Projects in progress

Global environmental change in northern latitudes is associated with warmer winters, including extension of snow-free periods and growing season length, and enhanced air humidity and soil moisture availability due to greater precipitation. The current project tests the main hypothesis that these changes particularly strongly enhance the productivity of cryptogams, in particular mosses and lichens, that benefit the most from increased humidity and warmer winters, and that the overall share in total ecosystem productivity due to cryptogams increases in future forests. As the result, the productivity of northern ecosystems, especially forests is expected to increase much more than currently predicted. The study also provides novel insight into stress resistance of cryptogams and quantifies the contribution of cryptogams to the total release of biogenic volatile organic compounds, thereby advancing the understanding of vegetation role in large-scale biosphere-atmosphere relationships.

8F160018PKTF (TK131) "Ecology of Global Change: natural and managed ecosystems (1.01.2016−1.03.2023)", Ülo Niinemets, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Centre of Excellence EcolChange is created in cooperation of two universities, Estonian University of Life Sciences (one top research team) and University of Tartu (four top research teams and an individual researcher). The research of the Centre of Excellence covers the field of global change ecology from molecular to biome-level responses. Head of the Centre is Professor Ülo Niinemets, ;, Estonian University of Life Sciences.

 The soil is left without surface cover after the early arable crops. This is accompanied by the leaching of nutrients into surface water and ground water. One possibility to reduce the leaching losses is to cultivate the cover crops, which would fix the ions and water in the soil and, conclusively, would reduce the leaching. To increase the winter surface coverage, it is important to cultivate wintering cover crops, the suitability of the species is limited in our climate. Therefore, we study the wintering cover crops growing in Europe, which could be grown in Estonia as well (such as hairy fetch, winter pea, and sainfoin).
Global climate change means a simultaneous change in multiple environmental conditions that plants have to react to. However, the tolerance and adaptability of different species varies significantly. Thus, information about factors influencing photosynthesis in different plant groups is vital. However, current models predicting vegetation trends in the future leave an important factor out - mesophyll conductance. Factors limiting photosynthesis with an emphasis on mesophyll conductance and anatomy in 120 gymnosperm species are studied during this project. In addition, mesophyll conductance is modelled from well-preserved leaf fossils from same families and their ancestors. The main question is to what extent is photosynthesis limited by mesophyll conductance in gymnosperms, how plastic their leaf anatomy is and how it has influenced mesophyll conductance and leaf functioning through Earth's geological time at various CO2 and temperature levels.
Increasing urban human populations lead to further development of urban centers with consequent loss of green spaces, causing strong alterations of ecosystem processes and trophic interactions. Yet urban green areas have been shown to support native biodiversity, enhance ecosystem functions and provide important ecosystem services. Moreover, urban green and blue infrastructures (GBI) contribute to human well-being. The high proportion of impervious surfaces makes urban GBI fragmented and isolated. GBI enhance the permeability for both biodiversity and citizens through dense and hostile urban matrices. In a hearing phase of this project municipal authorities have highlighted their need of guidance on the implementation, managing and restoring of GBI.