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  • The 6th International Plant Functional Traits Course will be held in Aurland, Norway 23. July – 5. August 2022. Plant Functional Traits Courses (PFTC) offer hands-on training in applications of plant functional trait ecology within a real-life field research project setting. During this 6th PFTC course, students will collect and explore plant functional trait data in the field and use trait-based approaches within global change research and ecosystem ecology. Following the course, students will have opportunities to participate in / lead publications using the data. See our current publications.  Trait-based ecology incorporates methods that enable powerful approaches to predict how climate and biotic interactions shape plant community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. This course will provide students with essential background knowledge and the practical field, lab, and computational skills needed for conducting their own research within trait-based ecology. Application deadline: 27. February 2022 Due to technical issues around the application date, we have extended our deadline by one week, until the 6th of March 2022. The PFTC6 course will be held in Aurland in the fjords of Western Norway, between the 23. July and 5. August 2022 with online pre-course preparatory work in April-May 2022. We will work in boreal and alpine grasslands, from sea level to 1500 m a.s.l., in and around Sognefjorden. The PFTC6 will exploit the already existing research infrastructure of climate change experiments and gradient approaches in this system (for more information see Between the Fjords lab). It is a fascinating and truly beautiful study system. Students will be introduced to the environmental, ecological, and taxonomic diversity of the region, and given hands-on instruction in relevant theory and methods of ecophysiology; community, ecosystem, and climate change ecology; population biology; computational biology; and data management. Students will work in five groups: Plastic trait responses to climate change. This group will harness existing climate change experiments (Open Top Chambers) to assess plastic trait responses to experimental warming and biotic interactions in plants from alpine vs. warmer-climate origins. This group will collaborate with group 3 to understand how this variability impacts leaf ecophysiology. Group leader: Sonya Geange Plant trait responses to global change. This group will assess community trait distribution responses to the interactive effects of warmer climate, nitrogen deposition, and grazing along an elevational gradient, and explore consequences for plant community assembly and ecosystem functioning. This group will collaborate with groups 3 and 4 to understand plant and ecosystem functional consequences of these community shifts. Group leaders: Julia Chacon & Aud Halbritter Leaf traits as a tool to understand climate impacts on photosynthesis and respiration. This group will study how plant temperatures and photosynthetic rates vary between plants with alpine or warmer-climate origin, along elevational gradients, and in response to global change drivers. Group 3 will collaborate with groups 1 and 2 to put these responses in context of broader plant and community responses to global change.  Group leaders: Sean Michaletz & Joseph Garen Climate change impacts on traits and ecosystem functioning. This group will study how trait composition influences ecosystem functioning by measuring CO2-flux within and across plant communities. Group 4 will collaborate with group 2 to access data on community trait shifts, and mainly focus on ecosystem carbon dynamics in response to climate change, but also nitrogen deposition and grazing. Group leader: Joseph Gaudard Remote assessment of plant traits and ecosystem functioning. This group will use technologies based on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV/drone) in combination with measurements from the experiments to assess how remotely-sensed data (e.g., reflectance spectra) can capture plant and ecosystem functional shifts from leaf to landscape-scale. The group will collaborate with groups 1-4 over community-level data. Students applying for this group should have experience with geospatial analyses. Group leaders: Marc Macias-Fauria & Marcus Spiegel (TBC) Culturally relevant science communication. This group will use questionnaires and interviews to engage with the local community, with the aim of learning their knowledge and perceptions of climate change (especially relevant to local considerations). Group 6 will conduct research locally in Western Norway, compare with results from previous PFTC courses in Peru and Svalbard, and draft a manuscript for publication. Group leader: Sehoya Cotner Through developing and conducting these research projects to explore the potential of plant functional trait-based approaches in understanding the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of the study area, PFTC6 students will build key research skills in planning and conducting trait-based field campaigns. You will gain practical experience in measuring plant functional traits and related physiological, plant community, and ecosystem data in the field using standard protocols. You will become familiar with taking measurements using ecophysiological equipment including LiCor 6400 and LiCor 7500. You will learn about the structure and analysis of trait data, be introduced to best practice data management and reproducible coding, as well as having the opportunity to analyse and interpret data yourself. You can read about previous courses in China, Peru, and Svalbard here. An important element of this course is its cross-disciplinarity, spanning from leaf physiology via remote sensing to science communication. While students will receive in-depth training within their speciality, they will also contribute to, collaborate on, and gain insight into the work of the other groups. We will discuss lessons across groups in light of current challenges in climate-change science and communication, the added value of incorporating local ecological knowledge, and ethical concerns of conducting fieldwork in remote locales. The course is aimed at graduate students – both MSc and PhD – and will give a broad introduction to and hands-on experience of different aspects of trait-based ecology. You will work with international instructors, in teams, and collect research-grade data in the field to address a specific research question. There will be opportunities for participating in publications based on the course data.  Students are selected based on:  How well this course fits into and will contribute to their career plans The student’s specific need for practical experience in the research approaches offered (e.g. students applying for group 1 or 2 should not have extensive prior experience with measuring plant traits). Read more…

