Current projects

Urban grasslands experiment: effects of soil and mowing regime on biodiversity and amenity value

The general aim of this project is to formulate concrete measures for the creation and management of species-rich grasslands in urban environment, taken the amenity value, management effort and biodiversity value into account. In the city of Ghent, Belgium, an experiment is set up where we introduce a seed mixture consisting of a broad range of species. We look at the effect of contrasting abiotic starting situations combined with different management practices on plant species richness, potential associated biodiversity, productivity and aesthetic value. Parallel with the in-situ experiment, a germination test is conducted, researching the importance of irrigation during the first year and the influence of organic matter in the soil on the priority effect of a broad range of species.

Contact person: Ellen De Vrieze (
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Lander Baeten, prof. dr. ir. Jan Mertens, dr. ir. Stephanie Schelfhout
Period: 2020-2026


Forest biodiversity and multifunctionality drive chronic stress-mediated dynamics in pathogen reservoirs

This project aims to advance our understanding of how multifunctional performance levels of forests, driven by tree species diversity, affect stress-mediated host-pathogen dynamics in a broad range of vertebrate species. We therefore combine field observations in selected forests across Belgium with lab experiments on animal and zoonotic diseases and state-of-the-art statistical and mechanistic modelling to generalize the obtained results. Fieldwork is conducted on birds, amphibians and small mammals in a number of small to medium-sized forests in East Flanders and Flemish Brabant. Our lab will focus on the work done on small mammals.

Contact person: Tosca Vanroy (
Financer: BOF-GOA
Supervisors: Prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, dr. ir. Dries Landuyt, Eline Lorer
Partners: prof dr. An Martel, prof dr. Luc Lens, dr. Diederik Strubbe
Period: 2020-2024


Modelling climate change impacts on the composition and functioning of temperate forest understorey vegetation

In this project, we aim for a better understanding of how climate warming impacts the understorey and, more specifically, understorey plant height, one of the crucial traits influencing competitive processes but also the functioning of the understorey. By integrating individual plant responses to warming, inferred from experimental and observational data, in a process-based model to predict understorey community dynamics, we will be able to gain a more mechanistic understanding of understorey responses to climate warming. By simulating a range of alternative management practices under different warming scenarios, the project aims to support the design of forest management practices that can mitigate adverse effects of climate warming in the understorey of temperate forests.

Project coordinator: Prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen (
Project team: Prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, dr. ir. Dries Landuyt, Eline Lorer
Financer: FWO
Period: 2021-2025


Climate change in cities: impact of the urban heat island on urban forests

Plant species living in the understorey are sensitive to climate warming. Furthermore, some important processes in forests are determined by temperature, for example the decomposition of litter. An important characteristic of forests is their microclimate beneath the canopy layer, which buffers temperature extremes. This buffering capacity can locally reduce climate warming and help understorey species to cope with the changing climate. In cities, temperatures are generally higher compared to temperatures in rural areas due to the urban heat island effect. In this project, the urban heat island effect is used to study the potential impacts of future climate warming on forests. This project aims to assess the impact of the urban heat island on the microclimate, the understorey plant communities and litter decomposition in urban forests.

Contact person: ir. Karen De Pauw (
Financier: FWO
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, dr. ir. Pieter Vangansbeke, dr. ir. Leen Depauw
Period: 2019-2023


Temporal and spatial environmental legacies of tree species diversity and composition.

The diversity and composition of the tree community influence the biotic and abiotic soil properties. We will analyse soil samples from stands varying in tree diversity and composition, both in recently established forest stands of the FORBIO sites and in mature forest stands in Bialowieza, Poland (FunDivEUROPE). Next, we will set up pot experiments by sowing tree species in pots containing the soil originating from the forest sites and growing these seedlings in a semi-controlled environment. These seedlings will serve as a phytometer to test for biotic and abiotic legacies.

