PD Dr. Kirsten Thonicke

Deputy Head of Research Department

Kirsten Thonicke is Deputy Head of Research Department on Earth System Analysis and Working Group Leader on Ecosystem in Transitions of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Her research work focusses on how climate and land-use change transform ecosystems, fire and biodiversity.

She is the Speaker of the Leibniz Research Alliance "Biodiversity".

After graduating from Institute for Geoecology at Potsdam University, Germany, she worked as a Post-Doc at Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany. In 2005 she was offered the Marie Curie Fellowship at the University of Bristol, Great Britain, where she coupled mechanistic global fire models into climate-vegetation models at the School of Geography. Kirsten Thonicke joined PIK in 2007.


Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
T +49 (0)331 288 2534
P.O. Box 60 12 03
14412 Potsdam


Positions and other professional experience

  • since 10/2011: Deputy Co-Chair Research Domain I “Earth System Analysis” and speaker of the research group “Ecosystem in Transitions” at PIK
  • 01/2008 – 09/2011: Post-doctoral position,
    RD1 “Earth System Analysis”, Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), 
    Co-Speaker of the Research group “Biodiversity and ecosystem services”; Working on climate-induced changes in fire regimes at the regional scale and related fire emissions.
  • 06/2007-12/2007: Post-doctoral position,
    RD2 “Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities”, PIK Potsdam, Germany,
    Vulnerability of fire in Europe, the influence of humans on wildfires (EU FP6 Project ALARM)
  • 04/2005 – 05/2007: Marie-Curie-Fellow, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK:
    Coupling of mechanistic global fire models in coupled climate-vegetation models. Palaeo-climate application of dynamic vegetation-fire model LPJ-SPITFIRE.
  • 02/2003- 11/2004 Post-doctoral position, Global Ecology, Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany; Working on improving LPJ representation of fire in European and global natural ecosystems; development of the process-based fire model SPITFIRE.

Academic Preparation

  • 01/2020: Habilitation (Dr. rer. nat. habil) in Geoecology, Institute for Environmental Sciences and Geography, University of Potsdam, Germany,
  • 04/2003: PhD (Dr. rer.nat.) in Geoecology, Institute for Geoecology, University of Potsdam, Germany,
  • 05/997: Diplom (German M.Sc. equivalent ) in Physical Geography, Institute for Geoecology, University of Potsdam, Germany.

Reviewer for 

Earth Interactions, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Global Change Biology, Ecosystems, Trends in Plant Science, New Phytologist, Palaeo-3, Science and others.

Editor for

  • Biogeoscience (http://www.biogeosciences.net/ )
  • Earth System Dynamics (http://www.earth-system-dynamics.net/)

Key research question

How do climate and land-use change transform ecosystems, fire and biodiversity?

Six most important peer-reviewed articles

  • Functional Diversity of European natural forests (applying the LPJmL-FIT model): Thonicke K, Billing M, von Bloh W, Sakschewski B, Niinemets Ü, Peñuelas J, Cornelissen JHC, Onoda Y, van Bodegom P, Schaepman ME, Schneider FD, Walz A 2020. Simulating functional diversity of European natural forests along climatic gradients. J Biogeography, 47(5): 1069-1085, https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.13809
  • Amazon forest resilience: Sakschewski B, von Bloh W, Boit A, Poorter L,Peña-Claros M, Heinke J, Joshi J, Thonicke K (2016), Resilience of Amazon forests emerges from plant trait diversity, Nature Climate Change, 6(11), p.1032-1036 ,doi:10.1038/nclimate3109
  • Reichstein M, Bahn M, Ciais P, Frank D, Mahecha MD, Seneviratne SI, Zscheischler J, Beer C, Buchmann N, Frank DC, Papale D, Rammig A, Smith P, Thonicke K, van der Velde M, Vicca S, Walz A, Wattenbach M 2013 Climate extremes and the carbon cycle. Nature, 500:287–295, doi 10.1038/nature12350
  • The SPITFIRE model publication: Thonicke K, Spessa A, Prentice IC, Harrison SP, Dong L & Carmona-Moreno C 2010. The influence of vegetation, fire spread and fire behaviour on biomass burning and trace gas emissions: results from a process-based model. Biogeoscience 7(6):1991-2011
  • The LPJ model publication: Sitch S, Smith B, Prentice IC, Arneth A, Bondeau A, Cramer W, Kaplan JO, Levis S, Lucht W, Sykes MT, Thonicke K, Venevsky S (2003), Evaluation of ecosystem dynamics, plant geography and terrestrial carbon cycling in the LPJ Dynamic Global Vegetation Model. Global Change Biology 9, 161-185.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2486.2003.00569.x
  • The Glob-FIRM fire model publication: Thonicke K, Venevsky S, Sitch S, Cramer W (2001), The role of fire disturbance for global vegetation dynamics: coupling fire into a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model. Global Ecology & Biogeography 10, 661-677. http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1466-822X.2001.00175.x

 Complete list of own publications.

  • Climate Services Through Knowledge Co-Production: A Euro-South American Initiative For Strengthening Societal Adaptation Response to Extreme Events (CLIMAX)
  • The open inter-sectoral impacts encyclopedia (ISIpedia-RD1)
  • Raising the alert about critical feedbacks between climate and long-term land use change in the Amazon (AMAZALERT)
  • The terrestrial Carbon cycle under Climate Variability and Extremes - a Pan-European synthesis (Carbo-Extreme)
  • Forest fires under climate, social and economic changes in Europe, the Mediterranean and other fire-affected areas of the world (FUME)
  • Land-use intensity and ecological engineering - Assessment tools for risk and opportunities in annual crop based production systems (LEGATO)
  • The role of biodiversity In climate change mitigation (ROBIN)
  • Towards a future sustainable world where climate, biodiversity, natural resources and human well-being are safeguarded (SustainCBW)

Courses at Potsdam University, Department of Geoecology:

  • Lecture (Bachelor): Globaler Wandel - Die Erde als System (Global change - the earth as a system)
  • Lecture (Master): Prozesse des Globalen Wandels (Processes of Global Change)
  • Modeling of Earth system processes and their practical implementation (summer school)


Supervision and co-supervision of PhD students (6 defended, 2 ongoing), several Diploma and Master theses

  • Award for the best Dissertation in 2003/2004, Society of Friends and Promoters of the Potsdam-Institute, Potsdam, Germany, Nov. 2004.
  • Michelson Award for the best dissertation, Faculty of Mathematics and Science, University of Potsdam, Germany, June 2003
  • Nominated for Young Researcher Award of the Leibniz Association, Nov. 2003