  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea at the sub-Arctic Fennoscandian site. Image by Julia Kemppinen PFTC insights help show that trait–environment relationships are generalizable across tundra plant communities. Years of hard work mixed with a solid dose of expertise, this paper led by PFTC4 participant Julia Kemppinen integrates an elaborate field study in tundra with insights from the PFTC course held on Svalbard in 2018. Aiming to test the assumption that that relationships between plant functional traits and environmental conditions are globally consistent, the researchers set up multiple grids in four locations across the Arctic and Antarctic tundra. They then combined detailed data on species composition and local abiotic conditions, with functional trait data using databases (BIEN, TRY, and TTT). The study shows that indeed, trait–environment relationships were generalizable across geographical locations and taxonomic composition, as local variation within the sites was overridden by strong, global trait–environment relationships. These results reveal a great potential for further exploiting plant functional traits in understanding how (tundra-) ecosystem functioning will be impacted by global changes. Interestingly, this paper has a strong PFTC connection even though no PFTC data were directly used. Julia explains that she feels that PFTC played a huge role in inspiring and teaching her about traits in the first place. In her own words: “To be honest, before the PFTC I did not really understand the fuzz about traits. During the two-week crash course on Svalbard, I really saw the potential in trait ecology and moreover, understood that plants are so much more than just different species (probably this took me so long to realise, since I am a biogeographer by training, not an ecologist). Without those realizations that PFTC gave me in an orderly and well-thought way, the road to the NEE study would have been very (or completely) different.” Further, Julia highlights why she thinks these types of international and collaborative field courses are so valuable. “I think such courses are true gems. I had so much fun exploring new methods with new friends and seeing how other scientists work in the field and in the lab. PFTC introduced me to friends with whom I got to collaborate in the NEE study, but I also got friends with whom we stay in touch just for the sake of friendship!” This paper was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, and Julia’s beautiful photo even made it on the front cover! While you’re there, check out this engaging blog post written by Julia for an interesting peak behind the scenes in the making of this paper. Congratulations Julia Kemppinen et al. with this very well-written, aesthetically pleasing, but above all, very important paper!

  • The last PFTC course was held in Peru March 2020, and unfortunately cut short (and for many, extended far beyond planning) due to the emerging Covid-19 outbreak. You can read more about that here, here and here. Whilst we had to leave our field sites early, we still managed to collect most of our planned data. In addition to learning about plant functional traits, we took away many lessons on the topic of open science and its integration in field courses, which is an important red thread in the PFTC philosophy. These lessons are now published in Ecology and Evolution, in our paper ‘Next‐generation field courses: Integrating Open Science and online learning‘. In the article, we outline practical recommendations for integrating Open Science practices into field courses to equip early career researchers with the skills and competences they need to succeed in the future. Project-based field courses are a well-established element in providing hands-on training for ECRs in the fields of Ecology and Evolution, but also other scientific disciplines. Given a rising Open Science movement and growing online toolsets, field courses should integrate these elements to increase participants’ learning outcomes and benefit the wider community. By representing the complete scientific workflow, field courses provide an ideal arena to teach Open Science implementation in Higher Education. If used appropriately, considering diversity of participants, online tools can facilitate both teaching and application of Open Science elements. Integrating these elements into field courses will help to provide the next generation of researchers with crucial skills for an increasingly Open Science-focused future and facilitate collaborative, transparent and reproducible research. This group effort was led by Sonya Geange, Jonathan von Oppen and Tanya Strydom with Mickey Boakye, Tasha-Leigh Gauthier, Ragnhild Gya, Aud Halbritter, Laura Jessup, Sara Middleton, Jocelyn Navarro, Maria Elisa Pierfederici, Julia Chacón-Labella, Sehoya Cotner, William Farfan-Rios, Brian Maitner, Sean Michaletz, Richard Telford, Brian Enquist, and Vigdis Vandvik. What is more, dealing with this pandemic and continuing the course in a modified format, taught us many lessons way beyond the scope of the course. In a large group effort led by course participants, we now published a paper on academic practice in Ecology and Evolution, called: ‘From a crisis to an opportunity: Eight insights for doing science in the COVID‐19 era and beyond‘. In this paper, we highlight eight insights for how innovative, collaborative and often Open Science driven developments that have arisen from the COVID-19 crisis can form a blueprint for a community reinvention in academia. Our insights include personal approaches to managing our new reality, maintaining capacity to focus and resilience in our projects, and a variety of tools that facilitate remote collaboration. We also highlight how, at a community level, we can take advantage of online communication platforms for gaining accessibility to conferences and meetings, and for maintaining research networks and community engagement while promoting a more diverse and inclusive community. COVID-19 may have forced us to change the way we work. but we believe the pandemic has also provided us with several novel ways of conducting international Science. Overall, we are confident that these practices can support a more inclusive and kinder scientific culture for the longer term. This was a group effort lead by Julia Chacón-Labella and Sonya Geange and involving Mickey Boakye, Brian Enquist, William Farfan-Rios, Ragnhild Gya, Aud Halbritter, Sara Middleton, Jonathan von Oppen, Samuel Pastor-Ploskonka, Tanya Strydom, and Vigdis Vandvik.  We are so happy and proud to see our participants showing such amazing initiative and drive to write these fantastic papers and get them out. We hope you give them a read. Enjoy!