Honored: Christian Wirth appointed External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

We have gained a new external member: Prof. Dr. Christian Wirth has been appointed by the Senate of the Max Planck Society as External Scientific Member at the request of the MPI-BGC. Wirth is the founding director and spokesperson of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), professor at Leipzig University and director of the Leipzig Botanical Garden. The plant ecologist investigates the effects of natural and man-made changes in plant biodiversity on ecosystem processes, such as carbon storage, water consumption and energy balance. As a former group leader and later fellow at the MPI-BGC, Prof. Wirth initiated and supported the development of the TRY database, the world's largest collection on plant traits. His research on the influence of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services of forests ideally complements the research focus of the Max Planck Institute in Jena. 

Biologist Prof. Dr. Christian Wirth from Leipzig University, spokesperson of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, has been appointed External Member of the Max Planck Society by its Senate, at the request of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC) in Jena. The awarding of this honorary title is intended to further strengthen research cooperation in the field of biodiversity, biogeochemistry and global change between the MPI-BGC, Leipzig University and, in particular, the iDiv Center. In addition to Prof. Dr. Christian Wirth, Prof. Anna Michalak, Director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science and Professor of Earth System Science and of Biology at Stanford University, was also appointed as an external member with MPI-BGC in 2023.

"I am delighted to be breaking new ground with my excellent colleagues at the MPI for Biogeochemistry. Species extinction and climate change are phenomena of one and the same problem. The consequences of biodiversity loss cannot be understood without biogeochemistry and the relationship to the Earth system," says Wirth.

Prof. Wirth has a long and fruitful relationship with the MPI-BGC in Jena. From 2005 to 2009, he was head of the independent Max Planck Research Group "Organismic Biogeochemistry", where he conducted research at national and international locations, but also in Central Germany, for example in the DFG-funded "Jena Experiment" and the "Biodiversity Exploratories".  He then accepted a position at the University of Leipzig. There, together with many colleagues from Central Germany, he was instrumental in founding the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and acted as its spokesperson. 

From 2013 to 2022, Prof. Wirth, together with Dr. Jens Kattge and Dr. Gerhard Bönisch from the MPI-BGC, was able to continue the successful work on the TRY database, which he had already started as group leader, as a part-time Max Planck Fellow. The TRY database, now the world's largest database on plant traits, is requested by scientists worldwide approximately every two hours. From the publicly accessible TRY database, records on the locations, properties and functions of plants and their changes are then provided.

Prof. Wirth is highly successful in communicating the increasing importance of biodiversity, particularly in the context of climate change, to a wide audience. As director of the botanical garden, head of the forest crane in the Auwald and of the research arboretum in Leipzig, and in many eloquent lectures, he has already been able to inspire the interested public about biodiversity. Due to his outstanding achievements in biodiversity research, he was honored with the Leipzig Science Award in 2022.

In special recognition of his scientific achievements, Prof. Wirth was recently appointed to the newly founded "Forum Zukunftsstrategie" by Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger. Wirth is currently also leading the national biodiversity assessment "Fact Check for the Conservation of Biodiversity" of the Federal Ministry of Science and Research (BMBF). 

"We are very happy to have gained Christian Wirth as an external member, who with his understanding of global biodiversity optimally complements our research on global element cycles," says Prof. Sönke Zaehle, Managing Director at the MPI-BGC, and continues: "We look forward to further constructive cooperation and new impulses to better understand the importance of biodiversity for global element cycles and, above all, their stability against the background of current climate and land use changes."

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