Research prize: Bayreuth ecologist investigates the long-term effects of acid rain
University of Bayreuth, Press Release No. 004/2018, 10 January 2018
Plant ecologist Dr. Andreas Schweiger (33) has been awarded the 2017 Dissertation Prize by the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GfÖ). One of the largest meetings of ecologists in Europe – a conference hosted by the GfÖ, the British Ecological Society, the Netherlands Ecological Research Network, and the European Ecological Federation –provided a fitting setting for awarding the prize in the Belgian city of Ghent in December 2017. In his award-winning dissertation, the early career scholar investigated how the long-term acidification of soil affects fauna. His research focused on springs in the Fichtelgebirge and Frankenwald.
Left: Dr. Andreas Schweiger giving his acceptance speech in front of around 1,500 ecologists and environmental scientists in Ghent, Belgium. - © British Ecological Society
Until the 1990s, the soil in these regions accumulated large amounts of nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide that mainly came from the industrial facilities on the other side of the "Iron Curtain". Winds transported the toxin to northeastern Bavaria where they reached the soil via acid rain and caused great damage in the Fichtelgebirge and Frankenwald. For this reason, scientists even feared the dieback of forests. The forests did not start recovering until the 1990s, when pollutant emissions decreased in Central and Eastern Europe.
However, the acidity of the forest soil is currently still far too high, as Dr. Andreas Schweiger's analyses of water samples taken from seepage springs and swampy zones in the Frankenwald and Fichtelgebirge have shown. These areas are characterized by a spatially diffuse emergence of water from underground. The long-term acidification in combination with an increase in the number of longer dry phases has resulted in significant changes in the presence and frequency of the plant species that live here. "The effects of this change are not to be underestimated. We now know that the functions of ecosystems - including the services we expect from them - depend to a considerable extent on the plant community composition. This also applies to the often island-like ecosystems found in seepage areas in the Fichtelgebirge and Frankenwald," explained Dr. Schweiger. "The ongoing damage caused by acid rain 30 years ago demonstrates that the memory of complex ecosystems can remain active for decades. When new environmental and climate factors such as extended dry periods or other extreme events are added to the equation, the long-term effects of this damage can be exacerbated in unforeseen ways."
Dr. Schweiger carrying out laboratory experiments on water samples. - © Peter Kolb / Uni Bayreuth
Profile: Andreas H. Schweiger was born in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1984. From 2005 to 2010, he was enrolled in the engineering programme Environmental Protection at the Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences. After graduating, he came to the University of Bayreuth, where he completed the master's programme Biodiversity & Ecology in 2013 with a thesis on the water/carbon balance in alpine plants on Kilimanjaro. His dissertation entitled Springs as models to unveil ecological drivers and responses: Perspectives for ecosystem theory from neglected ecosystems was supervised by Prof. Dr. Carl Beierkuhnlein, Chair of Biogeography at the University of Bayreuth. Dr. Schweiger, who now belongs to Prof. Dr. Steven Higgins' research team (Plant Ecology), was awarded the Bernd Rendel Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in 2016.
Andreas H. Schweiger, Springs as models to unveil ecological drivers and responses: Perspectives for ecosystem theory from neglected ecosystems. Bayreuth 2016 (Dissertation), https://epub.uni-bayreuth.de/2980/
Andreas H. Schweiger, The complex adaptive character of spring fens as model ecosystems, in: Frontiers of Biogeography 2017, DOI: 10.21425/F59232607.
Dr. Andreas Schweiger
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