Lab of Excellence for Advanced Research on the Biology of TRee and Forest Ecosystems

February 15th, 2012 by Francis Martin Leave a reply »



Forests provide a wide range of services: wood products and biomass for bioenergy, as well as many ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, water and air quality, biodiversity preservation and amenities. The European forest area has been expanding over the last century and standing tree volume is increasing, but several models showed that the trend towards increased productivity might reverse after 2050. Today, forests face unprecedented changes, largely resulting from human activity. Forests will experience rapid changes in the near future, and characterising the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of their response to global change is an ongoing challenge. European forests are usually managed to provide multiple services, and are facing increasingly pressing demands from society to supply more products of higher quality to fuel and feed the ‘green’ economy of tomorrow, and to provide additional social and environmental services to satisfy populations. These sometimes conflicting injunctions are taking place within a context of weak timber markets, scarce public resources, and against a backdrop of unprecedented anthropogenic changes that question the very long-term sustainability of many forest ecosystems.


The Lab of Excellence (LABEX) for Advanced Research on the Biology of FoRest Ecosystems (ARBRE) was granted yesterday with € 7.5 million by the ‘Investissement d’Avenir‘ programme. The LABEX ARBRE  is a consortium of labs from INRA, Université de Lorraine, and AgroParisTech to address issues challenging forests through an interdisciplinary approach. ARBRE covers a broad spectrum of expertise, and has the potential to create a unique scientific consortium for experimental tree biology, functional ecology, wood sciences, economics, and for transferring knowledge to partners in forest management, wood transformation and other activities. One of the main strengths is the presence within ARBRE of research and training capacities that cover the whole forest-wood chain from production to transformation and economic valuation, which is a unique feature across Europe. Moreover, the contributions from the Office National des Forêts (ONF), Centre National de la Propriété Forestière (CNPF) and EFICENT-Observatory of European Forests (EFICENT-OEF) will facilitate knowledge transfer and help the emergence of novel research questions. ARBRE will support ~ 100 scientists.

The main research objectives of ARBRE are to further the understanding of biological, ecological and evolutionary processes that affect interactions between organisms in temperate forest ecosystems, and to develop new approaches to address key questions related to nutrient cycling, carbon storage and cycling, forest productivity, wood products, ecosystem services and sustainable forest management. We will implement a wide range of disciplines – from genomics to functional ecology and economics – to understand, monitor and predict community structures, dynamics and processes in forest ecosystems. ARBRE will also address significant questions in forest ecology and evolution through synthesis of existing data or development of novel theory, design novel wood products and make policy recommendations based on scientific data.


Relative to existing international research efforts in this field, ARBRE’s unique added value is its integrated approach aiming to: (i) develop a comprehensive molecular-level understanding of the forest soil microbiome, tree-microbe interactions, and tree development and functioning, to be achieved through the application of ‘-omics’ approaches and system biology; (ii) generate functional and mechanistic insights into the complex interactions between biogeochemical cycles, carbon sequestration and biodiversity in forests, including interspecific and intraspecific genetic variability. This will be achieved by using long-term observatories (LTO), dedicated field experiments including isotopes tracing and large database analysis; (iii) integrate biochemistry- and biophysics-based knowledge to understand wood formation and to produce timber with properties tailored for ‘green’ end-products; (iv) contribute to the broader development of social, economic, and regulatory policies related to forest sciences and innovation in France, focusing on biodiversity; (v) train highly qualified personnel for careers in France’s R&D-driven industries and institutions; (vi) disseminate scientific innovation rapidly to end users represented in the consortium [like Office National des Forêts (ONF), CNPF and others].

ARBRE will couple bottom-up (from the understanding of processes to forest functions) and top down approaches (from the production of goods and services back to processes) within a series of interconnected task forces or  workpackages (WPs). WP1 will integrate genomics know-how and toolkits to identify major genetic factors controlling soil microbiomes, root-microbe interactions, tree root development and functioning, focusing on stress responses. WP2 will investigate the processes taking place at the interfaces (soil/microbe/tree and tree/atmosphere) in disturbed forest ecosystems and will forecast the state and future evolution of temperate forests. WP3 will link wood properties of the forest resource to the ‘green’ end-products that can be tailored from wood fibers and their chemical components. WP4 will develop biodiversity indicators and a new set of economic instruments (such as payment instruments) for motivating forest managers based on those indicators.

ARBRE will also stimulate the development of educational programmes in tree and microbial biology, forest ecology and management, wood sciences and economic sciences. ARBRE will contribute to the development of a unique and coordinated training facility for engineering and research covering all fields relevant to the forest based sector, contributing to the development and recognition of Lorraine as one of the leading European Center for education in forest and wood sciences. ARBRE will open new positions for postdoctoral fellows and Ph.D. students in the coming months.





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