Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Research to understand and predict the interaction of Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems and climate and to assess vulnerability of terrestrial ecosystems to projected environmental change

Diagram of the TES-SFA research philosophy

Research Philosophy. Diagram of the TES-SFA research philosophy and flow illustrating an iterative exchange between model projections, question, or hypothesis development and the execution of observations and experiments to better understand impacts of multi-factor environmental changes on ecosystems.

Project website | FRED podcast 

Principal investigator: Paul J. Hanson
Annual reports: 2021 | 2020 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2014 | 2013 (Note: Reports are not issued during SFA review years.)

Understanding fundamental responses and feedbacks of terrestrial ecosystems to climatic and atmospheric change is the aim of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Scientific Focus Area (TES SFA). Improved predictive knowledge of ecosystem dynamics is the long-term motivation for our research. Overarching science questions are:

  1. How will atmospheric and climate change affect the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems at spatial scales ranging from local to global and at temporal scales ranging from sub-annual to decades and centuries?
  2. How do terrestrial ecosystem processes, and the interactions among them, control biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients, the exchanges of water and energy, and the feedback to the atmosphere, now and in the future?

The proposed science includes manipulations, multi-disciplinary observations, database compilation, and fundamental process studies integrated and iterated with modeling activities.

The centerpiece of our climate change manipulations is the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) experiment that tests multiple levels of warming at ambient and elevated CO2 on the vegetation response and biogeochemical feedbacks from a Picea-Sphagnum ecosystem. Other efforts aim to improve mechanistic representation of processes within terrestrial biosphere models by furthering our understanding of fundamental ecosystem functions and their response to environmental change. The TES SFA integrates experimental and observational studies with model building, parameter estimation, and evaluation to yield reliable model projections. This integrated model-experiment approach fosters an enhanced, interactive, and mutually beneficial engagement between models and experiments to further our predictive understanding of the terrestrial biosphere in the context of Earth system functions.