Contact person: Els Dhiedt (
Financier: FWO
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Lander Baeten, dr. ir. Pallieter De Smedt
Period: 2018-2022


Forest biodiversity effects on human thermal comfort

On all three FORBIO sites (Hechtel-Eksel, Gedinne and Zedelgem), microclimate stations are recording the four variables which influence thermal sensation in humans: air temperature and humidity, wind speed and mean radiative temperature. Using plots varying in species composition and diversity, we aim to reveal whether diverse forests are more efficient in creating favourable thermal environments. Additionally, we will study the effect of species, forest structure and seasonality. This project is part of a larger international and interdisciplinary project called Dr. Forest, aimed at studying forest biodiversity's effect on human wellbeing.

Contact person: Loïc Gillerot (
Financier: BiodivERsA
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Bart Muys
Period: 2020-2024


Tree diversity effects on leaf litter decomposition

Decomposition is a key ecological process since it controls carbon drawdown and nutrient cycling in forests. Although decomposition have been well studied, less is known about how decomposition is modified by individual tree species and species diversity and mixing. In order to address the problem of how the tree species diversity affects decomposition, besides decomposition experiment settled in Zedelgem, microclimate sensors were also deployed to quantify microclimate in forests within all three FORBIO research sites, help to provide theoretical basis and practical guidance for determining reasonable management measures, planting patterns and cultivation measures.

Contact person: Shengmin Zhang (
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, dr. ir. Dries Landuyt
Period: 2018-2022


Phenology responses to climate change in the understorey of temperate forests - implications for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

This study aims at bringing together and expanding current evidence on phenology shifts in the understorey of temperate forests, using a combination of observational and experimental data, quantifying the understorey’s response to macroclimate and microclimate change. The main findings will be integrated in an existing process-based model to study the effects of phenology shifts on community reordering in the understorey.

Project coordinator: dr. ir. Dries Landuyt (
Supervisor: Prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Financer: FWO
Period: 2021-2023


Trees against malaria: strengthening of academic and research capacity on Cinchona trees in Peru, Ecuador and DR Congo

Quinine is the oldest antimalarial medicine and currently still widely applied for curative treatments. The pro-duction and use of natural quinine is still immensely important. Quinine and related alkaloids are extracted from the bark of Cinchona trees. These trees are now relatively rare in their native range in South America but 25 % of the global production occurs by smallholders in DR Congo (South and North Kivu province) where the tree was introduced during the Belgian colonial period. Production of quinine in DRC, however, is suboptimal. In this JOINT project, we will bring together and exchange knowledge, expertise and know-how on cinchona from its native range (Peru and Ecuador, where the diversity is present but natural populations were heavily exploited in the past) and its introduced range (DR Congo, where the tree is a cash crop for smallholders) leading to new opportunities, cross fertilization of ideas and mutual learning. The strategic goal is to strengthen academic and research capacity in South America and Africa leading to sustainable intensification of cinchona production and its conservation in the tropics.

Contact person: dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne (
Period: 2019 - 2021


LIFE+ Nardus & LimosaNardus-Limosa.jpg

The European Nardus & Limosa LIFE+ project aims to restore meadow-heathland systems that are rich in Nardus grasslands (6230*) with healthy meadow bird populations in Belgium and The Netherlands. Currently, Nardus grasslands as well as populations of black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and common curlew (Numenius arquata) are still present in the study areas in the Campine region. However, both the species-rich grasslands as well as the bird species are declining. LIFE+ Nardus & Limosa is innovative in combining two nature targets: restoring Nardus grasslands and, at the same time, increase the meadow bird populations. The restoration techniques under consideration are mainly aimed at restoring phosphorus-poor soil conditions by mowing, P-mining or topsoil removal. ForNaLab will coordinate the abiotic screening of fields in Turnhouts Vennengebied (BE), Weelde Kampheide (BE), Laambeekse Heide (BE) and Regte Heide (NL). The screening involves a large soil sampling campagne and chemical soil analyses to help practitioners choose the best suited restoration methods for Nardus grasslands. In Turnhouts Vennengebied, the progress of abiotic restoration will be evaluated after several years on a selection of sampling points. ForNaLab will also monitor P-removal with biomass and compare this to changes in soil-P concentrations during the project. This will enhance the knowledge on Nardus grassland restoration methods, more specifically on P-mining. ForNaLab will also help to develop an innovative restoration method (“Meadow bird-friendly P-mining”) and will evaluate the efficacy in the field.

