Gradual_Change: ERC Advanced Grant (2016-2021)


A major goal in ecology is to predict how environmental changes, including drivers of global change, affect communities and ecosystem functioning, with society demanding answers to these pressing questions. A key limitation of virtually all experimental approaches addressing such questions is that treatments are delivered abruptly, while many changes occurring in nature are gradual. In this project we comprehensively study consequences of environmental change when delivered abruptly vs. gradually.

This project also takes on the challenges associated with microplastic and its effects in soil; we look at effects on soil processes and soil biota, using a range of experimental approaches.

Press release about the start of the project

Time-lapse View of Ecosystems of the Future (Press release of FU Berlin; March 22, 2016)

Selected project videos on Youtube

  • Microplastic effects on ecosystems Video
  • Multiple influences on soils and soil biota Video
  • Is microplastic a distraction from climate change? Video
  • Rate of change in ecology Video

Selected output for a general audience

  • Paper in The Science Breaker (‘Science meets society’) on the Rillig et al. 2019 paper in Science
  • Artikel in Berichte über Landwirtschaft 98 (1): 1-14 (Zeitschrift für Agrarpolitik und Landwirtschaft) Mikroplastik in landwirtschaftlichen Böden – eine versteckte Gefahr? (Leifheit E, Rillig MC)
  • Artikel in Ländlicher Raum 02/2019 (Leifheit E, Rillig MC)

Publications from this project

Key conceptual advance; Key experimental/synthesis result

2020 and in press

  • Muller LAH, Ballhausen MB, Lakovic M, Rillig MC. 2020. Assessing the robustness of communities and ecosystems in global change research. Global Change Biology 26: e4-e5. Link
  • Lehmann A, Zheng W, Ryo M, Soutschek K, Roy J, Rongstock R, Maaß S, Rillig MC. 2020. Fungal traits important for soil aggregation. Frontiers in Microbiology 10: 2904, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.02904. Link
  • Thakur MP, Phillips HRP, Brose U, de Vries FT, Lavelle P, Loreau M, Mathieu J, Mulder C, van der Putten WH, Rillig MC, Wardle DA, Back EM, Bartz MLC, Bennett JM, Briones MJI, Brown G, Decaëns T, Eisenhauer N, Ferlian O, Guerra CA, König‐Ries B, Orgiazzi A, Ramirez KS, Russell DJ, Rutgers M, Wall DH, Cameron EK. 2020. Towards an integrative understanding of soil biodiversity. Biological Reviews 95: 350-364. Link
  • Berdugo M, Delgado-Baquerizo M, Soliveres S, Hernández-Clemente R, Zhao Y, Gaitán JJ, Gross N, Saiz H, Maire V, Lehmann A, Rillig MC,  Solé RV, Maestre FT. 2020. Global ecosystem thresholds driven by aridity. Science 367: 787-790. Link
  • Lozano YM, Rillig MC. 2020. Effects of microplastic fibers and drought on plant communities. Environmental Science & Technology 54: 6166-6173. Link
  • Rillig MC. 2020. Experimental tools for addressing effects of complex substance mixtures in soil. Soil Organisms 92: 5-7. Link
  • Ballhausen MB, Hewitt R, Rillig MC. 2020. Mimicking climate warming effects on Alaskan soil microbial communities via gradual temperature increase. Scientific Reports 10: 8533; doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-65329-x Link
  • Golubeva P, Ryo M, Muller L, Ballhausen MB, Lehmann A, Sosa-Hernández MA, Rillig MC. 2020. Soil saprobic fungi differ in their response to gradually and abruptly delivered copper. Frontiers in Microbiology 11: 1195; doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.01195 Link
  • Waldman WR, Rillig MC. 2020. Microplastic research should embrace the complexity of secondary particles. Environmental Science & Technology 54: 7751-7753. Link
  • Zheng W, Lehmann A, Ryo M, Vályi KK, Rillig MC. 2020. Growth rate trades off with enzymatic investment in soil filamentous fungi. Scientific Reports 10: 11031; doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68099-8 Link
  • Rillig MC, Lehmann A. 2020. Microplastic in terrestrial ecosystems. Science 368: 1430-1431. Link 
  • Barreto C, Rillig MC, Lindo Z. 2020. Addition of polyester in soil affects decomposition rates but not microarthropod communities. Soil Organisms 92: 109-119. Link
  • Pinek L, Mansour I, Lakovic M, Ryo M, Rillig MC. 202X. Rate of environmental change across scales in ecology. Biological Reviews (in press) Link
  • Rillig MC. 2020. Plastic and plants. Nature Sustainability; doi: 10.1038/s41893-020-0583-9 Link
  • Guerra CA, Heintz-Buschart A, Sikorski J, Chatzinotas A, Guerrero-Ramírez N, Cesarz S, Beaumelle L, Rillig MC, Maestre FT, Delgado-Baquerizo M, Buscot F, Overmann J, Patoine G, Phillips HRP, Winter M, Wubet T, Küsel K, Bardgett RD, Cameron EK, Cowan D, Grebenc T, Marín C, Orgiazzi A, Singh BK, Wall DH, Eisenhauer N. 2020. Blind spots in global soil biodiversity and ecosystem function research. Nature Communications 11: 3870; doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17688-2 Link
  • Lehmann A, Leifheit EF, Feng L, Bergmann J, Wulf A, Rillig MC. 202X. Microplastic fiber and drought effects on plants and soil are only slightly modified by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Soil Ecology Letters (in press)
  • Lehmann J, Bossio DA, Kögel-Knabner I, Rillig MC. 2020. The concept and future prospects of soil health. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment Link


