About this Research Topic
In times of rapidly changing environmental conditions, ecological research is facing new challenges. Woody species and forest ecosystems are particularly under increasing pressure resulting from the accelerating speed of global change, due to their long life expectancy and slow response rates. This makes it necessary to assess the arising ecological and physiological interrelations, which is reflected by the title of the 48th Annual Conference of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GfÖ) "Ecology - Meeting the Scientific Challenges of a Complex World", held in Vienna, Austria, 10th-14th September 2018.
In this Research Topic, we aim to provide a snapshot of the state-of-the-art of the fields of forest and tree ecology and physiology above and below ground, including forest soils and their microbial communities, with a special focus on plant ecophysiology, (soil) biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, as well as the effects of disturbances, (a-)biotic stresses, and biological invasions.
Trees are sessile organisms and cannot escape from harsh environmental conditions via migration. To cope with stresses like drought, trees must make efficient use of available resources and acclimate to new conditions by changing functional parameters. For example, increased allocation of resources to root growth and/or symbiotic partners like mycorrhiza may facilitate water uptake during drought. Disturbance and stress events, such as insect infestations and biological invasions also affect the structure, composition, and functioning of trees and forests. Our understanding of how tree physiology, plant-soil interactions and forest productivity are linked is, however, still far from being complete. Water is a key factor determining the structure and function of plants and ecosystems. To date, nevertheless, important questions regarding plant and ecosystem water relations, the impact of water availability on plant-soil interactions, the growth of woody plants and ecosystem biogeochemistry as well as the impacts of future climate on ecosystem functions remain unanswered.
Linking aspects of diversity on various scales and ecosystem function will pave the way towards a better understanding of forest dynamics and forest ecosystem services. For example, ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal species richness in boreal and temperate forests greatly exceeds that of tree species, whereas arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal richness in tropical forests is much less diverse than the corresponding tree species richness. Both mycorrhizal association types are pivotal drivers of ecosystem functioning in tropical, temperate and boreal forests. It remains, however, to be seen to what extent the large diversity in soil actually affects the ecology of soil microbial communities and vice-versa, with ultimate consequences for ecosystem functions in a changing climate.
Finally, yet importantly, the functional traits framework is a highly promising tool in the understanding of the mechanisms behind ecological processes on both individual species and community base. The power of this approach lies in the fact that functional traits capture species strategies to cope with abiotic and biotic drivers and thus to deal with environmental conditions and their changes in space and time. In summary, this Research Topic thus aims to provide a state-of-the-art overview of the functional ecology of forest ecosystems and individual tree species under current and future environmental conditions.
We warmly welcome the following article types: Original Research, Reviews, Opinions, General Commentaries, and Hypothesis and Theory. Descriptions of cutting-edge methods are also accepted. The oral and poster contributions presented at the 48th GfÖ conference are particularly welcome in this Research Topic. Additionally, other contributions fitting in the scope of the Topic as outlined above, and being strongly related to the sessions of the GfÖ conference, are also encouraged.
Keywords: Disturbance, Functional traits, Forest ecology, Rhizosphere, Soil microbial communities, Stress, Tree physiology
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.