Margaux Didion-Gency: Interactive effects of tree species mixture and climate on foliar and woody trait variation in a widely distributed deciduous tree.

Margaux Didion-Gency, Ph.D. at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) of Birmensdorf (Switzerland), presents her first published paper and discusses the importance of tree species interactions in the context of climate change.

About the paper

This study was motivated by previous research that reported the positive effect of species richness on grassland resistance to extreme events. However, we noticed that no study had reported this effect on forest ecosystems using leaf and wood physiological, morphological, and anatomical traits. Thus, in this paper, we wanted to understand how tree species interactions alter the intraspecific functional strategies of beech trees along broad environmental conditions. More specifically, we wanted to disentangle the impact of species mixture vs. climatic conditions on trait variability.

The key message of our work is that species interactions are strong modulators of functional traits and that they can be just as important drivers of intraspecific trait variation as large changes in climatic conditions along environmental gradients.

We also demonstrated that a strong context-dependency can occur and that incorporating local interspecific interactions in research on climate impacts could improve our understanding and predictions of forest dynamics.

Margaux Didion-Gency at the Lago di Nambino, Italy.
Margaux Didion-Gency at the Lago di Nambino, Italy.

Much work has already been done on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, particularly in grasslands. However, the number of published articles looking at how diversity in tree species alters the sensitivity of forests to climate change has only increased since 2014. We still have many unknowns in this novel research area, and using a broad number of leaf and wood physiological, morphological, and anatomical traits to better understand the processes driving trait variability was never done before. We expect that the outcome of this study should highlight to the community that biotic factors, such as species interactions and species composition, need to be further considered if we want to improve our understanding and modelling of the Earth system. Furthermore, this research is essential for applied issues as it could be directly transferred to forest managers and policymakers to make decisions on forest conservation strategies.

About The Author

Margaux Didion-Gency at the Lago di Nambino, Italy.
Margaux Didion-Gency at the Lago di Nambino, Italy.

From a young age, I got interested in nature and especially plants. When I was walking in the surrounding of my hometown, I observed the beauty of forest ecosystems and dynamics across the different seasons and understood my interest in ecology. Two books also open my eyes, and I thought they were well written for non-scientific readers. The first one was from Stefano Mancuso called “The intelligence of plants” (2013), and the second one was from Peter Wohlleben called “The secret life of trees” (2015). From then on, I tried to get the opportunity to deepen my knowledge in ecology, including how trees communicate with their neighbors, to finally realize that I fell in love with this whole research domain.

I had the chance to get a Ph.D. position in the field of forest eco-physiology in Switzerland working on the interactive effect of tree species interactions and climate change on forest functioning. The sensitive topic of climatic issues and how community-level processes could modulate tree responses to warming and drought stress was even better than I expected. I am particularly proud of this first article, which came from my fieldwork in Southern France.

Being an ecologist has most of the advantages for a vibrant working life. We can learn new findings, have a lot of fieldwork (including road trips), laboratory experiments, coding times, and writing processes, leading to a non-boring life with different activities depending on the seasons. On the opposite, I do not see dire circumstances in ecological sciences because even if you have a heavy field with a lot of work and difficult conditions, you will remember that you get the best memories in the most challenging situations.

Read the article in full here.

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