regeneration”, NE 1863 3-2 “Trait-dependent effects of abiotic and biotic filters on plant regeneration in mountain dry forest and mountain rain forest”; PhD students Maciej Barczyk, Lea Kerwer

DFG project NE 1863/4-1 “Seed dispersal by frugivorous birds, bats and rodents” PhD student Anna Rebello Landim


List of publications

Team Members

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

Fields of interest

I am broadly interested in the effects of global change on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. My research aims at resolving the mechanisms by which global change (e.g., climate and land-use change) alters interactions between organisms and how this affects ecosystem processes such as pollination, seed dispersal, herbivory and predation. To answer my research questions, I study how the taxonomic and functional diversity of communities, as well as the structure of species interaction networks change along climate and land-use gradients (e.g., on tropical mountains). I link these changes in community structure to ecosystem processes to assess the potential consequences of biodiversity loss for ecosystem functioning. Moreover, I combine macroecological and palaeoecological perspectives to explore the effects global change on species diversity and biotic interactions at large spatiotemporal scales. To integrate the perspectives from these various research disciplines, I use diverse tools including, structural equation models, meta-analyses, and Bayesian statistics.


Community ecology,functional ecology, networkecology,global change biology,biotic interactions, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, seed dispersal,pollination,herbivory, predation

External Links

Google Scholar





Selected Publications

Albrecht, J., Peters, M. K., Becker, J. N., […], Steffan-Dewenter, I. & Schleuning, M. (2021) Species richness is more important than species turnover for ecosystem functioning along an elevational gradient. Nature Ecology & Evolution 5:1582-1593.

Albrecht, J., Classen, A., Vollstädt, M. G. R., […], & Schleuning, M. (2018) Plant and animal functional diversity drive mutualistic network assembly across an elevational gradient. Nature Communications 9:3177. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05610-w

Albrecht, J., Hagge, J., Schabo, D. G. et al. (2018) Reward regulation in plant–frugivore networks requires only weak cues. Nature Communications 9:4838. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07362-z

Albrecht, J., Bartoń, K. A., Selva, N. et al. (2017) Humans and climate change drove the Holocene decline of the brown bear. Scientific Reports 7:10399. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10772-6

Albrecht, J., Berens, D. G., Jaroszewicz, B. et al. (2014) Correlated loss of ecosystem services in coupled mutualistic networks. Nature Communications 5:3810. doi:10.1038/ncomms4810

Publication List

Diana Carolina Acosta Rojas
Ph.D. Student, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests

I’m an enthusiastic ecologist broadly interested in ecological processes that sustain forest dynamics such as seed dispersal by animals. Previous to my PhD, my research interests had mainly focused on understanding the quality of seed dispersal by Neotropical frugivorous species. Currently, I’m carrying out my PhD project as a part of the research unit “RESPECT Environmental changes in biodiversity hotspot ecosystems of South Ecuador: RESPonse and feedback effECTs”. In this context, I’m highly motivated to understand the diversity and frequency distribution of functional traits in plant communities along land-use and elevation gradientsin order to assess the responses of plant communities to human disturbance and to predict the effects on associated ecosystem functions.

As an ecologist in prep, I believe that a comprehensive approach of the socio-ecosystem dynamics is required to diagnose ecosystem status, model future scenarios and propose well-informed conservation strategies. Moreover, I realized early in my career the importance of science communication in the society and really enjoy to exchange scientific knowledge between scientists and the non-academic public.

External links

List of publications on Google Scholar 

Profile at ResearchGate



Acosta-Rojas D.C., Jiménez-Franco V., Zapata V., De la Rúa P. & V. Martínez López. (2019). An integrative approach to discern the seed dispersal role of frugivorous guilds in a Mediterranean semiarid priority habitat. PeerJ 7:e7609.

Fonseca, M.L., Cruz D.M., Acosta-Rojas, D.C., Páez-Crespo, E.J. & P. Stevenson. (2019). Influence of arthropod and fruit abundance on the dietary composition of Highland Colombian Woolly Monkeys (Lagothrix lagotricha lugens). Folia Primatológica (90)4:240-257.

Cruz, D.M., Acosta-Rojas, D.C. & P. Stevenson. (2018). Are seeds able to germinate before fruit color ripening? Evidence from six Neotropical bird dispersed plant species. Ecosphere 9(6), e02174.

Stevenson, P., Cardona, L., Acosta-Rojas, D.C., Henao-Díaz, L.F. & S. Cárdenas. (2017). Diet of Oilbirds in Cueva de Los Guácharos National Park (Colombia): temporal variation in dispersal quantity, fruit choice and seed morphology. Ornitología Neotropical, 28:295-307.

