Ecosystem function and biodiversity under global change

Plant ecology studies the interaction between plants and their environment. Ecosystem science considers life processes at the scale of whole communities of plants or even at the whole ecosystem level. Our group links plant level processes (ecophysiology) to ecosystem functioning with a special emphasis on the impact of species identity (biodiversity) on ecosystem level processes.

Carbon dioxide is the key resource for photosynthesis and dry matter production and the photosynthetic rate of C3 plants is not CO2 saturated at today’s concentration of ca. 385 ppm. As the CO2-concentration is rising rapidly and the pre-industrial concentration of ca. 280 ppm will be doubled in ca. 80 years, our group is heavily engaged in research on the consequences of CO2-enrichment for plants under as natural as possible growth conditions. One of our main research projects has been the 'Swiss Canopy Crane Project’, the first trial worldwide of exposing a naturally grown mature forest to a future CO2 concentration. Results show that certain tree species reduce their water consumption under elevated CO2 and the quality of leaf and branch tissue changes, which in turn influences herbivores, including pests. Tree canopy responses are rather rapidly communicated to soil microorganisms.

At community and ecosystem level, biodiversity effects tend to overrun physiological ‘first principle‘ effects. The challenge ahead is the study and understanding of complex interactions of the various units that compose an ecosystem. Our group works in multi-species forests and grassland. Special target areas are alpine vegetation, the climatic high elevation treeline, temperate and tropical forests and grassland types from contrasting climates.


Recent Publications

  • Halving sunlight reveals no carbon limitation of aboveground biomass production in alpine grassland
    Moehl, Patrick; Hiltbrunner, Erika; Koerner, Christian
    Global Change Biology, 10.1111/gcb.14949, JAN 2020
  • Share the wealth: Trees with greater ectomycorrhizal species overlap share more carbon
    Rog, Ido; Rosenstock, Nicholas P.; Koerner, Christian; Klein, Tamir
    Molecular Ecology, 10.1111/mec.15351, Early Access: JAN 2020
  • No need for pipes when the well is dry – a comment on hydraulic failure in trees
    Korner, Christian
    Tree Physiology,  DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpz030
  • A Humboldtian view of mountains
    Korner, C; Spehn, E
    SCIENCE, 365 (6458):1061-1061; SI 10.1126/science.aaz4161 SEP 13 2019
  • Data do not support large-scale oligotrophication of terrestrial ecosystems
    Hiltbrunner, E; Korner, C; Meier, R; Braun, S; Kahmen, A
    NATURE ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION, 3 (9):1285-1286; 10.1038/s41559-019-0948-5 SEP 2019
  • Limited capacity of tree growth to mitigate the global greenhouse effect under predicted warming
    Buntgen, U; Krusic, PJ; Piermattei, A; Coomes, DA; Esper, J; Myglan, VS; Kirdyanov, AV; Camarero, JJ; Crivellaro, A; Korner, C
    NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 10 10.1038/s41467-019-10731-x JUN 17 2019
  • Twelve years of low nutrient input stimulates growth of trees and dwarf shrubs in the treeline ecotone
    Mohl, P; Morsdorf, MA.; Dawes, MA.; Hagedorn, F; Bebi, P; Viglietti, D ; Freppaz, M; Wipf, S; Korner, C; Thomas, FM; Rixen, C
    JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, 107 (2):768-780 10.1111/1365-2745.13073 MAR 2019
  • Flower-visitor communities of an arcto-alpine plant-Global patterns in species richness, phylogenetic diversity and ecological functioning
    Tiusanen, M; Huotari, T; Hebert, PDN; Andersson, T; Asmus, A; Bety, J; Davis, E; Gale, J; Hardwick, B; Hik, D; Korner, C; Lanctot, RB; Loonen, MJJE; Partanen, R; Reischke, K; Saalfeld, ST; Senez-Gagnon, F; Smith, PA; Sulavik, J; Syvanpera, I; Urbanowicz, C; Williams, S; Woodard, P; Zaika, Y; Roslin, T
    MOLECULAR ECOLOGY, 28 (2):318-335; SI 10.1111/mec.14932 JAN 2019
  • Concepts in empirical plant ecology
    Korner, Christian
    PLANT ECOLOGY & DIVERSITY, 11 (4):405-428; 10.1080/17550874.2018.1540021 2018
  • Advances in Monitoring and Modelling Climate at Ecologically Relevant Scales
    Bramer, I; Anderson, BJ; Bennie, J; Bladon, AJ; De Frenne, P; Hemming, D; Hill, RA; Kearney, MR; Korner, C; Korstjens, AH; Lenoir, J; Maclean, IMD; Marsh, CD; Morecroft, MD; Ohlemuller, R; Slater, HD; Suggitt, AJ; Zellweger, F; Gillingham, PK
    Edited by: Bohan DA; Dumbrell AJ; Woodward G; Jackson M
    NEXT GENERATION BIOMONITORING, PT 1, 58 101-161; 10.1016/bs.aecr.2017.12.005 1 2018
    Book Series: Advances in Ecological Research
  • Losing half the conductive area hardly impacts the water status of mature trees
    Dietrich, L; Hoch, G; Kahmen, A; Korner, C
    SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 8 10.1038/s41598-018-33465-0 OCT 9 2018
  • Climate and soils together regulate photosynthetic carbon isotope discrimination within C-3 plants worldwide
    Cornwell, WK; Wright, IJ; Turner, J; Maire, V; Barbour, MM; Cernusak, LA; Dawson, T; Ellsworth, D; Farquhar, GD; Griffiths, H; Keitel, C; Knohl, A; Reich, PB; Williams, DG; Bhaskar, R; Cornelissen, JHC; Richards, A; Schmidt, S; Valladares, F; Korner, C; Schulze, ED; Buchmann, N; Santiago, LS
    GLOBAL ECOLOGY AND BIOGEOGRAPHY, 27 (9):1056-1067; SEP 2018
  • Alnus shrub expansion increases evapotranspiration in the Swiss Alps
    van den Bergh, T; Korner, C; Hiltbrunner, E
    REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, 18 (5):1375-1385; SI 10.1007/s10113-017-1246-x JUN 2018
  • Low temperature limits for root growth in alpine species are set by cell differentiation 
    Nagelmueller, Sebastian; Hiltbrunner, Erika; Korner, Christian 
    AOB PLANTS, 9: 2017
  • Nitrogen fixation by Alnus species boosts soil nitrous oxide emissions 
    Buhlmann, T.; Caprez, R.; Hiltbrunner, E.; et al. 
    EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF SOIL SCIENCE, 68 (5): 740-748 SEP 2017
  • When meta-analysis fails: A case about stomata 
    Korner, Christian 
    GLOBAL CHANGE BIOLOGY, 23 (7): 2533-2534 JUL 2017
  • A matter of tree longevity
    SCIENCE 355 (6321):130-131 10.1126/science.aal2449  JAN 13 2017
Christian Körner

Prof. em. Dr. Christian Körner
University of Basel
Dept of Environmental Sciences – Botany
4056 Basel

Tel: +41 (0)61 207 35 10

Research topics

  • Plant Ecophysiology and Systems Ecology
  • Population Ecology and Reproductive Biology
  • Tropical Ecology
  • Biodiversity research
  • Forest ecology
  • Alpine ecology



  • Plant, animal, soil and climatological work
  • Human dimensions of global change