News Release

Shuqing Xu receives ERC Consolidator Grant for his research on the evolution in ecological communities in response to climate change

EU funding for research on the evolution in communities under current and future climate conditions

Grant and Award Announcement

Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

Shuqing Xu


Professor Dr. Shuqing Xu

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Credit: photo/©: Marie Adorf

Eating or being eaten, competing for resources – these are certainly the best-known interactions among organisms coexisting in an ecosystem, but they are by no means the only ones. In fact, different species live together and interact in complex ways. But how do different species evolve or coevolve in a community as temperatures rise due to climate change? Current research focuses primarily on how individual species react to climate change. However, as species interact with each other in the ecosystem, the evolutionary responses to climate change are difficult to predict from studying each species in isolation. For example, a plant may grow faster due to higher temperatures, but it may also suffer greater damage if the number of herbivores also increases, ultimately resulting in a growth reduction. Professor Shuqing Xu from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) aims to investigate these connections – with an ERC Consolidator Grant worth EUR 2 million for his research project "Real-time (co)evolution in a multitrophic community under current and future climates". The ERC Consolidator Grant is one of the EU's most prestigious and valuable research awards for outstanding researchers. Shuqing Xu was appointed full Professor of Evolutionary Plant Sciences at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in 2022. He had previously worked at the University of Münster.

How do organisms respond to climate change in natural communities?

For their research, Xu and his team plan to create aquatic pond systems, each with hundreds of species, resembling natural ecosystems. "We will focus on the evolution of three species in the community, i.e., water lentils, a surface-growing plant commonly known as duckweed, aphids that infest the water lentils, and water fleas, which are small, underwater crustaceans," explained Xu. The three species interact both directly and indirectly: The aphids infest the water lentils, the water lentils compete with algae for light and nutrients, and the water fleas, in turn, consume the algae. To investigate how these species and the entire ecosystem react to a temperature increase, half of the experimental ponds will be additionally heated using a solar-heating system to mimic future climate conditions. Over two years, Xu's research team will collect samples of plants, animals, water, and the microscopic organisms living in the ecosystem. Through microscopy and sequencing of the species present, they will then examine how the species composition and genetic diversity will change in response to a warming climate. Furthermore, the team plans to stop the evolution of water lentils in some ponds and then examine how the evolution of one organism affects the evolution of its coexisting organisms and ecosystem functions.

An expert in the field of evolutionary plant sciences

Professor Shuqing Xu was appointed as a professor of Evolutionary Plant Sciences at JGU in 2022. Before this, he held a W2 professorship at the University of Münster and conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena. He studied cell biology and genetics in China, then went to ETH Zurich where he obtained his PhD in 2011. Xu has been honored with numerous awards, including the Marie Curie Fellowship and the Early Career Award from the International Society of Chemical Ecology.

The ERC Consolidator Grant

The ERC Consolidator Grant is one of the most valuable EU funding schemes awarded to individual researchers. Through these grants, the European Research Council (ERC) supports outstanding scientists within seven to twelve years after completing their doctorate. Successful applicants must not only demonstrate excellence in research but also provide evidence of the groundbreaking nature and feasibility of their project. The funding period spans five years.

The European Research Council has also approved two further ERC Consolidator Grants at JGU: Professor Dorothee Dormann's project on neurodegenerative diseases and Professor Sebastian Erdweg's project on the energy-efficient execution of reactive software systems. Furthermore, JGU-based palaeogeneticist Professor Joachim Burger is involved in an ERC Consolidator Grant project researching the adaptation of historical populations to urban life, which is coordinated by Professor Christina Papageorgopoulou from Democritus University of Thrace.

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