Community Ecology Research

People

Our lab hosts a diverse group of enthusiastic scientists, with a broad expertise and knowledge. The different backgrounds, including field ecologists, theoreticians, and molecular ecologists, are a strength of our lab and provide a productive working atmosphere.

Head of Group

Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt

Full Professor of Aquatic Ecology

I’m interested in linking community ecology processes, such as species-interactions and dispersal, with biodiversity and ecosystem functioning at larger, regional scales. Much of my interest is on metacommunity and meta-ecosystem dynamics in dendritic, river-like networks. Further, I am interested in advancing methods to assess biodiversity, such as through eDNA, and to contribute to the science-policy dialogue on biodiversity. Learn more about my research and teaching.

Besides this, I’m also a keen naturalist and I have a passion for Lepidoptera. My pleasures are–as Vladimir Nabokov said once–the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting (with the camera…). 

Administrative Assistants

Gioia Matheson

Administrative Assistant for all matters related to Eawag

My love for water in every form has brought me to the department of Aquatic Ecology at Eawag. Here I take care of people and finances. I like the multi-cultural and scientific environment and enjoy working with so many young and talented people. With my work I want to contribute my share to a more sustainable world. 

 

Isabel Schöchli

Administrative Assistant for all matters related to University of Zurich

My special topics in administration are personnel and finances, especially solving complex cases – since they have a strong tendency to come my way and find me, wherever I am. While dealing with such complex cases, I like to be a part of a network within different departments of University of Zurich. I very much like to work and be together with international scientists and learn more about their research as well as their culture. This not only broadens my mind but also gives me more good arguments when it comes to my being an interpreter between the scientists and the non-scientist world.

Senior Scientists, Research Assistants and Postdocs

Dr. Antoine Adde

Postdoc

My research activities are focused on spatial predictive modelling of species distributions. I am particularly interested in advancing methods and developing new tools to help better understand and predict species niches and distributions. It is important to me that my research projects include an applied dimension such as assessing the potential impact of climate change on species, anticipating biological invasions, or supporting spatial conservation planning. My postdoc project is part of the ETH-domain initiative SPEED2ZERO which focus is on the areas of net zero greenhouse gas emissions, energy, biodiversity, and climate change in Switzerland. Finally, I am also an avid runner and cycler.

Dr. Roman Alther

Oberassistent / Senior Research Assistant

As an Oberassistent/Senior research assistant in the Altermatt lab, I’m involved in teaching, supervision, and many of the lab’s research activities. My research focuses on amphipod systematics and faunistics, both in epigean and subterranean ecosystems, with a focus on Switzerland. Amphipods as model organisms help me to gain a deeper insight into processes forming biodiversity patterns over time and space. More specifically, dendritic aquatic systems represent a suitable study system wherein different ecological and evolutionary mechanics, such as dispersal, invasion and speciation, can be studied. Subterranean habitats are unique ecosystems with a long-lasting evolutionary history and interesting both from a biogeographic and ecosystem functioning perspective, but currently under anthropogenic stress.

Dr. Rosetta C. Blackman

Postdoc

I am fascinated by rivers: understanding the processes within then, the connection to the landscape around them and how this shapes biodiversity. Having used traditional morphological techniques to assess plant, algae and macroinvertebrate biodiversity for many years, my aim now is to utilise rapidly developing molecular tools, such as environmental DNA (eDNA), to detect all levels of biodiversity at a catchment scale. eDNA offers an unprecedented opportunity for ecologists to gain an insight into all levels of biodiversity and it with this technique that I want to develop a holistic approach to river ecosystem assessment in order to conserve and protect freshwater habitats. 

Dr. Morgane Brosse

Scientific Coordinator of the Eawag-WSL Blue-Green Biodiversity Initiative

Ever in awe of past and present life forms, I focused my research on evolution, past biodiversity crises and the following biotic recoveries for nearly a decade. Biodiversity being crucial to human life and welfare. As the scientific coordinator of the Blue-Green Biodiversity initiative my main goal nowadays is to bridge biodiversity sciences with policy and society, in order to address the challenges posed by the current species loss driven by human activities.

