• Different effects of alpine woody plant expansion on domestic and wild ungulates

    Evolution of the landscape-use efficiencies (LUE) of Pyrenean chamois and seasonal livestock along different scenarios of woody plant expansion. Slopes of the linear regression are also reported for each species. Figure: Espunyes et al, 2019.


    Climatic and land‐use changes are leading to shrub expansion in alpine grasslands. In this work, we address whether wild and domestic herbivores under varying conditions of resource availability will be able to use efficiently their foraging landscape.

    In a new study plublished in the journal Global Change Biology authors found that “shrubification” affects herbivores differently depending on their feeding preferences and plasticity. Mixed feeders will manage better in fallow landscapes but free‐ranging livestock will be less efficient, highlighting a growing economic risk for mountain livestock farmers worldwide.

    Reference: Johan Espunyes, Miguel Lurgi, Ulf Büntgen, Jordi Bartolomé, Juan Antonio Calleja, Arturo Gálvez‐Cerón, Josep Peñuelas, Bernat Claramunt-López, Emmanuel Serrano. 2019. Different effects of alpine woody plant expansion on domestic and wild ungulates. Global Change Biology (2019), 808-1819 | First Published: 08 February 2019

    The bioelements, the elementome and the “biogeochemical niche”

    Biogeochemical niches_Elementome_2019_1000x
    Possible responses of species biogeochemical niches to long-term changes in the abiotic and biotic environmental conditions (possible evolutionary changes in the elementome of species). Authors hypothesize that each species has an optimal function related with its niche traits and thus an optimal content of the distinct bioelements. Figure: Peñuelas, J. et al. Ecology 2019.


    Every living creature on Earth is made of atoms of the various bioelements (elements used by living organisms) that are harnessed in the construction of molecules, tissues, organisms and communities, as we know them. The most common bioelements are: hydrogen (H) 59%, oxygen (O) 24%, carbon (C) 11%, nitrogen (N) 4%, phosphorus (P) 1% and sulfur (S) 0.1-1% (percentages of total number of atoms in organisms), but there are other bioelements, normally present in low concentrations such as potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), calcium (Ca), molybdenum (Mo), manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn). Organisms need these bioelements in specific quantities and proportions to survive and grow.

    Distinct species have different functions and life strategies, and have therefore developed distinct structures and adopted a certain combination of metabolic and physiological processes. Each species is thus also expected to have different requirements for each bioelement andbe characterized by an specific bio-elemental composition.

    In a new study published in the journal Ecology authors propose that a “biogeochemical niche” can be associated with the classical ecological niche of each species. Authors show from field data examples that a biogeochemical niche is characterized by a particular elementome defined as the content of all (or at least most) bioelements. “The differences in elementome among species are a function of taxonomy and phylogenetic distance, sympatry (the bioelemental compositions should differ more among coexisting than among non-coexisting species to avoid competitive pressure), and homeostasis with a continuum between high homeostasis/low plasticity and low homeostasis/high plasticity”, explains Prof. Josep Penuelas from CREAF-CSIC Barcelona.

    The biogeochemical niche hypothesis proposed in this paper has the advantage relative to other associated theoretical niche hypotheses that it can be easily characterized by actual quantification of a measurable trait: the elementome of a given organism or a community, being potentially applicable across taxa and habitats. The changes in bioelemental availability can determine genotypic selection and therefore have a feedback on ecosystem function and organization.

    “Further studies are warranted to discern the ecological and evolutionary processes involved in the biogeochemical niche of all types of individuals, taxa and ecosystems. The changes of bioelements availability and use at long timescales should determine phenotypic selection and therefore also ecosystem function and organization, and, at the end, the evolution of life and the environment”, says Prof. Jordi Sardans from CREAF-CSIC.

    Reference: Peñuelas, J., Fernández-Martínez, M., Ciais, P., Jou, D., Piao, S., Obersteiner, M., Vicca, S., Janssens, I.A., Sardans, J. 2019. The bioelements, the elementome and the “biogeochemical niche”. Ecology 2019. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2652

    URL: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecy.2652

    Kick off meeting of the Ecometabolomics project

    Promising kick off meeting of the Ecometabolomics project at Ecological and Forestry Applications Research Centre (CREAF),  Bellaterra, Catalonia (March 18-19, 2019).