Contact person: dr. ir. Stephanie Schelfhout (
Financier: LIFE, Natura2000 and co-financed by ANB
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Jan Mertens, dr. ir. An De Schrijver
Period: 2020-2024



Changes in ecosystem (multi)functionality in semi-natural grasslands undergoing restoration management

The restoration of degraded ecosystems such as semi-natural grasslands has become an important goal in environmental policy. Yet, restoration usually focuses on reinstating a particular vegetation or habitat type, (structural recovery) and it remains unclear how the functioning of these systems changes during restoration and how specific management drives these changes. This will be studied with field observations and two experiments.

Contact person: ir. Eva DeCock ()
Financier: BOF
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Lander Baeten
Period: 2017-2021


Climate change and plant responses in ecological corridors of agricultural landscapes along a latitudinal gradient

The general aim of this project is to assess the potential of ecological corridors (hedgerows and road verges) to facilitate grassland and forest plant population persistence and migration across a macroclimatic gradient in the face of climate change. We will work in eight landscape windows along a latitudinal gradient from southern France to central Sweden and investigate plant, population and community characteristics in response to temperature variation along the gradient as well as experimental warming (using open-top chambers). In addition, the effect of other abiotic and biotic environmental factors (e.g. soil properties, humidity, light, corridors structure and width, historical land use and management) will be quantified as well. The initial hypothesis is that plant, population and community characteristics will change, and respond differently to climate change, between the original habitat and the corridor due to different environmental and evolutionary mechanisms in both settings. This research will significantly improve our ability to predict future species distributions in fragmented landscapes under climate change which, in turn, can support conservation decision making. Moreover, we will be enabled to identify critical features that make ecological corridors efficient for biodiversity conservation under different scenarios of land-use and climate change. Hence, the potential of landscape planners to develop effective guidelines concerning the future establishment, design and management of ecological corridors will be strongly improved.

Contact person: Thomas Vanneste ()
Financier: BOF
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne, prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Dirk Reheul
Period: 2017-2021


FORBIO: a large-scale field experiment on the effects of tree species diversity


The acronym FORBIO stands for assessment of the effects of tree species diversity on FORest BIOdiversity and ecosystem functioning. The experiment was established between 2009 and 2012. At three sites with contrasting site conditions, plots were planted with one up to four tree species. Various aspects of ecosystem functioning can thus be compared between plots that differ in tree species richness but have developed under the same abiotic conditions. The sites are located in Gedinne (Gribelle, Gouverneurs), Zedelgem and Hechtel-Eksel.

Contact person: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen (
: Prof. dr. ir. B. Muys, Prof. dr. M. Carnol, Prof. dr. ir. Q. Ponette
Period: 2008 - ongoing
treediv|Belgium and TreeDivNet
Subprojects in ForNaLab

Finished projects:

- Assessment of the effects of tree species diversity on FORest BIOdiversity and ecosystem functioning (more info)

- Early tree diversity effects on tree growth, litter decomposition and herbivory (more info)

-FORBIOClimate: adaptation potential of biodiverse forests in the face of climate change (more info)

       -Effects of temperature during seed development on progeny performance (more info)



Microclimatic buffering of plant responses to macroclimate warming in temperate forests - FORMICA


Recent global warming is acting on ecosystems across the globe and threatening biodiversity. Yet, due to slow responses, many biological communities are lagging behind warming of the macroclimate (the climate of a large geographic region). The buffering of microclimates near the ground measured in local areas, arising from terrain features such as vegetation and topography, can explain why many species are lagging behind macroclimate warming. However, almost all studies ignore the effects of microclimates and key uncertainties still exist about this mechanism.

