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Why Science Communication?

Saskia Klink, Agroecology

Have you ever struggled to explain to your parents, grandparents or anyone who is just not familiar with your scientific work what you do in your Bachelor / Master thesis? You’ll probably have realized how hard it can be to find ‘non-scientific’ words to describe what you are doing, so that everyone can understand. You might also have struggles when explaining your work to scientists from other fields of research. What is needed here is science communication – a way to explain to others what you are doing, in a way that they understand without having graduated in your field.
Did you know that science communication already starts when scientists talk about their research with each other? Even though this type of communication often clusters to people with the same scientific background, there are many ways that it can benefit you as a researcher. For example, it helps to make connections with other researchers in your field, to find collaborators, might increase the chance of having your publications known and cited, and thereby might even indirectly or directly increase the chances for funding. But apart from these academic benefits, we often choose our field of study because we want to make a change. We want to make people care about it by increasing our knowledge about processes, connections and consequences and find ways to create benefits for everyone. This means, we not only have to explain our findings to colleagues, but also to the stakeholders who are directly involved and need inputs, help and alternative solutions (e.g. land owners, politicians, industrial companies, conservation institutes). It is important to note that these stakeholders can only benefit from your work if they understand what you are saying.
A really great group of people to talk to when trying to explain your science and make a change are children. Kids are often very interested in nature, their environment and how things work. By explaining your science to them in appropriate language and why it matters to you and might be of importance to them as well, you can help them get a better understanding and feeling for the world they live in. Bonus, they’ll go tell their parents what they learned and what little or bigger changes could help to make a positive contribution – and parents surely will rather listen to their own children than to an unknown scientist.
Importantly, science communication shouldn't be about a one-way communication of information from the scientist to the audience. The best way to communicate science is to have it be a conversation, where both sides benefit and learn from the interaction. We can't assume that the audience won't know something about our topic (e.g. kids will often know a lot about a topic they're interested in already, and land managers will have the best local knowledge of their particular area) so it's important to ask questions of the audience, learn from them, and create a dialogue.



The best way to improve your science communication skills is to practice. Think about what you do and how you would explain it to a child in a way that makes them want to learn more. Talk to your parents, grandparents and neighbors about your science. When you are going to a conference and it offers a workshop on science communication, go for it! Apart from learning how to improve your networking and making useful connections it might help you make your research be more heard – both within and outside of academia.


Stoichiometric controls of C and N cycling

Per-Marten Schleuss, Meike Widdig, Alexander Guhr, Sarah Martin, Marie Spohn                      Soil Biogeochemistry & Soil Ecology


Here are the main results of our latest publication from the research project "stoichiometric homeostasis of soil microorganisms as a driver of element cycling in grasslands" within the Emmy Noether program.



  • N (and P) additions affected the microbial community but not their C:N stoichiometry
  • Long-term N addition changed processes involved in C and N cycling
  • Abundance of genes involved in the C cycle increased with elevated N availability
  • Microbes invested less into peptidases and increased net N mineralization
  • N addition and associated soil acidification reduced C mineralization rates


Elemental stoichiometry constitutes an important concept linking biogeochemistry and microbial C and N cycling, and thus is at the core of ecosystem functioning. Terrestrial ecosystems have experienced rising N and partly P inputs during the last decades changing soil C:N:P availabilities. Yet, the microbial response towards shifting soil element stoichiometry is not well understood. We investigated how long-term N and P additions affect microbial community composition, and to what extent microbial homeostasis explains changes in different processes involved in soil C and N cycling in response to element addition. We studied a 66-year-old nutrient addition experiment in a mesic grassland in South Africa, consisting of four different levels of N addition (0, 7, 14, and 21 g N m-2 yr-1) with and without P addition (0, and 9 g P m-2 yr-1).  

Figure 1: Long-term nutrient addition experiment at the Ukulinga Research Farm (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa)


We show that despite strong changes in the microbial community, the microbial C:N ratio did not change in response to N-addition. The abundance of genes involved in C cycling increased with elevated N availability indicating an upregulation microbial C acquisition. In addition, microbes invested less into peptidases and increased net N mineralization. Our results suggest that changes in the rates of element cycling processes can largely be explained by the property of the soil microbial biomass to adjust metabolic processes to maintain its biomass stoichiometry.