Dr. Luca Carraro

SNSF Ambizione Fellow

Owing to my engineering background, I am keen on using as-simple-as-possible mathematical formulations in a bid to describe the complexity of environmental phenomena. Specifically, my research interests lie at the interface between hydrology and riverine ecology. I am currently focusing on elaborating models of transport and decay of environmental DNA in river networks aimed at reconstructing the upstream spatial distribution of rare or invasive species. Other projects I have worked on were dealing with spatially-explicit epidemiological models of waterborne diseases of fish, and models of stream temperature suited to ecohydrological applications.

Dr. Eva Cereghetti

Postdoc

I am a Postdoc student with a keen interest in meta-ecosystem dynamics and the functional role of species. After my PhD in the Altermatt Lab, I continue my research on material and energy flows of leaf litter in headwater catchments, especially focusing on cross-system transfer of this dead organic material and its decomposition within terrestrial and aquatic environments. Additionally, I investigate spatial and temporal changes in amphipod communities and their contribution to the decomposition of leaves. My aim is to use long-term empirical data to demonstrate how these ecological processes consist of individual aspects with unique seasonal dynamics, yet ultimately all linked to each other.

Dr. Yohann Chauvier

Postdoc

My main research interests focus on the study and understanding of how species and biodiversity are currently distributed across space and predicted to change in the face of global changes. My expertise extends beyond species richness and englobes many other diversity facets that are essential to the functioning of our ecosystems and the related services they provide to humans. On top of species richness, these facets also include evolutionary, functional, and interactional aspects that must be implemented in current and future conservation (planning) strategies. As part of the ETH-domain initiative SPEED2ZERO, my postdoc project mainly focuses on implementing multifaceted conservation strategies in Switzerland, in order to safeguard its current and future diversity hotspots, as well as their related nature contributions to people (NCPs).

Dr. Marjorie Couton

Postdoc

My main research interests are linked to molecular ecology. I have always been interested in using DNA to get information on ecosystems at the individual level (species detection), at the population level (population genetics) or at the community level (diversity assessments). During my PhD, I used molecular tools such as metabarcoding to detect introduced species in ports and marinas and to evaluate their contribution to marine communities. Now, my goal is to assess the diversity and distribution of groundwater amphipods across Switzerland. I plan to apply metabarcoding techniques to environmental DNA from groundwater samples in order to characterize the amphipod diversity in these environments but also to assess groundwater biodiversity in a broader perspective.

Dr. Erika Freeman

Postdoc

I am interested in the fate and ramifications of carbon lost from soils into waters as a result of land use change. My aim is to produce work that is directly relevant to land management and natural climate change solutions, using a balance of field and laboratory research as well as advanced statistical methods, hydrological, bioinformatic and geomatic tools. Within the Altermatt group, I am working to develop a new discipline called the “ecology of molecules,” with the central aim of applying ecological theory to metabolomics to answer questions about ecosystem function and structure. Outside of the office, you might find me in the mountains doing irresponsible amounts of exercise or botanising.

Dr. Sabine Güsewell

Postdoc

My research as a plant ecologist has focused on plant-soil interactions and on vegetation management by grazing and cutting, especially in wetlands. Now, I am involved in an implementation project within the Blue-Green Biodiversity Initiative. Together with Florian Altermatt and Rolf Holderegger (WSL), we shall write a book highlighting the importance of nutrient fluxes and other interactions between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for the biodiversity of land-water-scapes. The book will present excursions in Swiss landscapes, where readers are guided to observe the diversity of plant and animal species and to understand the processes driving this biodiversity, including human impacts. I look forward to running these excursions with students or professionals, hoping to improve decision-making for the preservation of biodiversity.

Dr. François Keck

Postdoc

My research activities are focused on the links between environmental variation and community dynamics in freshwater organisms. I believe molecular methods holds an immense potential to describe and understand biodiversity. In the past, I have been using these tools to study the processes driving community assembly in diatoms and to develop new approaches for aquatic biological monitoring. In my postdoc project in the Altermatt lab, I will compare environmental DNA-based diversity with classically sampled macroinvertebrate communities and study how the diversity and composition of macroinvertebrate communities can be explained by land-use practices at the catchment scale.

