Lourens Poorter of the Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group has been appointed Professor holding a personal chair with effect from 1 March. His research focuses on functional ecology: the role of the functional characteristics of plants at various ecological scale levels, ranging from species growth and distribution to ecosystem processes and services.
"Functional characteristics (or traits) are hot," Lourens Poorter says. “An analysis of the Web of Science reveals that more than 10% of all scientific publications in the field of ecology over the last few years have something to do with functional traits in plants or animals. Traits, an important tool and research field in ecology, are clearly up-and-coming and the interest in this area is certain to increase even further in the future. Research has shifted from the species-based ecology of the 1970s to traits-based ecology. In simple systems it is still possible to measure individual species and their interactions in pairs but this does not work in hyper-diverse systems such as tropical forests. By describing species in terms of their functional traits, it is possible to recognise general patterns, to understand underlying mechanisms and to predict how species react to environmental changes.”Poorter’s trait-based approach – using plant traits – can be scaled up from plant organs, via the performance of individual trees, to species distribution, plant community assembly and coexistence. By quantifying plant community traits you can also look at what this means for ecosystem processes and ecosystem services. "We are doing that, for example, in the EU-financed ROBIN project (the Role Of Biodiversity In climate change mitigatioN), in which we and colleagues from Wageningen University, Alterra and partners in Europe and Latin America are evaluating what species diversity and their functional traits mean for carbon dioxide capture and storage in the tropical forests of Latin America.”
Poorter has carried out research into the ecology and management of tropical forests worldwide for 25 years and has taken part in many European and international projects.