    The Ecometabolomics project deals with the global linkages between plant metabolism, functioning and life history and includes participants from ETH Zürich, Université de Genève, Universität Wien, Université de Toulouse, University of Manchester, Oxford University and CSIC-CREAF.

    Ecometabolomics team_2019
    Ecometabolomics team.

    Kick off meeting of the FutureArtic project

    Great kick off meeting of the FutureArtic project in Sitges. Interesting presentations that guarantee a promising development of this project.

    The main aims of the Sitges workshop were to:

    • Create a platform to get an in depth overview on the past and ongoing research activities within ForHot (the previous experiment at the site).
    • Have an official kick-off meeting for the FutureArctic ITN project.


    FutureArtic team_2019
    FutureArtic team in Sitges, March 2019.


    Climate change will affect arctic and subarctic ecosystems more than other ecosystems worldwide, with temperature increases expected up to 4-6°C. Overarching and basic questions remain unanswered, partially due to limited access of these remote areas and technological limitations: How much carbon will escape from the Arctic under a future climate? How do the multitude of ecosystem processes, driven by plant growth, microbial activities and soil characteristics, interact to determine soil carbon storage capacity?. The H2020 ITN ‘FutureArctic’ aims to pave the way for generalized permanently connected data acquisition systems for key environmental variables and processes.

    For more information consult the website FutureArtic

    7th ForHot annual meeting

    Excellent working sessions at the 7th ForHot annual meeting in Sitges. Interesting and valuable presentations that will enable to advance in the study of how various ecosystem processes are affected by temperature.

    The ForHot project is based on the study of a natural soil warming generated by the earth-quake that shocked S-Iceland in May 2008.

    ForHot Team_2019
    ForHot team in Sitges, March 2019.


    On May 29, 2008, there was an earthquake in S-Iceland that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. One of its many implications was that geothermal systems close to its epicentre were disturbed. At Reykir, one of the campuses of the Agricultural University of Iceland, one such geothermal system moved from its previous location, to a new and previously “cold” area. The new belowground geothermal channels (in the bedrock) resulted in soil temperature to increase in the new area that is ca. 4 ha in size.

    For more information consult the website ForHot

    Variance in biomass-allocation fractions is explained by distribution in European trees

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    Plant morphology traits, as the size of individual plants, has high functional importance. In a new study in the journal New Phytologist authors analyse the ability of 80 species of European trees species to modify its architecture in response to changes in the environment. Figure: Pixabay


    Plant morphology has been described as an equilibrium between constraints to plant growth and exogenous environmental stressors. Intraspecific variability in ecological traits confers the ability of a species to adapt to an ever-changing environment.

    Fractions of biomass allocation in plants (BAFs) defined as the ratio of plant biomass of organs (the stem, branches, leaves and roots) to total plant biomass, and represent both ecological traits and direct expressions of investment strategies and so have important implications on plant fitness, particularly under current global change.

    In a new study in the journal New Phytologist authors combined data on BAFs of trees in > 10 000 forest plots with their distributions in Europe. The study aimed to test whether plant species with wider distributions have more or less variable intraspecific variance of the BAFs foliage–woody biomass and shoot–root ratios than species with limited distribution.

    Authors show that a combination of 36% tree genetic diversity and 64% environmental variability explains variance in BAFs and implies that changes in genetic diversity occur quickly. “Genetic diversity should thus play a key role in regulating species responses to future climate change. Loss of habitat, even if transient, could induce a loss of genetic diversity and hinder species survival”, explains Dr. Stavros D. Veresoglou from the Institut fur Biologie, Plant Ecology, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany and the Faculty of Agriculture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

    In summary, the study indicates that BAFs were more variable in trees with extensive distributions. Most notably, authors made the point that it was a higher genetic variability that resulted in more variable BAFs for tree species with extensive distributions. “We thus present evidence that the loss of habitat for tree species through rapid loss of genetic diversity could lower the ability of the species to modify its architecture (BAFs) in response to changes in the environment. It is thus likely that any loss of habitat may not be as reversible as many believe”, says Prof. Josep Peñuelas from CREAF-CSIC.