Farji-Brener, A., Chinchilla, F., Umaña, M.N., Ocasio-Torres, M., Chauta-Mellizo, A., Acosta-Rojas, D.C., Marinaro, S., de Torres Curth, M. & S. Amador-Vargas. (2015). Branching angles reflect a tradeoff between reducing trail maintenance costs or travel distances in leaf-cutting ants. Ecology (96)2:510-527.

Acosta-Rojas, D.C., Muñoz, M.C., Torres A.M., & G. Corredor. (2012). Dieta y dispersión de semillas: ¿Afecta la guacharaca colombiana (Ortalis columbiana) la germinación de las semillas consumidas? Ornitología Neotropical 23:439-453.

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

Research interest

I am a nature lover fascinated mainly by plants and interactions between species. Currently I work as a PhD student on plant regeneration in tropical mountain forest in Ecuador. I consider studying ecology and evolution, particularly in tropics, as the unique opportunity to understand better relationships between species in the changing world. The aim of my ongoing research is to study biotic and abiotic factors influencing seedling communities across an elevational and disturbance gradient in tropical Andes of Southern Ecuador. The study is a part of the research unit “RESPECT Environmental changes in biodiversity hotspot ecosystems of South Ecuador: RESPonse and feedback effECTs” funded by the German Research Foundation and my PhD is supervised by Dr. Eike Lena Neuschulz.


plant-animal interactions, seedling communities, seed dispersal, biodiversity


Giovanni Bianco
PhD Student

Research Interests

I am broadly interested in how organisms interact with each other and their environment and what this means for people. In my research I investigate the role of species interactions in providing regulating ecosystem services like seed dispersal, pest control and habitat provision. My research is based on the southern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and is part of the DFG-funded research unit “The role of nature for human well-being in the Kilimanjaro Social-Ecological System” .

The slopes of Kilimanjaro offer a fantastic opportunity to look at how species interactions, and the services they underpin, change across a variety of ecosystems defined by altitude and land-use. I aim to build a conceptual framework that allows to quantify the role of species in the provision of ecosystem services and use it to analyse the data that I am collecting on the mountain. 

Community ecology, species interactions, biodiversity, ecosystem services, nature’s contributions to people

External links


mitarbeiter valentin graf
Valentin Graf
Ph.D. student, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests

I am intersted in a wide range of ecological processes including demographic population analyses, movement ecology, and plant-animal interactions.
My PhD project brings me to the Swiss Alps, where I study the Swiss stone pine, a coniferous tree occupying timberline habitat. Swiss stone pine populations are often small, and genetic diversity is generally low. I aim to find out how well this species can adapt to changing climatic conditions.
The Swiss stone pine maintains a close mutualistic bond with the spotted nutcracker, a scatter-hoarding bird of the crow family. The charismatic bird harvests and caches up to 100’000 pine seeds every summer, to then feed on them for the rest of the year. By forgetting about some of his caches, the nutcracker acts as the pine’s sole long-distance seed disperser, which earned him the nickname “feathered forester”.
To understand the pine’s potential to adapt to changing conditions, I am studying both the tree and its disperser. I am excited to combine different apporaches like seed transplant experiments, genetic analyses, trait-based data, and fine-scale movement analyses. Together, these approaches will give insight into the pine’s recruitment success across an array of biotic and abiotic factors.


functional ecology, biotic interactions, seed dispersal, climate change

Mitarbeiter Alexander Neu
Alexander Neu
Ph. D.Student, Member of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Research interests

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

Press coverage

Citizen Science

Vögel beobachten und mitteilen  [German] SWR, 7 Feb 2017


Anna Rebello Landim
PhD Student

Biodiversity conservation and restoration have always been my main interests in Ecology. Within these topics, I am passionate about mutualistic interactions and the ecological processes derived from them. Understanding the role of each character in these processes and the outcome of their entanglement has driven my research in the last years. In particular, I am interested  in exploring functional traits as a tool to both understand species roles in ecological processes and also improve restoration management. I am especially motivated to understand and investigate means to restore ecological processes and functions once they are lost (after species extinction, for example). This is why I am a big enthusiast of the Reassembly of species interaction networks project, which my PhD project is part of: it aims to understand how highly diverse networks dis and reassemble after land use (pasture and agriculture). Within this project, I will study the reassembly of seed dispersal networks and how species traits shape this process. I am working under the supervision of PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning and Dr. Eike Lena Neuschulz, at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

Plant-animal interactions, seed dispersal, functional diversity, restoration, ecosystem functioning

Curriculum Vitae

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.


Irene M.A. Bender

D. Matthias Dehling

Isabell Donoso

Silvia Gallegos Ayala

Maria A. Maglianesi

Dominik Merges

Marcia C. Muñoz Neyra

Larissa Nowak

Marta Quitián

Francisco V. Saavedra

Vinicio Santillán

Baptiste Schmid

Maximilian G.R. Vollstädt