TER Mission

Soil microorganisms and plants are key players in the production and breakdown of organic matter, and together control global biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. TER, the Division of Terrestrial Ecosystem Research, aims to advance our fundamental understanding of how plants and soil microorganisms respond to, and in turn shape, their abiotic and biotic environment, and to determine the consequences for the functioning of Earth’s ecosystems.

Primarily dedicated to basic research, TER addresses pressing environmental issues, such as the impact of climate and land-use change on ecosystem functioning and the role of soils in the global carbon cycle and in food security. In doing so, we work on scales from µm (i.e. the scale at which microbes operate) to the biosphere (i.e. where plant and microbial processes become evident), and in ecosystems spanning the Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests. We integrate this scale of thinking with state-of-the-art methods, including stable isotope tracing and biomarker fingerprinting, and are developing novel approaches to estimate gross environmental processes with isotope pool dilution techniques.

We are strongly committed to conduct world-leading research in a motivating and intellectually stimulating environment, and to train our students to become independent and internationally competitive scientists who enjoy research and contribute to society as conscientious citizens.

Research projects


    Global Change & Nutrient cycling  

    The Arctic is warming more rapidly than any other region in the world. There, permafrost soils cover ~25% of terrestrial surface and hold the world's largest soil organic carbon (C) and global nitrogen (N) pools. [...]

  • playNICE – Interplay between Biological Nitrification Inhibitors, Nitrogen Cycling, and Agronomic Nitrogen Use Efficiency

    Nitrogen (N) is essential for all life on Earth and the most abundant element in the atmosphere, where it mainly occurs as dinitrogen gas (N2). However, plants or animals cannot assimilate N2 into biomass, and the supply of reactive, bioavailable [...]

  • SUP:RHIZE--- Supply mechanisms of phosphorus in the rhizosphere in tropical soils – interactions of plants and microorganisms

    The Amazon rainforest stores large amounts of carbon in plant biomass and in soils, and is an important sink for atmospheric CO2 setting off increased emissions from anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion and land use change. However, in large parts of [...]

  • BryoSoil

    Effects of bryophytes on soil microbial processes and nitrogen cycling

    In high latitude ecosystems bryophytes (mainly mosses) are important drivers of ecosystem functions. Alterations in abundance of bryophytes due to global change may thus strongly influence C and N cycling [...]

  • Self-organization of microbial soil organic matter turnover


    Microbial turnover of soil organic matter (SOM) is key for the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle. Its underlying mechanisms, however, are not fully understood. The role of soil microbes for organic matter turnover has so far been studied mainly





    Permafrost coasts in the Arctic make up 34% of the world's coasts and represent a key interface for human-environmental interactions. These coasts provide essential [...]

  • SEACUE - Seasonal dynamics of soil microbial carbon sequestration

    Rising air temperatures caused by increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere call for efficient counteractive strategies. One strategy is the transfer of carbon (C) into soil where it can be stabilized.

    The majority of C in soils is remains of [...]

  • SPACE - The spatial aspect of rhizosphere priming

    Higher plants release a significant proportion of the carbon (C) they assimilate into the rhizosphere – mainly as sugars, amino acids or organic acids. This labile carbon has been shown to substantially accelerate microbial decomposition of ‘old’ or ‘recalcitrant’ soil [...]

  • Time & Energy, fundamental microbial mechanisms that determine methane dynamics in a warming arctic

    Arctic peatlands are dynamic, fluctuating environments exposed to frequent temperature changes within as well as between seasons. The effect of temperature changes on the carbon balance in Arctic peatlands depends on short-term (hours-days), medium-term (weeks-months) and long-term (years) microbial acclimation [...]

  • The Biogeochemistry of Tungsten (W) in the Plant-Soil Environment

    In the past decades, increasing industrial and military use of Tungsten (W)-based products opened new pathways of W into natural systems and raise the need for a better understanding of the behaviour of W in the environment. Soils play a [...]

  • CryoCARB - Advancing organic carbon estimates for cryoturbated soils

    CryoCarb is an international project that includes seven research groups from Europe and Russia.
    Our main goal is to (i) advance organic carbon estimates for cryoturbated soils focusing on the Eurasian Arctic and (ii) to
    understand the vulnerability [...]

  • EU-PolarNet - Connecting Science with Society

    We are part of the Horizon 2020 project "EU-PolarNet - Connecting Science with Society", the world’s largest consortium of expertise and infrastructure for polar research. EU-PolarNet consists of 22 of Europe’s most respected multi-disciplinary research institutions. From 2015-2020, EU-PolarNet will [...]

  • Microbial Nitrogen Cycling - From Single Cells to Ecosystems (Graduate Program)

    Understanding the contribution of microorganisms to ecosystem processes remains one of the most compelling challenges in ecology and requires a high degree of interdisciplinary research. Ten faculty members from three departments have designed a joint PhD program with highly integrated, [...]

  • ClimGrass C – Grassland carbon dynamics in a changing climate

    Climate changes and elevated CO2 have major impacts on biogeochemical cycles, which may in turn feed back on the climate system. ClimGrass-C is a new project that aims to assess effects of multiple levels of elevated CO2 and warming and [...]

  • INT5153 - Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Land-Water-Ecosystem Quality in Polar and Mountainous Regions

    The interregional IAEA project aims to improve the understanding of the impact of climate change on fragile polar and mountainous ecosystems on both a local and global scale for their better management and conservation. Seven core and five related benchmark [...]

  • COUP - Constraining uncertainties in the permafrost-climate feedback

    Permafrost ecosystems hold more carbon than the atmosphere. There is mountain concern that rapid warming in the Arctic will accelerate the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) from these ecosystems, resulting in a positive feedback to climate change. [...]

  • Modeling emergent phenomena of complex microbial communities

    Microbial soil organic matter transformations are traditionally investigated from a bird’s eye view, that means at scales that are considerably larger than those relevant to soil microbes, in both empirical and modeling studies. This approach constrains our understanding of the [...]

  • Carbon and Nitrogen flow through the Plant-Mycorrhiza-Soil continuum

    All plants release a substantial fraction of the carbon they assimilate via photosynthesis as root exudates into the soil, an input that significantly shapes soil microbial processes. Root exudates are known to accelerate microbial decomposition of soil organic matter in [...]

  • Ecological stoichiometry

    Terrestrial microbial decomposer communities thrive on a wide range of organic matter types that rarely ever meet their elemental demands in terms of C, N and P (and other nutrients). The stoichiometric imbalance between microbial communities and their organic substrates [...]

  • Tropical Biogeochemistry

    Tropical forests are centers of global biodiversity and integral parts of the global water and biogeochemical cycles. They play a key role in global climate control and terrestrial carbon sequestration, and are indispensable as reservoirs of terrestrial organic carbon and [...]

  • Soil fluxomics and tracing SOM decomposition at the molecular level

    Soil organic matter (SOM) represents a vast store of carbon, exceeding that of the atmosphere by at least 3-fold. Global change effects on the formation and breakdown of SOM therefore can have strong repercussions on the global C cycle and [...]

  • Soil organic N cycling – MicrON

    Nitrogen (N) availability in soils exerts a strong control on the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle, through effects on plant production and on microbial processes, such as organic matter decomposition and soil microbial respiration. The predicted global changes in temperature and [...]