    Reference: Veresoglou, S.D., Peñuelas, J. 2019. Variance in biomass-allocation fractions is explained by distribution in European trees. New Phytologist, doi: 10.1111/nph.15686.

    Life and the five biological laws. Lessons for global change models and sustainability

    In a new study in the journal Ecological complexity authors establish the five laws that rule life, arguing that biology adapts to what is available, recycles material and extracts energy from the environment while evolving to develop structures and functions optimized for their environment. Figure: Pixabay


    Life on Earth is the result of evolutionary processes acting on a continuous accumulation of structural and functional information by combination and innovation in the use of matter and endo- (inside the organism) and exosomatic (outside the organism) energy and on discontinuous processes of death and destruction that recycle the materials that form structure, information and energy compounds, such as proteins, DNA and ATP, respectively.

    In a new study in the journal Ecological complexity authors define five life laws for these vital processes. These processes cannot exceed natural limits of size and rates because they are constrained by space, matter and energy; biology builds on what is possible within these physicochemical limits

    “Learning from the way nature deals with the accumulation of information, the limits of size and the rates at which life can acquire and expend energy and resources for maintenance, growth and competition will help us to model and manage our environmental future and sustainability”, explains Prof. Dennis Baldocchi from University of California, Berkeley.

    According to this study, the five most prominent laws pertinent to life and ecology are:

    1. The law of mass conservation (introduced by Lomonosov and Lavoisier)
    2. The first law of thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed in an isolated system
    3. The second law of thermodynamics, the entropy of any isolated system always increases
    4. Information content is a power of the size of the material store with an exponent larger than one
    5. Basic mechanisms such as natural selection, self-organization and random processes drive evolution, generating the huge complexity of organisms and ecosystems.

    “Life has adapted to these ecological laws and physical limits for billions of years, and if we humans want to develop a sustainable world, we would do well to not forget them in our use of space, matter and energy. In the end, we are only another biological species among millions on Earth and are living in a very short period of Earth’s history. We should listen and learn lessons from nature that has had several billion years to evolve and get it as right as possible”, says Prof. Josep Peñuelas from CREAF-CSIC.

    Reference: Peñuelas, J., Baldocchi, D. 2019. Life and the five biological laws. Lessons for global change models and sustainability. Ecological Complexity

    Marcos Fernández-Martínez, Jordi Sardans and Josep Peñuelas have been awarded with the Premis Ciutat de Barcelona 2018

    Premis Ciutat de Barcelona 2018 had been marked with a ceremony held on 14 February 2019, at the  Saló de Cent, Barcelona City Hall, and presided by the mayor Ada Colau.

    The jury formed by Isabel Cacho (president), Xavier Rodó, Francisco J. Doblas, Jaume Terradas and Frederic Bartomeus have awarded Marcos Fernández-Martínez, Jordi Sardans and Josep Peñuelas for their work “Global trends in carbon sinks and their relationships with CO2 and temperature” publicated in the Nature Climate Change journal.


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    Acte de lliurament dels Premis Ciutat de Barcelona 2018

    Aquest dijous, 14 de febrer a les 18.00 hores, l’alcaldessa de Barcelona,  Ada Colau, i el Comissionat de Cultura de l’Ajuntament, Joan Subirats, presidiran la cerimònia de lliurament dels Premis Ciutat de Barcelona 2018. L’acte tindrà lloc al Saló de Cent i serà conduit per l’actriu Àgata Roca.

    Amb la direcció artística de Pep Salazar, Onionlab protagonitzarà una performance que combinarà la dansa amb l’art audiovisual, acompanyada per un projecte d’il·luminació dissenyat per Albadalejo, i continguts audiovisuals creats per Crowd studio. La cerimònia es vincularà al Festival Llum Barcelona 2019, que enguany se celebra del 15 al 17 de febrer.

