Environmental Stress & Functional Ecology - ESFE

Stable Isotope Ecology and Ecosystems Functioning

Advances in stable isotope ecology and biogeochemistry have lead to significant progress in understanding how co-occurring plants physiologically vary in relation to the soil biogeochemistry, hydrological cycles, and ecosystem processes in the landscape. Inter-species variation in stable isotope levels provide clues to plant niche and subsequently community distribution patterns. It is also valuable to use as proxies for functional type, such as N-fixing and water-use efficiency strategies. We can thus use such approaches to sketch the typical functional types in the landscape, and what would happen if we add or remove dissimilarly functioning species. We also strive to understand how stable isotopes would vary with predictions of future climatic and soil changes.

Our group also focus on the functional ecology of plant invasions. Plant invasions continue to be a major driver of global biodiversity change, increasing in many ecosystems worldwide due to more global trade routes. Woody plant species have particularly strong impacts not only in native ecosystems, but also on productivity in agro-forestry landscapes and agro-ecosystems. Particularly relevant are the plant soil interactions and facilitation processes at early stage of plant invasion with low plant densities.


At the core we thus focus on:

i) Understanding structural and functional changes in Mediterranean and tropical plant communities (including lichens) in response to climate and other environmental disturbances, especially then the isotopic signals of C, N, O and H. These isotopes can explain the relation between resource availability and use-efficiency, resistance and adaptation to climate change (including phenology), and fluxes within the ecosystem.

ii) Spatially explicit modeling based on stable isotopes.

(iii) Understanding the mechanistic underpinnings of the plant invasion process into Portuguese landscapes, particularly Australian acacias, thereby improving risk assessment and site clearing prioritization, as well as calculating ecosystem impacts.

iv) Developing new techniques and strategies to valorize commodities from Mediterranean origin (using biogeochemistry).


We have built a good relationship and close collaborations with land-managers and industry stakeholders, especially within the forestry sector, leading to a significant contribution to region-wide management strategies of commodities, valorization of multipurpose plant organs, and control of invasive species.