Microclimates are particularly evident in forests, where understorey habitats are buffered by overstorey trees. In temperate forests, the understorey contains the vast majority of plant diversity and plays an essential role in driving ecosystem processes.

The overall goal of FORMICA (FORest MICroclimate Assessment) is to quantify and understand the role of microclimatic buffering in modulating forest plant responses to macroclimate warming. We will apply microtemperature loggers, perform experimental heating, use fluorescent tubes and install a large-scale transplant experiment in temperate forests across Europe. The results will then be integrated in models to forecast plant diversity in temperate forests as macroclimate warms.

FORMICA will be a large integrative study on microclimatic buffering of macroclimate warming in forests. The project will reshape our current understanding of the impacts of climate change on forests and help land managers and policy makers to develop urgently needed adaptation strategies.

Contact person: prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne (
Financier: ERC starting grant
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne
Period: 2018-2023


AGFORPRO: Agroforestry in Flanders: an economically viable solution for the demand for agro-ecological production methods

The project tries to realise a more widespread adoption of agroforestry in Flanders through the assistance of starters and the remediation of financial and juridical drawbacks. Also extended scientific research is executed to gain knowledge about the interactions that occur within an agroforestry-system and the implications they may have for farming practise, yield and environment.

Project coordinator: Bert Reubens (
Partners: ILVO, UGent, BDB, Inagro, ECO² Agrobeheercentrum
Financer: IWT
Period: 2014-2019
Subprojects in ForNaLab:
- Ecological interactions between tree, soil, crop and environment in Flemish agroforestry-systems (more info)

An innovative, multi-factor global change experiment (PASTFORWARD)

By experimentally applying global change treatments to herb layer communities, we seek to disentangle effects of increased temperature, atmospheric deposition and light availability on herb layer trajectories across a distinct land-use gradient. Starting from initially similar communities in a controlled environment grown on soil from different regions across Europe, we will test whether different trajectories develop depending on their position on the land-use gradient and how these trajectories are modulated under the treatments of global change.

Contact person: ir. Haben Blondeel (
Financier: ERC
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Period: 2015-2019


A unique database with resurveyed vegetation plots, combined with field measurements in a pan-European network of resurvey plots (PASTFORWARD)


In this part of the PASTFORWARD project, we will try to understand the interactive effects of land-use change, atmospheric deposition and climate warming on forest herb layer communities, making use of the forestREplot database. This is a unique database of forest herb layer resurvey plots, spread across th

e temperate zones of the globe. To determine the impact of the abovementioned drivers, the database will be supplemented with detailed information on land-use history and environmental characteristics of the plots, and with relevant functional trait data of the species involved. In combination with the database analysis, field measurements will be done in a subset of the resurvey plots, to verify the validity of the processes inferred using the forestREplot database.

Contact person: ir. Sybryn Maes (, ir. Leen Depauw (, dr. Michael Perring ()
Financier: ERC
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Period: 2014-2018


Does tree leaf-out phenology influence timing and fitness of understorey plant species? (TREEWEB)

Photo research Bram 1

In temperate climate zones plant and animal life shows a seasonal pattern of growth and senescence. The timing of these natural events is indicated with the term phenology. Every species tries to synchronize its phenology with that of the surrounding species in order to escape predation and competition or to benefit from pollinator, food or light availability. Gaining insight in this synchronization is important to understand ecosystem processes and to estimate the risk of mismatches (disruption of synchronization between species) due to climate change. Forests are a particular interesting system to study phenological events. The forest herb community consist of species that either grow early in the season, before canopy shading limits growth, or that are shade tolerant. The timing of canopy closure of trees early in spring is a strong selection pressure for timing of growth and flowering of forest herbs. Herbs receive 20 to 90 % of their yearly radiation before canopy closure. This selection pressure is however not uniform since tree species can differ more than a month in canopy closure time. I will investigate several aspects of herb and tree phenology: How do plants synchronize their growth and flowering with timing of canopy closure? Are populations genetically adapted to local conditions or do they display phenotypic plasticity? How are trait means and trait variability in forest herb communities affected by canopy diversity?