Figure 2: Conceptual figure summarizing the main responses of element cycling: for C (in black), N (in blue) and P (in red). Abbreviations are: (BG) for β-glucosidase, (NAG) for N-acetylglucosaminidase, and (LAP) for leucine-aminopeptidase activities. We show that microorganisms increase C acquisition and N mineralization in response to N addition, which allows the microbial biomass to maintain its biomass stoichiometry. Decreases in C mineralization rates in soils under N addition, however, were not driven by the stoichiometric relationship between the microbial biomass and its environment, but mainly by soil acidification resulting from long-term N addition.



Per-Marten Schleuss, Meike Widdig, Anna Heintz-Buschart, Alexander Guhr, Sarah Martin, Kevin Kirkman, Marie Spohn (2019). Stoichiometric controls of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling after long-term nitrogen and phosphorus addition in a mesic grassland in South Africa. Soil Biology and Biochemistry (In Press, Accepted Manuscript).


Junior Research Group, Soil Biogeochemistry:


Flying halfway across the globe to dig in the dirt – a research stay in Bloomington, USA

Saskia Klink, Agroecology

Within my PhD, I have a collaborative project with the Phillips lab at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana, USA. Together, we are researching forest-nutrient cycles and the role of mycorrhizal fungi which form a symbiotic association with plant roots.

During October and November 2018, I stayed at IU to work on my research project and learn more about the American way of life. The PhD student from the Phillips lab collaborating with me, Adrienne B. Keller, is working on the plots I used as well and could show me how to find the chosen trees in a dense and mountainous forest site. Luckily, close to the campus there exists a field site, Moores Creek Research and Teaching Preserve, with a forest harboring trees with either symbiotic fungi on the root surface (ecto-mycorrhiza) or symbiotic fungi within the root (endo-mycorrhiza), which is exactly what we are looking for. The aim of my project is to measure differences in the decomposition of organic material in the soil by the different fungal types and the consequences of this for the nutrient cycling in the respective ecosystem. For this, I measure the stable isotope signatures of plant material, soil fractions and different fungal functional groups.


In addition, a lot of environmental parameters are monitored: soil temperature, soil moisture, nutrient content, root biomass and more.  To achieve these parameters, soil samples and cores have to be taken, transported to the lab and processed (e.g. sieving to a certain size, removing roots and biota). The group of the Phillips lab was very helpful by finding equipment in the lab (it’s amazing what kind of English words you can learn when searching for equipment) and with instruments for the field work.

In the field, I could enjoy the Indian summer with impressive leaf colors, lots of mushrooms coming out and fancy animals like orange frogs and lizards. At the University I attended a Science fest, where all departments showed parts of their research, and I visited the Glasshouses and enjoyed nice and thoughtful talks. Alongside work, I was impressed by the variety of restaurants one can find in Bloomington. You feel that you can travel around the world by tasting dishes of all kinds of countries (e.g. Nepalese, Indian, Korean, Arabian). A nice Farmers market is held every Saturday at the center of Bloomington, where one can find local food and nice handmade crafts – a very good option for Christmas shopping.


As I visited during October and November, I got to experience Halloween and Thanksgiving. Halloween actually is a big event with all kinds of costumes, parties and sweets. Even the restaurants are decorated with spider webs, pumpkins and scary witches and you can order spooky drinks. Thanksgiving is celebrated at the end of November and is a holiday. I was invited to celebrate it with the family of the lab manager, who created an awesome meal with turkey, baked potatoes, chili, pumpkin cheesecake and apple pie. Some days before the actual Thanksgiving, we had a ‘Friendsgiving’ with the students of the department, were everyone could bring some food, so that we ended up with a huge buffet. Thanksgiving seems to be nearly as big a holiday as Christmas!

I really enjoyed my research stay in Bloomington and am looking forward to going there again next year. The Phillips lab is doing great research and we seem to have a fruitful collaboration. Luckily, I don’t have to wait until next year to see Adrienne again, as she will be visiting Bayreuth University and our department in June. Then it’s time to show her the research at the University, the delicious food of Germany and our stunning nature.

Picture credit:

  1. Sample Gates at Indiana University
  2. The national tree of Indiana, the Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
  3. Fungi (Rhizomarasmius pyrrhocephalus) found at the field site Moore’s Creek



EGU – interesting research and free coffee

Antonia Fritz & Anita Freundorfer, Micrometeorology Group

At the Europoean Geosciences Union general assembly (EGU) 2019, 16 273 scientists from 113 countries presented 5531 oral, 9432 poster, and 1287 PICO presentations. Among those were many scientists from Bayreuth, including us, the micrometeorology group. 