  • Rillig MC, Machado AAS, Lehmann A, Klümper U. 2019. Evolutionary implications of microplastics for soil biota. Environmental Chemistry 16: 3-7. Link
  • McTee M, Bullington L, Rillig MC, Ramsey P. 2019. Do soil bacterial communities respond differently to abrupt or gradual additions of copper. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 95: fiy212. Link
  • Rillig MC, Lehmann A. 2019. Exploring the agricultural parameter space for crop yield and sustainability. New Phytologist 223: 517-519. Link
  • Rillig MC, Lehmann A, Machado AAS, Yang G. 2019. Microplastic effects on plants. New Phytologist 223: 1066-1070. Link
  • Lehmann A, Fitschen K, Rillig MC. 2019. Abiotic and biotic factors influencing the effect of microplastic on soil aggregation. Soil Systems 3: 21, doi:10.3390/soilsystems3010021 Link
  • Ryo M, Aguilar-Trigueros CA, Pinek L, Muller LAH, Rillig MC. 2019. Basic principles of temporal dynamics. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 34: 723-733. Link
  • Rillig MC, Antonovics J. 2019. Microbial biospherics for the experimental study of ecosystem function and evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 116: 11093-11098. Link
  • Machado AAS, Lau CW, Kloas W, Bergmann J, Bachelier J, Faltin E, Becker R, Görlich A, Rillig MC. 2019. Microplastics can change soil properties and affect plant performance. Environmental Science & Technology 53: 6044-6052. Link
  • Rillig MC, Lehmann A, Ryo M, Bergmann J. 2019. Shaping up: towards considering the shape and form of pollutants. Environmental Science & Technology 53: 7925-7926. Link
  • Rillig MC, Bonneval K, Lehmann J. 2019. Sounds of soil: a new world of interactions under our feet. Soil Systems 3: 45, doi: 10.3390/soilsystems3030045 Link
  • Heger T,  Bernard-Verdier M, Gessler A, Greenwood AD, Grossart HP, Hilker M, Keinath S, Kowarik I, Kueffer C, Marquard E, Müller J, Niemeier S, Onandia G, Petermann JS, Rillig MC, Rödel MO, Saul WC, Schittko C, Tockner K, Joshi J, Jeschke J. 2019. Towards an integrative, eco-evolutionary understanding of ecological novelty: Studying and communicating interlinked effects of global change. BioScience 69: 888-899. Link
  • Liang Y, Lehmann A, Ballhausen M, Muller L, Rillig MC. 2019. Experimental warming and microplastic fibers jointly influence soil aggregation by saprobic fungi. Frontiers in Microbiology 10: 2018, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.02018 Link
  • Lehmann A,  Zheng W, Soutschek K, Roy J, Yurkov A, Rillig MC. 2019. Tradeoffs in hyphal traits determine mycelium architecture in saprobic fungi. Scientific Reports 9: 14152; doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-50565-7. Link
  • Rillig MC, Ryo M, Lehmann A, Aguilar-Trigueros CA, Buchert S, Wulf A, Iwasaki A, Roy J, Yang G. 2019. The role of multiple global change factors in driving soil functions and microbial biodiversity. Science 366: 886-890. Link


  • Machado AAS, Kloas W, Zarfl C, Hempel S, Rillig MC. 2018. Microplastics as an emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology 24: 1405-1416. Link
  • Powell JR, Rillig MC. 2018. Biodiversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and ecosystem function. New Phytologist 220: 1059-1075. Link
  • Rillig MC, Bonkowski M. 2018. Microplastic and soil protists: a call for research. Environmental Pollution 241: 1128-1131. Link
  • Rillig MC. 2018. Microplastic disguising as soil carbon storage. Environmental Science & Technology 52: 6079-6080. Link
  • Machado AAS, Lau CW, Till J, Kloas W, Lehmann A, Becker R, Rillig MC. 2018. Impacts of microplastics on the soil biophysical environment. Environmental Science & Technology 52:  9656-9665. Link
  • Yang G, Wagg C, Veresoglou SD, Hempel S, Rillig MC. 2018. How soil biota drive ecosystem stability. Trends in Plant Science 23: 1057-1067. Link
  • Eisenhauer N, Hines J, Isbell F, van der Plas F, Hobbie SE, Kazanski KE, Lehmann A, Liu M, Lochner A, Rillig MC, Vogel A, Worm K, Reich PB. 2018. Plant diversity maintains multiple soil functions in future environments. eLife 7: e41228. Link


  • Rillig MC, Muller LAH, Lehmann A. 2017. Soil aggregates as massively concurrent evolutionary incubators. The ISME Journal 11: 1943-1948. Link
  • Lehmann A, Zheng W, Rillig MC. 2017. Soil biota contributions to soil aggregation. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1: 1828-1835. Link