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Max Planck Institut for Biogeochemistry



New Emmy Noether Junior Research Group
January 28, 2015



Forest ecologist Carlos Sierra was recently granted the prestigious Emmy Noether Program from the German Science Foundation (DFG) to establish a new junior research group within the Department Biogeochemical Processes. His new group Theoretical Ecosystem Ecology will study theoretical aspects of natural ecosystems, in particular topics about nonlinearities of biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial ecosystems.

The main objective of the junior group is to produce a mathematical synthesis of observations and models of biogeochemical cycling, and to explore theoretic possibilities of how carbon and nutrient cycles could behave in terrestrial ecosystems, particularly under a changing climate. One important question that will be addressed is the possibility of sudden changes in ecosystem behavior (tipping points) that might be triggered by interactions between the ecosystems and their surrounding environment.
To address this complex theoretical task the program supports one postdoc, three PhD students and the group leader. The group will collect different models used to predict carbon and nutrient cycling in ecosystems and will form a repository of models where they can be compared and tested against different observations. A main task will be to extract the main mathematical properties of these different models and propose equations that can generalize these different models according to basic ecological principles. The program is expected to run for five years.

Carlos Sierra, born and raised in Colombia, studied forest ecology with a focus on modelling and theory at Oregon State University where he also received his PhD. Sierra pursued his research in the tropics where he investigated carbon cycling in tropical forests before joining our institute five years ago.

The Emmy Noether Programme supports researchers in achieving independence at an early stage of their scientific careers. Postdocs gain the qualifications required for a university teaching career during a DFG-funded period, usually lasting five years, in which they lead their own independent junior research group. As a rule, researchers who have acquired between two and four years of postdoctoral research experience are eligible to apply. Applicants must have international research experience.

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