Dr. Tianna Peller

Postdoc

My research integrates theory and empirical approaches to study the processes that maintain biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across scales. I am particularly interested in feedbacks between the living and non-living components of ecosystems and interactions between different ecosystems through spatial flows of organisms and non-living resources. My postdoc research applies the meta-ecosystem framework to understand how abiotic drivers affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in our changing world.

PhD Students

Red Calore

PhD student (Co-supervised by Prof. F. Altermatt and Dr. A. Bruder)

My research interests focus on the ecology of aquatic fungi. With a background in biology, ecology, and geosciences, I am fascinated by the wide distribution and important roles for ecosystem functions played by this polyphyletic group of filamentous fungi. During my PhD project, I aim to develop standardised biological monitoring strategies for aquatic fungi using established and novel molecular techniques and classical optical techniques. This will be supported by the synergy between experts and initiatives in the field by sharing knowledge, methods, and samples. My project will be mainly based at the Institute of Microbiology (SUPSI) in the research group of Dr. Andreas Bruder.

Nalonda Chatterjee

PhD student

My work will be centered around the genetics and genomics of the amphipod species complex Gammarus fossarum; a keystone shredder organism found all over Switzerland and most of Europe. Particularly focusing on phylogeny and population genetics, I want to investigate the stories the genome can tell us about the interactions among the highly differentiated groups, and how they came to be. From there we can better understand how the various groups are faring with current environmental conditions, and whether any of them are under risk.
My background is in population genetics, however exploring the mysteries of evolution with molecular biology is something I hope to do for years to come.

Emanuele Giacomuzzo

PhD student

My research interest lies in understanding how biodiversity and species interactions are influenced by the flow of resources and organisms across and within ecosystems (meta-ecosystem ecology). As I am interested in uncovering the mechanisms behind it, the microcosm system that has been developed in the Altermatt lab provides suitable ground for such an endeavour. By stripping away the complexity of a natural community, I will be able to better test hypotheses and identify causal relationships. Because my previous work focused on food webs, I am also excited to study how meta-ecosystem dynamics influence trophic interactions.

Luke Ireland

PhD student

I am a PhD student with a background in marine biology. During my undergraduate and master’s degrees I worked on community ecology orientated research projects, focusing on marine amphipods. I will continue in this field, researching dispersal, ecosystem functioning and seasonal dynamics with the meta-ecosystem perspective working with amphipods in headwater streams.

Dominik Kirschner

PhD student (Co-supervised by Prof. F. Altermatt and Prof. L. Pellissier)

I have a broad interested in aquatic ecosystems and especially in the application of environmental DNA (eDNA) based molecular methods. These methods allow us to uncover aquatic biodiversity in large scale studies (e.g. in a river catchment) with relatively less effort. As a PhD student in the Altermatt-Lab I will use these techniques and focus on eDNA-metabarcoding to investigate the effects of river capture events on fish species assemblages in several rivers in Yunnan, China. This PhD is part of the BECCY – Project (Biodiversity, Earth, Climate Coupling in Yunnan), which combines several scientific disciplines to uncover the drivers of biodiversity in this geological young region.

Mara Knüsel

PhD student

With a research background in ecology and zoology I am interested in the distribution of species, both spatially and temporally, and the underlying drivers. As a PhD student in the Altermatt lab, I investigate the occurrence of groundwater amphipods in Swiss drinking water wells. The objective of my research is to provide baseline data about the nationwide distribution and diversity of amphipod species in the groundwater. With this knowledge I aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of the biodiversity in aquatic hypogean ecosystems.

Rebecca Oester

PhD student (Co-supervised by Dr. A. Bruder, Dr. M.S. Moretti, and Prof. Dr. F. Altermatt)

How communities interact within and among each other as well as with their environment simply fascinates me. I am particularly interested in the links connecting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. During my PhD project, I therefore aim to address some of the open questions around these links. My main goal is to assess the influence of the riparian vegetation on the aquatic diversity and leaf litter decomposition. With field and laboratory experiments, I want to assess how degradation of the riparian habitats and vegetation impacts detrital food webs in streams. My project will be mainly based at SUPSI in the lab of Dr. Andreas Bruder.