    NOTA: per raons d’aforament, no serà possible ubicar càmeres de TV a l’interior del Saló de Cent. Betevé subministrarà el senyal institucional. La persona de contacte per sol·licitar el senyal és Elsa Ortuño (eortuno@beteve.cat). També es podrà fer seguiment de l’acte en streaming a través del web de Barcelona Cultura (www.barcelona.cat/barcelonacultura).

    Els mitjans que vulguin assistir a l’acte cal que escriguin un correu premsaicub@bcn.cat.

    Els premiats d’aquesta edició han estat:

    • Agustí Duran i Sanpere d’Història de Barcelona: Miquel Amengual Bibiloni
    • Arquitectura i Urbanisme: Cooperativa d’arquitectes LaCol
    • Arts Visuals: HALFHOUSE
    • Assaig, Ciències Socials i Humanitats: El Sueño de dos Mártires. Meditaciones sobre una guerra actual, Dardo Scavino
    • Audiovisual: Zumzeig Cinecooperativa
    • Ciències Experimentals i Tecnologia: Ignasi Ribas
    • Ciències de la Terra i Ambientals: Marcos Fernández-Martínez, Jordi Sardans i Josep Peñuelas, per l’article “Global trends in carbon sinks and their relationships with CO2 and temperature”
    • Ciències de la Vida: Eduard Batlle Gómez
    • Circ: Rhumans
    • Cultura Popular i Tradicional: Germandat de Trabucaires, Geganters i Grallers a Sant Andreu de Palomar
    • Dansa: Salva Sanchis, per la presentació de l’obra Radical Light
    • Disseny: col·lecció Level del joier Marc Monzó
    • Educació: Coeducacció
    • Literatura Castellana: Mario Cuenca Sandoval
    • Literatura Catalana: Els límits del Quim Porta de Josep Pedrals
    • Mitjans de Comunicació: dossier “La guerra bruta de l’aigua”
    • Música: Rosalía
    • Teatre: Jordi Prat i Coll
    • Traducció en Llengua Catalana: Austerlitz, de W.G. Sebald

    Imatges dels premiats: https://eicub.net/share/service/publicSite?node=workspace://SpacesStore/29ac56e7-3bd8-4336-bda1-86d9eac97e1a

    Més informació: www.barcelona.cat/premisciutatbcn

    The Physics and Ecology of Mining Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere by Ecosystems

    Planting trees_Jan 2019_Pixabay Avets_Jan2019_Pixabay_b
    Reforesting and managing ecosystems have been proposed as ways to mitigate global warming and offset anthropogenic carbon emissions. Photo by: Pixabay


    Natural solutions have been proposed to stop and reverse the steady rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. Theses natural solutions nclude planting a tree in our back yard or buying carbon credits, that finance the planting of millions of trees and restoring ecosystems

    In a new study in the journal Global Change Biology authors provide their perspective on how well plants and ecosystems sequester carbon. Their analyses is based on 1163 site-years of direct eddy covariance measurements of gross and net carbon fluxes from 155 sites across the globe. The ability of individual plants and ecosystems to mine carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as defined by rates and cumulative amounts, are limited by laws of physics and ecological principles. “Consequently, the rates and amount of net carbon uptake are slow and low compared to the rates and amounts of carbon dioxide we release by fossil fuels combustion. Furthermore, managing ecosystems to sequester carbon can also cause unintended consequences to arise”, said Prof. Dennis Baldocchi from University of California, Berkeley.

    In this opinion piece, authors articulate a series of key take-home points:

    – First, the potential amount of carbon an ecosystem can assimilate on an annual basis scales with absorbed sunlight, which varies with latitude, leaf area index and available water.

    – Second, efforts to improve photosynthesis will come with the cost of more respiration.

    – Third, the rates and amount of net carbon uptake are relatively slow and low, compared to the rates and amounts and rates of carbon dioxide we release by fossil fuels combustion.

    – Fourth, huge amounts of land area for ecosystems will be needed to be an effective carbon sink to mitigate anthropogenic carbon emissions.

    – Fifth, the effectiveness of using this land as a carbon sink will depend on its ability to remain as a permanent carbon sink.

