Research at the Department

Research Unit Alpine Freshwater Ecology

Ansicht Piburger See

We study alpine freshwater ecosystems in the face of global change

The Alpine freshwater ecology research unit includes three research groups studying subalpine and alpine lakes and the full continuum of running waters from glacier streams to larger rivers. We sample microbes and invertebrates in Alpine lakes and reconstruct lacustrine environmental conditions during the Holocene. We study how microbes in glaciers, lakes and rivers contribute to biogeochemical cycling, as well as we investigate biodiversity and organic matter dynamics in river networks.

In all this, we understand freshwater ecosystems as links between the terrestrial catchment and the atmosphere, and as disproportionately important for biodiversity in need of conservation.

Owing to excellent research facilities, such as fully equipped laboratories for aquatic biogeochemistry, microbiology and organisms’ taxonomy, a high-elevation research station located at the shore of  Gossenköllesee, and an Alpine University research centre in Obergurgl, we offer unique opportunities for students and researchers to study Alpine aquatic ecosystems and the effects of global change.

In addition to the two LTSER sites in the Tyrolean Alps (Piburgersee and Gossenköllesee), our research groups are active in different parts of the world. Our research activities are well integrated into diverse international research projects with links to more than 20 countries. Our common epicenter of activity, however, are Alpine freshwater and cryospheric ecosystems – we are also  members of the largest research focus of the University of Innsbruck, Alpine Space - Man & Environment.

Our mission is to conduct leading research on basic and applied freshwater ecology at the national and international level and to provide knowledge to students, managers, and the general public including outreach activities with children.

Research Groups

Lake and Glacier EcologyRiver and Conservation ResearchFluvial Ecosystem Ecology

Ecosystem Research and Landscape Ecology

Gewächshäuser im Stubaital

We aim to understand effects of global changes on ecological processes in mountain areas

The section Ecosystem Research and Landscape Ecology aims to understand effects of global changes on ecological processes in mountain areas, covering spatial scales from plants to ecosystems and landscapes, and temporal scales from seconds to days, years and decades.

Headed by Prof. Ulrike Tappeiner and composed of three interacting research groups, which collaborate in joint projects and publications, the research unit studies at the ecosystem scale how global changes affect the carbon, water and nutrient cycles as well as their interactions in mountain ecosystem, with an emphasis on trace gas and energy exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere and how it is modulated by land management and changing climates.

At the landscape scale the research unit explores historical, current and future scenarios of projected land use and their consequences for biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services, and develops monitoring systems at local and regional scales in order to support sustainable decisions in human-environmental systems.

By contributing to several EU-projects, ESF programmes and COST Actions, the research unit is well integrated into international research activities and initiatives.

Research Groups

Ecosystem and Landscape EcologyFunctional EcologyBiometeorology

Animal and Molecular Ecology

Eine symbiotische Beziehung: Die Ameise Lasius niger beim Betreuen/Melken von Blattläusen

We investigate ecological interactions and evolutionary processes

The section Animal and Molecular Ecology studies ecological interactions and evolutionary processes. It covers the spectrum from basic to applied research, mostly in an organismal approach with an emphasis on terrestrial ecosystems and invertebrates.

We combine traditional techniques such as morphometrics, environmental monitoring and behavioural assays with ecological-niche modelling, stable isotope analysis and molecular genetics, including next generation genomics.

The section, headed by Prof. Schlick-Steiner comprises the research group Molecular Ecology and the research area of successional change in glacial Alpine habitats (Rüdiger Kaufmann).

Research Groups

Molecular Ecology Applied and Trophic Ecology (2006 - 2020)          Soil Ecology (Research Group 2006 - 2013)

Research activities at our Department are embedded

within one of three main large research areas of the University Innsbruck, i.e.,
the "Mountain Regions",

in the universitary research centre Ecology of the Alpine Region

in the Doctoral programmes at the University of Innsbruck Alpine Biology and Global Change und 
Biointeractions from basics to application(BioApp)

as well as in the national network LTER/LTSER Platform Tyrolean Alps.


Die Forschungsaktivitäten am Institut für Ökologie tragen bei

Freie Online-Kurse / MOOCs von Ökolog*innen

Limnologie-Ökologie des Wassers

Viel-Falter: Tagfalter-Monitoring



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