Kilian Perrelet

PhD student within BGB initiative, co-supervised by Dr. Lauren Cook and Dr. Marco Moretti

With a background in molecular ecology, I am fascinated by species diversity and its conservation, especially in unusual environment. I am therefore interested in urban ecology and how to promote species diversity in metropolitan environment using Blue-Green stormwater Infrastructures (BGI). My project is part of the BGB Initiative, which notably aims at unraveling interactions between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and is the result of a collaboration between Eawag and the WSL. Using eDNA, traditional sampling, GIS and complex species distribution models, I aim at understanding how BGI can be designed to increase and protect urban biodiversity.

Heng “Hank” Zhang

PhD student

With backgrounds in geosciences, ecology and biology, mathematical modeling, and programming, I am now back in the Altermatt lab as a PhD student (and part of the URPP GCB). Here, I will mainly use two methods, namely eDNA and remote sensing, to look into the connections between 1) different ecosystems, and 2) ecosystems and the environment. By studying biodiversity and ecosystem processes, I wish to find a better understanding on central questions in ecology, for example what contributes to stability (or collapse) of  ecosystems.

Lab Technicians, Teaching Staff and Associates

Raphaël Bossart

Lab Technician

I am a research technician at the department of Aquatic Ecology (Eco) at Eawag, where I work for different research groups. Being interested in natural sciences, I am happy to be part of a department that studies aquatic ecology from different perspectives. In the Altermatt lab, I am mainly involved in molecular biology assays and laboratory work.

Claudia Hegglin

Coordinator of the BSc/MSc study program "Biodiversity"

With my current position as a Teaching Coordinator in the study program “Biodiversity”, I combine my passion for nature, society, and teaching for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious society. My interests span from exploring mountain landscapes to film making. In this context, I produced a documentary about a dried-out lake in the Andean Plateau and its impact on an indigenous population.

Silvana Kaeser

Lab technician

I am a research technician at the department of Aquatic Ecology (Eco) at Eawag, where I work for different research groups. I have a strong interest in the taxonomy of aquatic invertebrates as well as algae and in their use as biological indicators in aquatic ecosystems. My other focus lies on understanding the impacts of invasive species on local ecosystems. In the Altermatt lab, I am in charge of the amphipod collection, the protist collection and the flow through systems (e.g. used for keeping amphipods). Furthermore, I am involved in experimental studies (amphipods, protists), field work and other projects with aquatic invertebrates.

Giulia Zecchin

Lab technician

I am a lab technician in the Altermatt lab, where I am in charge of lab maintenance and organization. With a background in molecular biology, I support the team’s projects, especially with DNA extraction and sequencing. I am glad to be working with people with diverse scientific backgrounds and projects and I am fascinated by how molecular techniques can make microscopic information visible.

Undergraduate Students and Interns

Xhesida Ajvazi

MSc student

My affection for water and the desire to understand biological patterns have brought me into aquatic research. I enjoy genetic lab work and fieldwork and I believe that genetics help us understand ecological structures and patterns. I did my Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Zurich and I now continue with my Master’s thesis at UZH and Eawag, where I will focus on the analysis of environmental DNA in river catchments. I will build a metacommunity model where I assess the metacommunity structures and biodiversity patterns of aquatic invertebrates in space and time.