    – Sixth, converting land to forests or wetlands may have unintended costs that warm the local climate, such a changing albedo and soil moisture, increasing surface roughness or releasing other greenhouse gases.

    Authors point out that they do not argue that planting forests and deep-rooted perennial grasslands or restoring peatlands and wetlands should not be part of the climate mitigation portfolio. Prof. Penuelas from CREAF-CSIC Barcelona argues that “Given the urgency of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the relatively low potential of converting solar energy to stored carbon, the vast amount of land needed to be significant carbon sinks and the risk for unintended consequences, we want the reader to consider that political capital and resources may be better aimed towards more effective and immediate solutions, like reducing and eliminating carbon emissions that are associated with fossil fuel combustion”.


    Reference: Baldocchi, D., Peñuelas, J. 2019. The Physics and Ecology of Mining Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere by Ecosystems. Global Change Biology 2019

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      According to a study published yesterday in the Nature Climate Change journal, the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) increased between 1994 and 2014. The study highlights the need to protect tropical forests, as their carbon sequestration rate has risen more than that of any other type... Read more »
    • Nitrogen available to plants in decline
      According to an article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the authors of which include CREAF postdoctoral researchers Sara Marañón and Rossella Guerrieri (Marie Sklodowska Curie grant holders), the concentration of nitrogen in plant leaves has been in general decline throughout the world for the last 40 years. Fulles pulveritzades a punt per posar a la... Read more »
    • From the Arctic to the tropics: researchers present a unique database on Earth’s vegetation
      Which plant species grow where, alongside which others – and why? In a new study, an international research team presents the world’s first global vegetation database which contains over 1.1 million complete lists of plant species for all terrestrial ecosystems. Photo by Chris Ried on Unsplash. The diversity of global vegetation can be... Read more »
    • Forest management in Europe will not stop global warming
      Aude Valade, CREAF researcher, and the international team behind the study published in Nature recommends that forests be managed with a view to preserving the ecological, social and cultural ecosystem services they provide, rather than to cooling the planet as envisaged in the Paris Agreement. Sunlight seeps through a coniferous forest The... Read more »
    • Taller species are taking over in a warming Arctic
      Until now, the Arctic tundra has been the domain of low-growing grasses and dwarf shrubs. But new, taller plant species have been slowly taking over this chilly neighborhood, report an international group with the participation of researchers from CSIC-CREAF. Tundra àrtica The study, initiated by a team of researchers supported through the... Read more »
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      The ecologist will receive the 2018 Marsh Award for Climate Change Research at a prizegiving ceremony in Birmingham in December. The CREAF-based CSIC researcher Josep Peñuelas has won the Marsh Award for Climate Change Research, which the British Ecological Society issues each year for an outstanding contribution to the field in... Read more »
    • “A temperature rise of 2ºC could have irreversible effects on the planet”
      We interviewed Sara Marañón, a postdoctoral researcher at CREAF with a Marie Curie grant.  Sara Marañón‘s career, which mainly revolves around soil microbial ecology, has taken her across most of Europe. She secured a return to Spain a year ago and now works at CREAF, thanks to a Marie Curie grant,... Read more »
    • Living on an island: a smart choice
      Species of birds living on islands have evolved to have larger brains than their continental relatives. Island conditions have prompted this post-colonization evolution, which enhances adaptability to environmental changes. Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) are one of the families with more island endemics. Here a yellow spotted honeyeater (Meliphaga notate) while feeding in Queensland... Read more »
    • Josep Penuelas visited China as grantee of the Distinguished Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Science
      Josep Penuelas visited China the first two weeks of May 2018 as grantee of the Distinguished Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Science. Josep Peñuelas During his stay Prof. Penuelas gave talks and conducted seminars in various centres: Institute of Urban Environment (CAS) in Xiamen, Nanjing Institute of Soil Sciences, Jiaxing Institute... Read more »
    • Plants are exposed to frost more frequently as a result of climate change
      Plants’ annual growing season has lengthened, exposing them to frost more often at a time when they are particularly sensitive. That can be detrimental to their activity and lead to substantial crop yield losses. Winter frost on a mosaic of fields. By Carles Batlles It is not unusual to hear about frost... Read more »