Contact person: Bram Sercu (
Financier: FWO
Supervisor: prof. dr. Dries Bonte, prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, dr. ir. Lander Baeten
Period: 2013-2018


Ecological and socio-economic optimization of nature-oriented measures on agricultural land

Research LauraWe will evaluate the impact of nature-oriented measures in agricultural landscapes, i.e., amended/reduced fertilization and the implementation of grass buffer strips, functional agro-biodiversity strips and hedgerows, in an assessment framework. The consequences on the provision of ecosystem services (agricultural production, wood production, carbon sequestration, contribution to a good water quality and natural pest control) will be investigated. We will then compare the results of this analysis with the Flemish context by means of an extensive field analysis of a set of Flemish agricultural plots. Eventually, we will value the ecosystem services to allow a comparison between public benefits (ecosystem services) and private costs (for the farmer).

Contact person: ir.  Laura Van Vooren (
Financier: IWT
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Period: 2014-2017


Ecological interactions between tree, soil, crop and environment in Flemish agroforestry systems (AGFORPRO)

Understanding and gaining knowledge of how tree, soil, crop and environment interact in silvicultural agroforestry systems in Flanders can help us estimate the consequences, both positive and negative, in terms of yield, crop quality, biodiversity, soil conditions, etc. that accompany the establishment of this farming practice. These interactions will be studied on 4 young agroforestry parcels. The goal of the project is however to evaluate the whole cycle of an agroforestry system, from planting of the trees up to harvesting of the stems. Since older silvicultural parcels are very limited in Flanders up to now, 16 regular parcels bordered by a tree row of poplar or walnut of various age will also be studied as a proxy for older agroforestry systems.

Contact person: ir. Paul Pardon (
Financier: IWT
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. ir. Dirk Reheul, prof. dr. ir. Jan Mertens, dr. ir. Bert Reubens
Period: 2014-2018


Ecosystem services of soil-dwelling arthropods in small forest remnants (smallFOREST)

Research PallieterSmall, dispersed remnants of semi-natural habitats in intensively managed, human-dominated landscapes are important for biodiversity conservation, acting as refuges and stepping stones. However, they are generally not formally protected (e.g., fall outside Natura 2000) and their status is often insecure and their future unpredictable. The alarmingly high rates of species decline in intensively used landscapes are partly due to the loss or degradation of these remnant habitat patches. Their limited economic value results in a less intensive use of these patches, and the potential ecosystem services they provide are largely unknown. “smallFOREST” (a biodivERsA project) focusses on the relation between ecosystem services and biodiversity in these small remnant forest patches. Soil dwelling arthropods are often very abundant in these patches and can be important concerning pest control (predators of pest species) and litter decomposition and are useful as bio-indicators for habitat fragmentation and total species richness. Within this project, the community structure of spiders, wood lice, millipedes, centipedes and harvestmen are investigated and related to different structural and functional parameters within and outside the different forest patches. The study of the ecosystem services provided by soil-dwelling arthropods is only one of several work packages within the “smallFOREST” project. The aim of the project is to quantify ES and biodiversity in small forest fragments among agricultural landscapes and this along a European gradient covering 8 study regions within the deciduous forest biome, from Estonia to the South of France.

