Climate effects of a new high-latitude Plant Functional Type

Plants shape and are shaped by the climate, but many types of plants are not represented sufficiently in the large Earth System Models used to understand these relationships. The climate panel (IPCC) and climate-change research needs input from plant ecologists to decrease uncertainty of the models in terrestrial ecosystems. To contribute to this goal, the Natural History Museum is collaborating with the department of Geosciences at UiO and other national and international partners to improve  the Norwegian Earth System Model (NorESM). 

One way of improving the model, is to add a new plant functional type. Plant functional types (PFTs) are how plants are represented in e.g. climate models, based on their physical, phylogenetic and phenological characteristics. For example, the PFT ‘Boreal needleleaf evergreen tree’ represents forests with spruce and pine in the boreal zone. PFTs are defined in computer code as a list of parameter values, e.g. specifying whether or not the PFT is woody, the fraction of the plant’s resources that go to seed production, and photosynthesis parameters. PFT’s can represent a group of species, or sometimes just a single species. 


Adding new PFTs will allow us to investigate the climate impacts of the species contained in the PFT, project expected changes in abundance and distribution with climatic changes, and last but not least understand more of the species. 


Goal of the project:


The primary goal is to estimate climate effects of a new high-latitude Plant Functional Type. The following questions are posed:  What is the climate effect of the chosen plant species? What should this new PFT look like, and how are climate forecasts changed by including it? Will the new PFT shift its range with climate change?


Study organism and area:

The student can choose a species (or species group), and create a new PFT based on measurements and existing literature. We suggest salix shrubs (in the boreal-alpine ecotone), Calluna vulgaris (in coastal and/or boreal heath), or Hylocomium splendens (in boreal forests), which are abundant and important in their respective ecosystems.

The study area will depend on the chosen species (or species group), but possible areas include Finse, an existing project grid in Western Norway, various old-growth forests with Hylocomium localities in Southeastern Norway, and possibly the Phytotron at Blindern. 



The student will measure plant traits in the field, code a new PFT in the vegetation module CLM-FATES, run the model simulation, and analyse the output. 

Depending on the student’s interests, the project is flexible and can be adjusted towards more field work and measurements to determine the best possible parameter values, or more towards bioinformatics and simulations using the CLM-FATES model. 

Supervision and environment:

A team of three supervisors will be put together based on the choice of study organism and methods.

The student will be located in the Natural History Museum, as part of the Geo-Ecological research group. We provide good support for our master students, while maintaining a large degree of independence for the student to shape their own project.

The student will be involved in the EMERALD project (, aiming at adding high-latitude PFTs to CESM/NorESM and thereby improving ecosystem representation and simulation results in climate research.

Veiledere: Eva Lieungh Eriksen (evaler), Olav Skarpaas (oskarpaa), en til avhengig av interesse


Publisert 12. aug. 2019 10:53 - Sist endret 12. aug. 2019 10:53

Omfang (studiepoeng)