For us, Toni and Anita, it was the first or second time at EGU, respectively. We were impressed by the sheer range of the scientific contributions: microplastic, lightnings and thunderstorms, citizen science, geoscience games, sea level rise and many more. We often had a hard time deciding which session to go to. With all this input, we quickly learned not to miss the free coffee as we needed these coffe breaks for resetting our brain.

In addition to the presentations, the EGU also offered workshops for early career scientists, lots of networking opportunities and many interesting people to talk to. For us it was eye-opening to meet some scientists whose papers we had read before and to realize that they are, in fact, normal people. Furthermore, the EGU offered the opportunity of discussing practical questions about the research, which aren‘t mentioned in papers.

From the scientific point of view, especially the atmospheric science sessions were interesting for us. As the research of the micrometeorology group covers many different fields, our team  contributed 6 presentations (1 PICO, 3 posters and 2 orals) in 5 different sessions on urban climate, precipitation and boundary layer meteorology. We received a lot of helpful and positive feedback, had some interesting discussions, and are already looking forward to our next time at EGU.

EGU 2019, Micrometeorology Group
Figure legend:
The micrometeorology group at the EGU: Lena Pfister, Anita Freundorfer, Wolfgang Babel (front from left), Karl Lapo, Antonia Fritz and Christoph Thomas (back from left).


Picky carnivorous plants?

Picky carnivorous plants?

Saskia Klink, Agroecology & Philipp Giesemann, BayCEER Laboratory of Isotope Biogeochemistry

Instead of existing at the bottom of the food chain, some plants have flipped the natural order to become carnivorous. Using specially modified leaf traps, they capture and digest animal prey to tap into an additional nitrogen-nutrient source. But are they picky eaters?

Evolving an extraordinary way of nutrition, carnivorous plants turned the tables by literally eating animal prey to tap on an additional nitrogen-nutrient source. The evolution of trap structures was very creative, for instance from terrestrial sticky leaf traps and pitfalls to aquatic eel traps and suction bladders. Most research on the nutrition of carnivorous plants evaluates the proportion of nitrogen received from a pooled prey sample, however, carnivorous plants may have a picky preference for their prey. Some carnivorous plant species feed on insects, or on seafood like plankton, and some are even vegetarian feeding on leaf litter. Nevertheless, it is not known how picky a carnivorous plant can be. Could the evolution of trapping structures represent a response of the plant to be the first to feed on animal prey before the prey feed on the plant?

Flower Pinguicula alpina

To investigate prey preferences of carnivorous plants, we focused on European carnivores from the Lentibulariaceae family. We sampled the terrestrial butterwort Pinguicula which has sticky leaves to trap terrestrial prey, and the aquatic bladderwort Utricularia which traps aquatic prey with suction bladders. We collected potential prey (insects, plankton) and graded them by trophic level (e.g. phytophagous, zoophagous). We applied a stable isotope natural abundance approach linked with a Bayesian inference isotope mixing model to calculate the carnivorous plants` prey-derived nitrogen uptake.

Overall, the investigated plant species gained around one-third of their total nitrogen from prey. Pinguicula species gained most of their prey-derived nitrogen from herbivorous prey, and only some from zoophagous prey. Utricularia benefitted from zooplankton-derived nitrogen, but also benefitted from phytoplankton, suggesting a ‘vegetarian’ component of their diet. Carnivorous plants might be picky eaters after all.

Flower Pinguicula vulgaris

Figure legend:
Bladder traps of Utricularia (top)
Flower of Pinguicula alpina (middle)
Sticky leaf trap and flower of Pinguicula vulgaris (bottom)


Further information:

Klink, S; Giesemann, P; Gebauer, G. (2019): Picky carnivorous plants? Investigating preferences for preys’ trophic levels – a stable isotope natural abundance approach with two terrestrial and two aquatic Lentibulariaceae tested in central Europe, Annals of Botany, doi: 10.1093/aob/mcz022

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BayCEER Blog
Why Science Communication?
Stoichiometric controls of C and N cycling
Flying halfway across the globe to dig in the dirt – a research stay in Bloomington, USA
EGU – interesting research and free coffee
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