Henry Broadbent

Henry Broadbent

BSc student

Lara Chaouat

MSc student

Lab Alumni already dispersed

  • Samuel Hürlemann (technician) – August 2016 to April 2024 – now at ETHZ
  • Franziska Cremer (MSc student) – February 2023 to January 2024 – Terraviva
  • Qing Fu (MSc student) – February 2023 to January 2024
  • Dr. Luis L. Gilarranz (Postdoc/Ambizione fellow) – January 2018 to December 2023 – now postdoc in lab of Dr. Francesco Pomati
  • Remo Wüthrich (MSc student, then Research Associate) – January 2017 to December 2023 – now at gutwasser GmbH
  • Esther Premate (visiting PhD student) – November 2022 to December 2022 – University of Ljubljana
  • Yan Zhang (visiting PhD student) – December 2022 to November 2023 – Nanjing University
  • Heineman Niklas (visiting PhD student) – September 2022 to November 2022 – University of Potsdam
  • Nadine Locher (Technician) – August 2021 to October 2023
  • Ana Sofia Schneider Bruch (MSc student, Research Assistant) – November 2022 to September 2023
  • Dr. Helen Kurkjian (Postdoc) – January 2021 to August 2023
  • Dr. Jeanine Brantschen (MSc student, then PhD student) – January 2018 to June 2023 – Lab Project Manager SimplexDNA
  • Andrea Patrignani (Project-based Technician) – March to May 2023
  • Sindhura Stothra Bhashyam (Field Assistant) – March 2023
  • Dr. Hsi-Cheng Ho (Postdoc) – November 2020 to November 2022 – now Assistant Professor at National Taiwan University
  • Eliane Hirt (MSc student) – February 2022 to October 2022
  • Evelin Pandiamakkal (Field Assistant) – May to August 2022
  • Nicolò Tartini (Field Assistant) – April 2022 to October 2022 – now PhD student at University of Bern
  • Nikola Vulin (Zivi) – April 2022 to May 2022 – Machine Learning Engineer at Nautilus Inc.
  • Andrin Krähenbühl (Scientific Assistant) – June 2018 to April 2022 – now head of Fisheries Advisory Service FIBER
  • Angela Studer (MSc Student) – February 2021 to March 2022 – now PhD student at Agroscope
  • Francesca Cerroti (MSc student) – January 2021 to February 2022 – now PhD student at SUPSI
  • Jessica Colombo (MSc student) – September 2020 to August 2021 – now Intern at SUPSI
  • Ramona Petrig (Intern) – June 2021 to August 2021
  • Dr. Felix Moerman (PhD student) – January 2017 to May 2021 – now SNSF postdoc at University of Edinburgh
  • Anouk Petitpierre (Internship) – February/March 2021 – MSc Student in Biostatistics at University of Zurich
  • Dr. Lynn Govaert (Postdoc) – May 2018 to December 2020 – now Junior Research Group Leader and Emmy Noether Fellow at IGB Berlin
  • Sarah Bollina (Student Research Assistant) – September to November 2020 – now doing MSc at Lund University
  • Dr. Claire Jacquet (Postdoc) – September 2017 to October 2020 – now CNRS researcher at Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier and University of Montpellier, France
  • Špela Borko (visiting PhD student) – August to October 2020 – PhD student at University of Ljubljana
  • Bahar Yildirim (visiting MSc student) – January to December 2020
  • Dr. Morgane Brosse (Postdoc) – January to July 2020 – thereafter working at BAFU/FOEN, now back in Altermatt lab as Project Coordinator BGB
  • Dr. Elvira Mächler (Semester student, MSc student, scientific assistant, PhD student) – September 2011 to February 2020 – now Postdoc at University of Bern
  • Franziska Wolf (Research Internship) – January to February 2020 – now MSc studies at UZH
  • Nicole Bongni (MSc student) – January 2019 to January 2020 – now at Suter von Känel Wild – Planer und Architekten AG.
  • Eilísh Richards (Msc student) – January 2019 to January 2020 – now Journal Publishing Manager – Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Teddy Nakato (MSc student) – January 2019 to January 2020
  • Dr. Isabelle Gounand (Postdoc) – February 2015 to December 2019 – now CNRS researcher (CR) at the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences of Paris
  • Heng Zhang (visiting scientist from Peking University) – October 2019 to December 2020 – now back in Altermatt lab for a PhD
  • Géraldine Keat (Research Internship) – November and December 2019 – now Life science Research Professional at Stanford University