Contact person: ir. Pallieter De Smedt (
Financier: FWO
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, prof. dr. Martin Hermy, prof. dr. Dries Bonte
Period: 2013-2017


Effects of N input, climate warming and management changes on the herb layer

OTCElevated atmospheric input of nitrogen (N) is one of the most important threats to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. To fully assess future responses to chronically enhanced N deposition also the predicted climate warming needs to be taken into account due to its effects on N cycling and plant growth. The response of plants to N deposition, however, diverges between forests and other ecosystems, probably due to the greater structural complexity and pivotal role of light availability in forests. To date, the outcome of climate warming and changing management (resulting in altered light availability) in forests experiencing decades of elevated N inputs remains uncertain. Therefore, the principal purpose of this study is to determine the interactive effects of enhanced N inputs, climate warming, and management-driven understorey light availability on (i) the performance of a selection of understorey forest plant species, and (ii) the composition and diversity of understorey plant communities. To address these research questions, we will use plant resurveys in temperate broadleaved forests and conduct experiments in which N availability, temperature, and light will be manipulated. For more information:

Contact person: dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne (
Financier: FWO
Period: 2010-2014


Effects of plant-soil feedbacks on colonization rates of forest herbs along a latitudinal gradient

Plant species that expand their range as a result of climate change may become released from soil pathogenic activity. These species escape from enemies through range shifts changes key under- and below-ground biotic interactions and complicates predictions of future distribution, dominance and biodiversity. This project focuses on 4 understorey species (Milium effusum, Stachys sylvatica, Poa nemoralis and Geum urbanum) which occur in a wide range latitude gradient from North France to Central Sweden. Transplant experiment and molecular analysis on rhizosphere soil will be given for interpreting of microbial composition and their interaction mechanism between plant and soil.

Contact person: ir. Shiyu Ma (
Financier: CSC
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, dr. ir. Pieter De Frenne
Period: 2014-2018


Impact of forest conversion on Lyme disease risk

Research SanneLyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in Europe. The illness is caused by different genospecies of the bacterium Borrelia and transmitted to humans mainly by the bite of the sheep tick Ixodes ricinus, which is the principal vector. The incidence of both tick bites and Lyme disease has increased the last decennia. Previous research (PhD project of Wesley Tack) has shown  that converting homogenous pine plantations to more natural, mixed forests dominated by deciduous tree species causes an increase in the abundance of ticks. The effect of forest conversion on the prevalence of Borrelia in the ticks, which represents the actual risk of acquiring Lyme disease, is not known. The Dilution Effect hypothesis states that the prevalence of Borrelia infection in ticks can remain relatively low if besides competent reservoir species also incompetent reservoir species are present in the host community of the tick, which dilute the strength of the competent reservoirs. The goal of this project is, by studying the host community in different forest types and elucidating part of the epidemiological cycle of Lyme disease, to provide a framework in which it will be possible to predict the risk for humans to acquire Lyme disease in different forest types.

Contact person: Sanne Ruyts (
Financier: IWT
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. K. Verheyen (UGent), prof. dr. Erik Matthysen (UA), dr. Hein Sprong (RIVM)
Period: 2013-2017


Impact of neighbourhood diversity on the growth of oak and pineResearch Margot

We will study the relation between a tree’s local neighbourhood diversity, its crown shape, diameter growth and response to drought stress in permanent monitoring plots in unmanaged forest reserves in Flanders and the Netherlands: complex stands with large age and size differences between trees that thus offer a broad range of tree diversity levels within a single site.

