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Working Groups

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Contribution to ZALF research

Comprising six working groups at present, Research Area 1 “Landscape Functioning” is performing knowledge-oriented research on deepening our understanding of processes, cause-and-effect relationships and causal chains as well as the interactions within and among the different landscape elements such as cropland, grassland, waterbodies and forests. In this context, memory effects must also be considered, i.e. mid- to long-term effects of previous actions or interventions in agricultural landscapes. Research activities in Research Area 1 include the detection and analysis of new phenomena, the continuous improvement and development of research methods as well as the analysis of process dynamics by coupling data with models.

The aim of our research is to improve the understanding of biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, silicon) and their driving forces (soil, plants, microorganisms) in agricultural landscapes. This is where the research of our individual working groups is interlinked. The results are incorporated into the development of sustainable land management systems, as it is being done in Research Areas 2 and 3. For cross-scale research questions, Research Area 1 works closely with the Research Platforms Data and Models & Simulation as well as Research Area 3 Landscape Research Synthesis. The central platform for investigations and experiments on the field and landscape scale is the AgroScapeLab Quillow of the Experimental Infrastructure Platform.


Contribution of the research area to ZALF research 


Working Groups


Landscape Pedology

Image of the WG Landscape Pedology 

It is the strategic aim of this working group to develop an improved understanding of the dynamics and functionality of soil landscapes from the micro to the landscape scale by coupling soil processes and functions with spatially and temporally variable structures across scales. By combining experimental approaches, long-term measurements, modelling and continuous method development, particularly landscape-scale C and nutrient dynamics, feedback mechanisms of soil erosion (e.g. wind), the long-term dynamics of soil landscapes and their impact on soil fertility will be investigated.

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Contact: Prof. Dr. Michael Sommer


Silicon Biogeochemistry

Image of the WG Silicon Biogeochemistry  

The Silicon Biogeochemistry Group (SIB) has the strategic goal of developing an improved understanding of the interactions between different silicon (Si) species and their availability, and nutrient and water availability in agricultural systems. Our research questions primarily address Si speciation, its binding strength, temporal Si dynamics, and the controlling variables of the Si cycle in agronomic systems. We work from the Arctic to the tropics. Soil chemistry, dealing with binding competition between nutrients and different Si species for binding at the surface of soil minerals to ecosystem level processes (greenhouse gas release) are part of our portfolio. Investigating the importance of amorphous Si for soil water storage and drought stress mitigation, as well as analyzing the links between grassland biodiversity and Si turnover, complete the research foci of our group.​

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Contact: adjunct Prof. Dr. Jörg Schaller


Isotope Biogeochemistry and Gas Fluxes

Image of the WG Isotope Biogeochemistry & Gas Fluxes  

The focus of our work is the investigation of key processes that regulate the flux of elements and water within the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum (SPAC) of agricultural landscapes. For this purpose, isotope techniques, methods for measuring gas fluxes and plant physiological studies are combined. The targeted combination of these approaches and their further development within the framework of interdisciplinary and multiscale projects enables the integrative analysis and quantification of element and water fluxes along the SPAC as well as the elucidation of their regulation. Currently, the working group is focusing on the role of erosion for C and N dynamics in agricultural landscapes, on the importance of rhizosphere processes for rhizodeposition and nutirient uptake, and on the water balance and water use efficiency of ecosystems.​

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Contact: PD Dr. Maren Dubbert


Microbial Biogeochemistry

Image of the WG Microbial Biogeochemistry  

MicGeo – Terrestrial Microbiota in Action. The group explores the importance of the microbiota for (i) climate, (ii) soil carbon stocks, and (iii) plant resilience. It investigates the microbiota in landscape elements of agricultural landscapes. The focus of the research is on croplands and grasslands. Selected cereal and tree species serve as model plants. The group uses gene markers, metagenomics, stable isotope probing, and RNA-based methods including bioinformatics to determine functions and dynamics of plant and soil microbiota. It also uses soil enzyme measurements and gas analytics to characterize microbial metabolism and emissions of greenhouse gases and volatiles. Experimental studies are conducted both at the scale of the individual plant (pot experiments) and at the ecosystem level (field & landscape). In addition, the ecophysiology of methylotrophs and nitrate-reducers (incl. anaerobic cultivation & genomics) is a subject of investigation.

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Contact: Prof. Dr. Steffen Kolb


Fungal Interactions

Image of the WG Fungal Interactions  

The focus of this working group is on interactions between phytopathogenic fungi and bacteria or other fungi and the associated effects on crop biomass productivity, particularly for wheat (Triticum L.). It is the long-term objective to investigate these interactions in integrated laboratory and climate chamber experiments, plot and field trials, followed by subsequent landscape experiments to understand mechanisms and drivers at the landscape scale. The working group uses mycological and phytotoxological methods and combines mycological and biogeochemical methods with micrometeorology and remote sensing.

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Contact: Dr. Marina Müller


Soil Erosion and Feedback

Image of the WG Soil Erosion and Feedback  

The focus of the working group "Soil Erosion and Feedbacks (SEF)" is the assessment of soil erosion processes driven by wind, water, and anthropogenic activities such as tillage and harvest activities as well as their general impacts on landscape functioning. For this strongly transdisciplinary goal we apply qualitative and quantitative approaches ranging from the detection of the processes and the assessment of their drivers and dynamics to numerical models and experimental field and laboratory simulations. A key issue of the working group is the integration of the different soil erosion processes on landscape scale.​

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Contact: Dr. Michael Märker


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