  • Tianna Peller (visiting PhD student) – June and July 2019 – PhD student at McGill University
  • Dr. Chelsea J. Little (PhD student) – November 2014 to June 2019 – now Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada
  • Angela Jenny (MSc student) – July 2018 to June 2019 – Project Engineer Basler & Hofmann, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Dr. Kristy Deiner (Research Associate) – June 2018 to February 2019 – now Assistant Professor and ERC Starting Grant holder at ETH Zurich
  • Manja Schleich (Student Assistant) – November 2018 to December 2018 – Scientific Assistant at Agrofutura (Ecological Consultancy), Brugg, Switzerland
  • Dr. Rubén del Campo Gonzales (visiting Postdoc)  September 2018 to November 2018 – Senior Postdoc at University of Innsbruck, Austria
  • Xing Xing (Research Assistant) – November 2017 to November 2018
  • Kathrin Holenstein (MSc student/Scientific Assistant) – January 2017 to September 2018 – now PhD student at CEFE in Montpellier, France
  • Julian Stauffer (Research Internship) – June 2018 to September 2018 – now doing a PhD at GEOMAR
  • Olaf Rodrigues (Semester Student) – May 2018 to July 2018 – now doing a MSc at ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Prof. Dr. Mary O’Connor (Sabbatical Guest) – August 2017 to July 2018 – Professor at University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Simon Benateau (Research Associate) – September 2017 to May 2018 – Project leader at Muséum national d’Historie naturelle, Paris, France
  • Dr. Emanuel A. Fronhofer (Postdoc) – April 2013 to December 2017 – now CNRS researcher at Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier, France
  • Dr. Eric Harvey (Postdoc) – February 2015 to August 2017 – now Professor at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
  • Lynn Govaert (visting PhD student) – May 2017 to July 2017 – University of Leuven – thereafter back in the Altermatt lab as a postdoc
  • Martina Torquato (ehem. Ramel) (MSc student) – November 2015 to December 2016 – now now Naturwissenschaftliche Fachspezialistin at Stadtforstamt Baden
  • Dr. Cene Fišer (visting scientist) – September to December 2016 – University of Ljubljana
  • Dr. Andrea Giometto (PhD student, Postdoc) – October 2011 to September 2016 – now Assistant Professor at Cornell University
  • Sereina Gut (Technician) – October 2015 to August 2016 – now MSc student (Biomedicince) at UZH
  • Dr. Maslin Osathanunkul (visiting scientist) – May to June 2016 – lecturer at Chiangmai University
  • Fabienne Fässler (ehem. Santschi) (MSc student) – September 2015 to May 2016 – now Naturwissenschaftliche Fachspezialistin at Stadtforstamt Baden, Switzerland
  • Simon Flückiger (Zivi) – September 2015 to May 2016 – now MSc student at ZHAW
  • Vid Svara (visiting scientist) – October 2015 to January 2016 – now PhD student at Helmholtz Leipzig, Germany
  • Katharina Kaelin (MSc student) – September 2014 to December 2015 – now Scientist at the Statistical Office of the Canton of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Pravin Ganesanandamoorthy (lab technician) – September 2013 to July 2015 – now student at ZHAW
  • Dr. Kristy Deiner (Postdoc) – October 2012 to June 2015 – thereafter postdoc at Cornell University (website)
  • Nicolai Nitsche (MSc Student) – May 2014 to October 2014 – now in pharmaceutical research (Abbvie)
  • Dr. Mathew Seymour (PhD student) – May 2011 to October 2014 – Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong, China
  • Dr. Jan Klecka (SCIEX Postdoc) – August 2013 to August 2014 – now junior group leader at Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
  • Dr. Francesco Carrara (PhD student) – January 2011 to December 2013 – now postdoc at MIT and ETH with Roman Stocker, Zurich
  • Lea Caduff (biology apprentice) – March 2013 to August 2013 – now a technician at Eawag, Switzerland
  • Roman Alther (M.Sc. project student) – March 2012 to May 2012 – back again in the Altermatt lab for PhD and now as Senior Research Assistant (website)
  • Marta Reyes (research technician) – January 2012 to May 2012 – now a technician at Eawag, Switzerland