Contact person: dr. ir. Margot Vanhellemont (
Financier: FWO
Period: 2014-2017


N cycling and sequestration in temperate forest edges

Research ElynForest edges are increasingly important landscape features worldwide, but they have largely been ignored in assessments of forest ecosystem functioning. Compared to interior forest zones, edges suffer increased nitrogen (N) input through atmospheric deposition but, surprisingly, lose less N with percolating soil water. As such, forest edges challenge the current N-saturation paradigm that, in N-saturated forests, high N deposition is generally associated with increased inorganic N leaching. The overall aim of this project is to scrutinize the effect of edge proximity on N cycling and N sequestration in temperate forest ecosystems. The specific aims are to investigate (i) whether and to what extent gaseous N emissions and the N pools and sequestration in the forest floor and mineral soil are affected by edge proximity, (ii) which forest floor and soil processes and factors are principally involved in the probably altered N cycling in the forest floor and the mineral soil, and (iii) how altered N cycling and N sequestration at edges relates to C sequestration. Experiments will be performed in forests in Belgium and Denmark of which N inputs and outputs were previously characterised. The outcome of this study will improve our understanding on how global environmental changes (including higher N deposition, higher temperatures, and land-use changes) affect ecosystem N cycling.

Contact person: ir. Elyn Remy (
Financier: FWO
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. K. Verheyen (UGent), prof. dr. ir. P. Boeckx (UGent), dr. ir. Karen Wuyts (UA)
Period: 2013-2016


PASTFORWARD: Development trajectories of temperate forest plant communities under global change: combining hindsight and forecasting

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.

Watch the project's fun animation video on the role of forest understoreys and the impacts of global change,


visite the PASTFORWARD website!

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)

Click here for info about the PASTFORWARD Seminars (25th January 2017)


Quantifying the overstorey-understorey diversity relationships in forests (FunDivEUROPE)

Research EvyThe understorey fulfils many important ecosystem services, such as mediation of carbon dynamics, provision of habitats, and it contains most of the plant diversity in forest ecosystems. Changes in the overstorey diversity may affect the understorey as trees have a species-specific impact on resource availability and soil conditions that influence the understorey. We examine the overstorey-understorey relationships by means of measurements in tree diversity experiments and mature forests throughout Europe (FunDivEUROPE framework).

Contact person: dr. ir. Evy Ampoorter (
Financier: European Union Seventh Framework Programme
Period: 2010-2018


Quantifying understorey responses to overstorey opening to better predict tree regeneration success

Herbaceous understorey communities have the potential to exert a strong influence on the dynamics of forest tree regeneration, and thus forest overstorey composition. To better understand and predict forest tree regeneration, we will try to quantify how understorey plant species respond to canopy opening under varying other environmental conditions (e.g. N dep. or climate) and how they may affect tree seedlings. This will be accomplished making use of the forestREplot database.

Contact person: Emiel De Lombaerde ()
prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen


SmallFOREST: Biodiversity and ecosystem services of small forest fragments in European landscapes

In many parts of Europe, the original forest cover has strongly reduced and forests presently occur as small fragments, often embedded in an intensively used agricultural matrix. Despite their small size, these forest patches often act as refugia for biodiversity. These small fragments may provide a wide range of ecosystem services (ES) to human society. Biodiversity and ES of small forest fragments are mutually dependent as they are determined by a similar set of drivers. However, the nature and strength of the relationships between biodiversity and ES will vary, depending on the taxonomic group and ES under consideration, and on the landscape context including the type and intensity of the surrounding land-use and the land-use history. Moreover, the value attributed to an ES will differ between different regions. All these sources of variation remain largely unknown and their effects on human perception, hence on decisions about management, planning and policy, is poorly understood. Therefore, the main objective of smallFOREST is to quantify ES and biodiversity in small forest fragments among agricultural landscapes and across different regions in Europe, to analyse how their mutual relationships vary between landscapes and regions and to assess the extent to which ES are valued differently. smallFOREST is built on a unique database covering ~650 forest patches in sixteen 5 km x 5 km landscape sampling windows in southern France, northern France, Belgium, northwestern Germany, north-eastern Germany, southern Sweden, central Sweden and Estonia (2 windows per region).

