Aboveground and below-ground community ecology

7 September 2011

A joint workshop with CUSO Doctoral Program in Ecology & Evolution


  • To understand the theoretical background and methods of aboveground and belowground community ecology.
  • To get a multidisciplinary view on the advantages and limitations of field-based, mesocosm, and modelling approaches to the study of aboveground and belowground community ecology.
  • To get insights on new emerging research themes in aboveground and belowground community ecology.


  • Richard Bardgett , University of Lancaster, UK - Linkages between aboveground and belowground communities, ecosystem function and global change
  • Michal Hájek , Masaryk University, Czech Republic - Vegetation, mire ecology, community ecology of macro- and microscopic organisms
  • Frederick W. Spiegel , University of Arkansas, USA - Systematics, ecology and biogeography of Protostelids and other mycetozoans   in soils
  • Enrique Lara, University of Neuchâtel -Towards an integrative study of soil food webs
  • Edward Mitchell , University of Neuchâtel - Community patterns of soil protozoa and vegetation along chronosequences and ecological gradients


  • Keynote presentations by leading researchers in the field of aboveground and belowground community ecology:
  • Richard Bardgett

    Personal web site.

    Plant, soil, microbial interactions and ecosystem carbon cycling

    The last decade has witnessed an explosion of interest in the topic of soil carbon cycling, and especially the role that soils play in the global carbon cycle and climate change. This interest has come about largely because soils absorb and release greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, and act as a major carbon reservoir, storing some 80% of the Earth’s terrestrial carbon stock. Despite the importance of soils for carbon storage, remarkably little is known about the factors that regulate the fluxes of C to and from soil, or about the role that interactions between plants and soil microbes play in regulating soil carbon sequestration. In this talk, I use selected examples from recent research to illustrate some of the mechanism by which plants and their interactions with soil microbes can influence soil carbon dynamics at different spatial and temporal scales, and demonstrate how such understanding might be harnessed to enhance soil carbon sequestration in grassland systems. Future challenges in this area of research will be identified.

  • Michal Hájek

    Personal web site.

    Community composition of different groups of organisms in island-like fens and bogs

    During the last years a detailed investigation of species composition of vascular plants, bryophytes, molluscs, diatoms and testate amoebae have been carried out in the Western Carpathian and Suddeten mountains in Central Europe. This research found that pH/calcium gradient is a major driver of a compositional change in all investigated assemblages (although the underlying mechanisms differ by particular groups of organisms) and leads to apparent coincidences between community compositions of different organism´s groups. When working on a larger spatial scale, the biogeographical factors starts to play a bigger role. Species composition of the vascular plants and molluscs, both rather bad dispersers, is from a great part determined by spatial effects, which are largely connected to relictualism. We brought an evidence that particular vascular plants and mollusc species are significantly linked to old fens even at the millennial scale, and that age of a fen correlates significnatly with the density of fen specialists. For better dispersers (molluscs, diatoms and testate amoebae) these effects were not statistically significant. Both dispersal ability and life span matter also for bioindication. When we analysed relationships between species compositions and water chemistry in bogs scattered in recently limed forests, calcium concentration determined species composition of diatom and testate amoebae assemblages, but not species composition of vascular plant and bryophyte assemblages.

  • Enrique Lara

    Personal web site

    Towards an integrative study of soil food webs

    Enrique Lara, Edward A. D. Mitchell, Laboratory of Soil Biology, University of Neuchâtel

    The soil microbial loop concept is 30 years old. Yet our understanding of soil microbial food webs is still fragmentary. Four key research areas directly relevant to soil food webs are insufficiently taken into account :
    1) Biodiversity: studies combining classical and molecular methods are revealing huge diversity both within known groups and novel unsuspected clades.
    2) Biogeography: Not all free-living protists are cosmopolitan ; what about functions ?
    3) Feeding habits and trophic position: What do all these species do for a living ? How common are food-specialists? Can this information be integrated into models?
    4) Spatial and temporal patterns: How can we account for complex spatial and temporal patterns when discussing soil microbial food web functioning?
    These important topics are typically studied by independent teams, which have different research backgrounds and scopes. New technological developments now allow assessing the full diversity of soil organisms and hopefully soon the position of each one in the food web. We now need to bring concepts and methods together to improve both theory and to design more ecologically realistic experiments.

  • Edward Mitchell

    Personal web site.

    Above-ground vs below-ground pa tterns of communities: lessons from primary succession and disturbance gradients

  • Frederick W. Spiegel

    Personal web site

    Sporocarpic and sorocarpic amoebae as tools for studying the amoeboid predators of decomposers.

    Sporocarpic and sorocarpic amoebae, the organisms colloquially called slime molds, produce sporulating structures on various types of decaying plant substrates. Their sporulating structures, termed fruiting bodies, allow them to be identified to species or species complex. Because of this, they can be collected and cataloged very easily. Culturing is not necessary as it is for most protist. This facilitates their use as indicators for the communities of eukaryotic microorganisms that act as predators of decomposers. Techniques for collecting and identifying slime molds from the various microhabitats (standing dead plants, tree bark, ground litter, humus, coarse woody debris, herbivore dung, and submerged dead vegetation) will be described and examples of community level studies of slime molds will be presented.

  • Organized mini-workshops on sub-themes based on relevant publications provided to participants and posters/short-presentations by participants to discuss current research.
  • General synthesis of the themes addressed during the workshop

Participants are encouraged to present their research.
If you would like to present a poster, please contact Claire Le Bayon and send her the title of your poster.

Program (updated 30.08.2011).

General information

Dates :  Wednesday 7 September 2011

Schedule : 8.55 - 16

Location : University of Neuchâtel, Faculté des sciences, UniMail, building B, room B103

Credit points : 0.5 credit point (attendance only); 1.0 (with poster or oral presentation); Scientific activities, DP

Evaluation : Full attendance and active participation. A personal attestation will be distributed at the end of the workshop.

Information : Please contact the scientific organizers Edward Mitchell or Claire Le Bayon, or the doctoral program coordinator Christiane Bobillier (administration)

Registration fee :

  • free for PhD students registered in the CUSO Doctoral Program in Ecology and Evolution or PhD students (who are not members of a CUSO University) registered in the Interuniversity Doctoral Program in Organismal Biology (includes 2 coffee breaks and 1 lunch).
  • for master students the registration is free, but the lunch is not included.
  • for ALL other participants, the registration cost is CHF 20.00 (includes 2 coffee breaks and 1 lunch).

Travel expenses : participants in the CUSO Doctoral Drogram and Interuniversity Doctoral Program in Organismal Biology are eligible for reimbursement of incurred travel expenses by train (half-fare card, and 2nd class).

  • for CUSO Doctoral Program in Ecology and Evolution participants: see information on the CUSO web site.
  • for Interuniversity Doctoral Program in Organismal Biology participants who are not members of a CUSO University. Send the original tickets (no copies, except for the general abonnement) with the reimbursement form  to Dr. Christiane Bobillier. No reimbursement for bus, taxi or car travel expenses will be paid.

TAKE your ATTESTATION of ATTENDANCE (distributed at the end of the workshop)
(no attestation will be sent by mail)


This workshop is opened to all Ph.D. students. Registration priority until 30 June 2011. Post-docs and master students are welcome as long as places are available.

Maximum number of participants: 40.

Registration through CUSO web site: CLOSED

Please note the cancellation policy (CHF 20) .

Deadline: 30 August 2011