PASTFORWARD Seminars: Biodiversity and global environmental change

Project description and subprojects

PASTFORWARD will build an integrative understanding of the interactive effects of land-use change, atmospheric deposition and climate warming on forest herb layer communities, starting from the insight that changes in herb layer communities are driven primarily by past land use, but can be modulated by atmospheric deposition, climate warming and forest management. Three complementary data sources (a database with resurveyed vegetation plots, field measurements in a pan-European network of resurvey plots, and a multi-factor experiment) combined with an
ecosystem model will be used.

Project coordinator: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen (
Project team
: dr. Michael Perring (), dr. ir. Dries Landuyt (), ir. Sybryn Maes (), ir. Haben Blondeel (), ir. Leen Depauw ()
: 2014-2019
Subprojects in ForNaLab
- A unique database with resurveyed vegetation plots, combined with field measurements in a pan-European network of resurvey plots (more info)
- An innovative, multi-factor global change experiment (more info)


Seminar 1 - Jens-Christian Svenning

Long-term biodiversity-climate disequilibria - a macroecological perspective

Earth's climate has varied dramatically in the past, within ongoing cooling during the last 30 million and strong glacial-interglacial oscillations across the Quaternary (last 2.6 million years) having had strong impacts on biodiversity, e.g.., regional extinctions and range shifts. A key question is whether species distribution and local species diversity (s.l.) have been able to track these changes to remain in equilibrium in climate or, if not, how widespread across space and time disequilibrium dynamics have been. Our macroecological work show that long-term (10^4 year or more) climatic disequilibria are widespread across regions and organism groups not only in species distributions and richness, but also sometimes penetrating to functional diversity and ecosystem functioning.

Jens-Christian Svenning is professor in ecology at Aarhus University, where he leads Section for Ecoinformatics & Biodiversity, Department of Bioscience. He works broadly on basic and applied ecology, biogeography and global change biology, with a special interest in integrating contemporary and historical perspectives.

Seminar 2 - Werner Härdtle

Tree species coexistence - effects of biodiversity and global change drivers

Studies on tree communities have demonstrated that species diversity can enhance forest productivity, but the driving mechanisms of diversity effects (particularly at the local neighborhood level) and their sensitivity to global change drivers (such as climate change and nitrogen deposition) remain poorly understood. The talk will present (i.a.) results of a large-scale biodiversity experiment with 24 subtropical tree species (BEF-China) to show that neighborhood tree species richness generally promotes individual tree productivity, but the underlying mechanisms depend on a focal tree's functional traits. For species with a conservative resource-use strategy diversity effects are brought about by facilitation and for species with acquisitive traits by competitive reduction. Tree traits also mediate growth responses of tree communities to shifts in the abiotic environment (climatic variables, nitrogen fertilization). The findings illustrate that growth responses of tree communities to both the biotic and abiotic environment can vary over small spatial scales, emphasizing the need to consider variation in local neighborhood interactions to better understand effects at the community level.


Werner Härdtle is a full professor in Ecology (Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation) at the University of Lüneburg since 1997 and experienced in vegetation and soil ecological research. Research interests are a mechanistic understanding of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships and how these relationships are affected by the abiotic environment. Previous research had a main focus on forest ecosystems and cultural landscapes (heathlands), in which he analyzed mutual relationships between biodiversity patterns, global change drivers (climate change, atmospheric nitrogen deposition), and ecosystem functions (such as species coexistence and nutrient cycling). Recent research projects addressed the effects of interaction processes of global change drivers and their relevance for ecosystem functioning, but also the potential of management measures to mitigate global change effects for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Seminar 3 - Wim H. van der Putten

Aboveground-belowground interactions in a changing world

It is increasingly acknowledged that aboveground-belowground interactions play an important role in structuring the dynamics and evolution of species in natural ecosystems. However, relatively little is known about how aboveground-belowground interactions will change under climate warming and what will be consequences for future community composition and ecosystem functioning. Here, I will work out the case of climate warming-induce range shifts, where we track how plant-soil interactions develop when plant species shift range from Mediterranean to Northern and North-Western Europe. During this process, plants become disconnected from their natural biotic interactions, whereas over time these –or novel- multi-trophic interactions may become (re-)established in the new range. With my colleagues and collaborators along the expansion transect across Europe, we study the ecology and evolution during this process of range expansion, which should bring us to predictions of how species, communities and ecosystem processes may be influenced, through plant-soil biodiversity interactions, to global warming. I will conclude that understanding aboveground-belowground interactions will be key to understanding how nature responds to the current rapid climate warming and how in the future we may be experiencing novel communities and novel ecosystems.   


Wim van der Putten graduated at Wageningen University in 1984 with a degree in ecology and then moved to the Institute for Ecological Research at Oostvoorne, The Netherlands. In 1989 he gained his PhD and Wageningen University and currently, he is head of the Terrestrial Ecology at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) and extraordinary professor in Functional Biodiversity at Wageningen University. Wim’s main interest is in aboveground-belowground multitrophic interactions, plant-soil feedback, succession, (soil) biodiversity, invasions, and climate change-induced range shifts. In 2004, he was awarded a VICI grant in order to study consequences of rapid range shifts due to current climate warming and in 2012 an ERC Advanced grant on community re-assembly under climate warming. In 2015 he was elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Wim is co-editor of both the European and Global Atlases of Soil Biodiversity. He co-founded the Wageningen Centre for Soil Ecology and the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (