African Grassland Ecosystem resilience to climate change

The definition phase of AGrEc aims at developing a strategy for ecological research on the effects of different stressors on grassland and its resilience using experimental and modelling studies. Defining the research strategy will also ensure the involvement and training of African women scientists for conducting research, both with state-of-the art methods of functional ecology and with numerical modelling tools. The scientific objective of the project is the integrated experimental and model-based investigation of the role of biodiversity and of herbaceous species with underground storage organs for grassland resilience. We aim for the establishment of a collaborative network that enables female scientists in South Africa to use modern concepts and methods of functional ecology, and to use and improve the modelling tool, the process-based vegetation model LPJmL, in order to assess the resilience of African grassland towards climate change. Therefore, observational, experimental and numerical methods will be interlinked and focused on the investigation of the scientific question using the numerical model as a tool for better systems understanding. Experimental work is intended at study sites already established at the South African partner university NWU. These comprise ancient as well as sown grasslands and will be used for targeted experiments to analyse the role of the underground plant organs for the resilience to disturbances. The studied disturbance types will be chosen reflecting typical endogenous disruptions occurring naturally in the respective region (such as cycles of frost, fire and drought and heat spells) and will be complemented by additional management-driven events such as grazing, mowing and tillage. Their effects on the plant community as well as on the ecosystem functions and their relationship to biodiversity will be studied. The findings on the occurrence and performance of plant species will be analysed to identify ecosystem functional traits that are related to the regrowth capacity after disturbances. This categorization builds the essential link between experimental and numerical studies since they formalize knowledge from observations so that these mechanisms can be incorporated into the numerical model. This, in turn, will enable to evaluate hypotheses on the role of belowground plant organs by reproducing the experimental set-up at the study sites in the model.

Our goal is to form of a consortium for the main phase of the project on educating female scientists in South Africa on modelling grassland ecosystems. Furthermore we will prove our concept of the combined experimental and modelling education scheme within a test workshop.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research will lead the AGrEc project and designs the workshop.


Jun 15, 2021 until Dec 31, 2021

Funding Agency


Funding Call

Programme Advocating Women Scientists in STEM“ (PAWS)


Susanne Rolinski