Meet an Ecology PhD-student: Elena Tello García

Understanding the functioning of grassland ecosystems
Bild: working in the lab (Credit: E. Tello García)

Since I was a child, I have spent much of my free time in the mountains, hiking, skiing or swimming in the river. Due to my ongoing interest in nature and the idea of contributing to make the world a better place, I studied Biology and a Master in Ecology, Environmental Management and Restoration. During my studies, I had the chance to do some internships in the Spanish Pyrenees, where I became even more interested in the ecological functioning of mountain ecosystems.

Looking to live and work in the mountains, Innsbruck seemed like the perfect place. So after my master´s degree, I moved to Innsbruck and in 2018, I joined the group “Ecosystems and Landscape Ecology” as a PhD student. Since then, I have been working on the effects of drought on mountain grasslands.

Experimental plot
Experimental plot in the Stubai valley

The first part of my PhD consisted of comparing how two grassland communities used for forage production in two climatically different areas of the Alps reacted to drought. I had the opportunity to work in a lysimeter experimental site in the long-term socio-ecological research (LTSER) site ‘Stubai Valley’ (LTSER platform ‘Tyrolean Alps’) close to Neustift im Stubaital (Austria), where we conducted a drought experiment. We saw how plant composition changed because of drought, as grasslands are expected to adjust to altered climatic conditions and optimise water use according to plant strategies. Furthermore, we found that the abundance of species with more conservative or acquisitive resources acquisition strategies lead to differences in biomass productivity, water balance and mycorrhizal activity.

After obtaining very interesting results, we planned a small follow-up experiment, where we wanted to look closer into aspects that were not yet fully understood, such as mycorrhization, root traits and CO2 uptake. What was planned as a small experiment turned into a very exciting and interdisciplinary work, involving researchers with ecological and microbiological expertise. I am very happy to experience this process, from a vague idea on how to connect two aspects of an ecosystem to performing an experiment, analysing and understanding the outcomes with my colleagues. In this work, we aim to connect above- and below-ground plant traits to the soil and root microbial community, especially arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi and rhizobia, and to assess the trade-offs and feedbacks between them under drought conditions.

Conference presentation
Presenting a poster at the IMC2019 Students4Students Summer School

My PhD is allowing me to develop new skills in the field and in the lab, as well as to improve my German. I am glad to be part of a team with motivated and committed researchers, and I hope that my work contributes to improve our understanding of the functioning of grassland ecosystems.


Elena Tello García

  Research Group: Ecosystem and Landscape Ecology


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