The measurement of the exchange of matter and energy is critical to understanding the biogeochemical basis of ecosystem functioning and its response to perturbation.
In-situ, laboratory and strict environmentally controlled research (preferably combined) will be supported by FRC. Currently the group of prof. J. Colpaert and dr. M. Smits is e.g. specifically working on soil carbon dynamics within the FRC context.
Enclosed semi-automatically controlled systems (ecotrons) allow for continuous and simultaneous sampling of the various trace gas fluxes between the ecosystem and the atmosphere, in addition to other ecosystem parameters in soil and water. With their complex soil irrigation and air conditioning systems, they also facilitate the simultaneous manipulation of multiple abiotic drivers such as elevated CO2, temperature, humidity, etc., whilst permitting the continuation of the natural biogeochemical cycles and microbiological interactions in the soil. This makes them unique tools for understanding complex ecological processes and dynamics. PLECO and CMK have ample expertise in climate change and environmental stress research, respectively.
Ecotron facilities will allow to explore innovative research questions combining both knowledge fields and expertise. In order to optimize these investigations for different ecosystems (e.g. grasslands, heathlands, crops), for different combinations of abiotic drivers and for different time spans (short term, long term), two complementary types of ecotron are needed. Embedded in a European context we are now starting to built a large Ecotron facility within the periphery of the main gate, Connecterra of the only National Park (Hoge Kempen) in Belgium.
We indend to start up long-term experiments, where a consortium of research groups can investigate different hypothesis under the same environmental conditions. The facility will be open for researchers from all over the world.
Measuring greenhouse gas balance over Europe
The increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the main cause for the recent temperature rise. To avoid man-induced climate change, one should firstly understand and manage the greenhouse gas emissions and sinks.
CMK has a long-standing collaboration with the PLECO-research group (Antwerp University). Except for being the main team players of the Centre of Excellence ECO, they are both partners in the European Research Infrastructure programme Integrated Carbon Observing Systems (ESFRI-ICOS). Through this programme the participating countries intend to map and understand the greenhouse gas balance within Europe and beyond.
Through structural funding via the Hercules foundation ICOS can install an extra ecosystem measuring tower in Flanders. Besides measuring the greenhouse gasses in forests all over Europe, ICOS will also measure (mainly) the carbon fluxes in a valuable, endangered heathland ecosystem.
For the technical details of this specific tower to measure in the first place CO2 and CH4 gas balances we refer to the infrastructure or the ICOS-Belgium website.
Fig. 1 and 2.: current distrubution of heathland in Europe and aerial picture of the heathland in the National Park Hoge kempen, Limburg, Belgium .
The tower is built in the National Park Hoge Kempen.
Fig. 3. Location of the ICOS ecosystem measuring tower
Invasive species, such as the bull frog and certain species of freshwater fish, are colonizing Flanders and the rivers in Flanders at an amazing speed. These exotic collonizations often lead to a decrease or even the disappearance of local faunal and floral species.
Dr De Vocht and his team are investigating sustainable and environmental-friendly ways to decrease and eventually stop these exotic invasions.
American bull frog (Rana catesbeiana)
topmouth gudgeon (Pseudorasbora parva)
more info: dr. A. De Vocht
Economic impact assessment of climate change
This research group estimates the economic impact of climate change and the economic benefit of climate adaptation. Currently a continental scale Ricardian model is developed to estimate the economic impact of climate change on European agriculture. The Ricardian approach is a comparative static analysis of long run equilibriums where the empirical relationship between land value and climate is estimated. Moreover, an empirical model is developed that measures the economic benefits that farmers gain from climate adaptation. Quantifying the economic benefit for adaptation and measuring the economic welfare loss of climate change is highly important to support all relevant decision makers.
Contact: S. Van Passel, J. Vanschoenwinkel