Project coordinator: Guillaume Decocq (
Financer: Biodiversa
Period: 2012-2015
Subprojects in ForNaLab:
- Ecosystem services of soil dwelling arthropods in small forest fragments in European agricultural landscapes along a gradient of land use intensity (more info)


The impact of tree species diversity and forest fragmentation on tree growth and recruitment (TREEWEB)

Research StefanieTo assess the relative impacts of tree biodiversity and forest fragmentation on forest ecosystem functioning, a study platform comprising small, isolated forest patches and several larger, more connected forest patches crossed with forest stands differing in tree diversity was established in Belgium (TREEWEB). Within this network, current and past tree growth will be quantified and underlying mechanisms that can cause growth differences will be investigated. Since the recruitment of new individuals in tree populations is key to future forest composition, structure and productivity, a seed addition experiment will be carried out to quantify tree establishment under different conditions.

Contact person: ir. Stefanie De Groote (
Financier: Special Research Fund Ghent University (BOF)
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Period: 2014-2017


The importance of microclimate for the prediction of forest plant responses to global warming

Climate warming is affecting the distribution of numerous species across the globe, and will likely result in overall biodiversity loss. However, biotic responses to rising air temperatures may be buffered by the microclimate in structurally diverse habitats, such as in forest understoreys that are buffered by tree canopies. Therefore, our main aim of this project is to assess the effects of microclimatic buffering in determining plant responses to global macroclimate warming in temperate forest understoreys.

Contact person: Pieter De Frenne ()
Financier: FWO
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen
Period: 2015-2017


The influence of small forest fragments on pollination services in an agricultural landscape

Insect pollination is an important ecosystem function. However, because of agricultural intensification, many species of pollinators have declined. This research focuses on the role of small semi-natural habitat in agricultural land as habitat for insect pollinators and on the possible services it provides for agriculture.

Contact person: ir. Willem Proesmans (
Financier: FWO
Supervisor: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen; prof. dr. Dries Bonte, prof. dr. ir. Guy Smagghe
Period: 2014-2018


TREEWEB: Scaling up functional biodiversity research from individuals to landscapes and back

The acronym TREEWEB stands for the assessment of relationships between TREE diversity and ecosystem functioning across the terrestrial foodWEB, at different spatial scales. Interactions among detritivore, consumer and pathogen networks, which are tightly linked with forest primary production through feedback loops, will be studied in forests in East-Flanders. The forest plots lie in small or large ancient forest fragments and are either monocultures, 2-species mixtures or 3-species mixtures.

Project coordinator: Luc Lens (
: Special Research Fund Ghent University (BOF)
: 2014-2017
Subprojects in ForNaLab:
- The impact of tree species diversity and forest fragmentation on tree growth and recruitment (more info)

- Does tree leaf-out phenology influence timing and fitness of understorey plant species? (more info)


Woody networks in agricultural landscapes: floristic diversity, conservation and management scenarios

Picture research Sanne VDBThe rural Flemish landscape supports a network of hedgerows, rows of (pollarded) trees, wooded banks, small forest patches and hedges. Given their traditional functions have become obsolete, these hedgerows are currently undervalued and are gradually disappearing. However, such network may deliver several ecosystem services, e.g. hedgerows may function as semi-natural habitat in the countryside and be of great conservation value to several plant species. In this project, the drivers of the species diversity and composition in these linear habitats will be studied on a large spatial scale (countryside in the province of Antwerp). In addition, temporal changes in plant communities will be quantified for woody networks in Meerhout and Turnhout (11 and 40 year intersurvey intervals), allowing to determine the main causes of changes. As biomass becomes more important these days, we will also study the opportunities for harvesting at a landscape scale, taking into account the biodiversity function and cultural-historical function of the elements. Also sociological research will be done to record the perceptions about woody networks and motives for hedgerow management, testing the Theory of planned behaviour.

Contact person: ir. Sanne Van Den Berge (
Financier: Ghent University
Supervisors: prof. dr. ir. Kris Verheyen, dr. ir. Lander Baeten
Period: 2014-2020