Max Planck Society
Max Planck Institut for Biogeochemistry

Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology
(Emmy Noether Research Group)

Dr. Carlos Sierra
Research Group Leader

Phone: +49 (0)3641 57 - 6133

Group webpage

Mathematical modeling of transfer of energy and matter within terrestrial ecosystems

Our Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology Group investigates transfers of energy and matter within terrestrial ecosystems with an emphasis on mathematical modeling. While we focus on carbon allocation and the transformation of organic matter within the soil system, we are particularly interested in the responses of forest carbon stocks to climate change and interactions among different biogeochemical cycles.
Our primary study areas are located in the tropics such as the Amazon rainforest and the Colombian mangrove forests.

Easy-to-understand fact sheet of the group (pdf)


  • Nonlinearities and alternative states of biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial ecosystems
  • National carbon stocks of mangroves in Colombia

Selected publications

Sierra, C. A., & Müller, M. (2015). A general mathematical framework for representing soil organic matter dynamics. Ecological Monographs, 85, 505–524.doi/10.1890/15-0361.1

Sierra, C. A., Trumbore, S. E., Davidson, E. A., Vicca, S., & Janssens, I. (2015). Sensitivity of decomposition rates of soil organic matter with respect to simultaneous changes in temperature and moisture. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1002/2014MS000358

Sierra, C. A., Müller, M., & Trumbore, S. E. (2014). Modeling radiocarbon dynamics in soils: SoilR version 1.1. Geoscientific Model Development, 7(5), 1919–1931. doi:10.5194/gmd-7-1919-2014

Jiménez, E. M., Peñuela-Mora Marı́a Cristina, Sierra, C. A., Lloyd, J., Phillips, O. L., Moreno, F. H., … Patiño, S. (2014). Edaphic controls on ecosystem-level carbon allocation in two contrasting Amazon forests. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 119(9), 1820–1830. doi:10.1002/2014JG002653

Sierra, C. A., Jiménez, E. M., Reu, B., Peñuela, M. C., Thuille, A., & Quesada, C. A. (2013). Low vertical transfer rates of carbon inferred from radiocarbon analysis in an Amazon Podzol. Biogeosciences, 10(6), 3455–3464. doi:10.5194/bg-10-3455-2013

Sierra, C. (2012). Temperature sensitivity of organic matter decomposition in the Arrhenius equation: some theoretical considerations. Biogeochemistry, 108(1), 1–15.

Sampling permafrost affected soils in central Alaska. Soils are sampled for laboratory incubations and determining the best model structure that represents C dynamics. (picture author: Carlos Sierra) Incubations with soil cylinders under controlled temperature, moisture and oxygen levels. Evolved CO2 and radiocarbon values are used for inverse-parameter estimation of soil carbon models. (picture author: Carlos Sierra) Heterogeneous landscape of the Porce region in Colombia. We developed models for predicting carbon accumulation in this landscape. (picture author: Carlos Sierra) White-sand ecosystems of the amazon basin. We study carbon allocation and soil radiocarbon in these systems. (picture author: Carlos Sierra) Zafire biological station in the Colombian Amazon. We study forest dynamics and soil processes in different ecosystem types around this research station. (picture author: Carlos Sierra)
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