Community Ecology Research


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.


Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt

Associate 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. Learn more about my research and teaching.

Besides my interest in conceptual community ecology, I’m also a keen naturalist. My pleasures are–as Vladimir Nabokov said once–the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting (with the camera).  Read more about my passion for Lepidoptera.

Dr. Roman Alther

Senior Research Assistant

As a research assistant in the Altermatt lab, my goal is to establish well-founded knowledge about the distribution and diversity of native and non-native amphipod species in Switzerland. I want to gain a deeper insight into processes forming biodiversity patterns over time and space. Dendritic aquatic systems represent a suitable study system wherein different ecological and evolutionary mechanics, such as dispersal, invasion and speciation, can be studied.

Dr. Rosetta C. Blackman


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. 

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.

Jeanine Brantschen

PhD student

As I have always been affiliated with water bodies and the underwater world, my studies revolve around aquatic ecosystems. Generally, I’m interested in how biodiversity is distributed in riverine networks. My research aims to use environmental DNA as a tool to characterize aquatic communities and analyse their composition and function in the context of whole river ecosystems. In this era of -omics technologies, I see environmental DNA as a promising molecular technique and I want to relate it to classical methods applied in biomonitoring. Beyond the general interest to better understand the distribution of biodiversity, I aim to further understand the link between genes and ecosystems, for example, how genetic diversity contributes to the functioning of ecosystems and how functions are encoded genetically.

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


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.

Eva Cereghetti

PhD student

I am a PhD student with a keen interest in meta-ecosystem dynamics and the functional role of species. My work in the Altermatt Lab focuses 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.

Francesca Cerroti

MSc Student

I’m a MSc student at the University of Zurich. I just finished my bachelor’s degree in biology and I will do my MSc at UZH/Eawag. I have always been very interested in the effects of environmental changes on organisms and the consequences that these alterations can have on the entire ecosystem and biodiversity. In my project, I will use amphipods in small tributaries to study ecological dynamics in the context of global changes, with a focus on meta-ecosystem dynamics.

Dr. Marjorie Couton


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.

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.

Dr. Luis J. Gilarranz

SNSF Ambizione Fellow

My global aim is to understand the factors that shape biodiversity in space. Species interactions, dispersal, and perturbations rule community dynamics. Those factors determine the health of the system at each location. Specifically, I am interested in the role of dispersal networks for population persistence and perturbation buffering. By not considering only one species, but communities as a whole, I explore the biogeography of interactions. My goal is to determine how dispersal routes influence the spatial distribution of ecological networks. The existence of several interaction networks scattered across the landscape also allow me to study the effect of anthropogenic stressors on the stability of ecological networks. This research line is very much related with information flow and risk assessment in complex systems. This is why using tools developed for studying ecological phenomena, my collaborators and I have been able to provide insight on socioeconomic systems.

Dr. Sabine Güsewell


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. Hsi-Cheng Ho


My academic interest lies at the intersection of animal behavior and community ecology. To be specific, I am particularly curious about how behavioral effects could scale-up to determine community-level ecological phenomena. Having worked on revealing how foraging behavior influences the architecture and dynamics of food webs, I am currently focusing on resolving community structure, functional traits, and trophic networks across spatially-coupled blue-green ecosystems. This current project is built on existing datasets collected by plenty of Eawag and WSL researchers, and is supervised by Prof. Altermatt and Prof. Pellissier.

Samuel Hürlemann

Lab technician

I am a biology lab technician with a broad experience in molecular biology and cell culturing techniques. I am interested in environmental sciences and lab methods used therein. My main responsibilities are running the microbiology and protist lab, support molecular and field work and being involved in planning and running experiments.

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.

Dr. François Keck


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.

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.

Andrin Krähenbühl

Research Assistant

My interests are mainly focused on aquatic ecology and evolution. Seeing species communities as structured and highly interactive networks enables me to investigate a wide range of organisms often times finding similar underlying mechanisms shaping intra- and interspecific ecological and evolutionary patterns. As a scientific assistant at the Altermatt Lab my goal is to test and establish experimental laboratory facilities and standardized methods suitable for successfully keeping and hopefully also rearing various populations of amphipods. Besides my scientific interests I’m a passionate fisherman enjoying nature and fishing for amphipod feeding fish.

Nadine Locher


As an apprentice here in the Aquatic Ecology department, I will look into many areas of the Altermatt group and support the lab organization in general. Most of all I will work with environmental DNA, where we look at the diversity and distribution of invertebrates in rivers next to wastewater treatment plant outlets. Beside this, I am very interested in the chemical backgrounds of molecular biology.

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. 


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.

Dr. Tianna Peller

Dr. Tianna Peller


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.

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.

Angela Studer

MSc Student

I am a Master student at University of Zurich/Eawag. During my basic studies in biology, I realized that biodiversity and the interrelationships between different organisms fascinates me. As a master student, I investigate the occurrence and diversity of amphipods in the catchment area of the river Töss. The aim of my thesis is to create a temporally and spatially highly resolved understanding of their distribution. The main focus will be on the groundwater amphipods. Also in my time off, I love to be in nature and marvelling at the tiny things in it.

Remo Wüthrich

Research Associate

As diving professional I became fascinated by aquatic ecosystems and the species communities living therein. My current work focuses on freshwater ecosystems. Placing emphasis on aquatic invertebrates that live on the bottom of the body of water (macroinvertebrates), I’m interested in studying natural and manmade processes that form diversity patterns and shape species’ distribution and dispersal. My current project aims to synthesize the on-going national monitoring projects in Swiss lotic water systems and to develop visionary strategies how BAFU can improve them.

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 Alumni already dispersed

  • Jessica Colombo (MSc Student) – September 2020 to August 2021
  • 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 – Biology student at UZH
  • Dr. Lynn Govaert (Postdoc) – May 2018 to December 2020 – now Junior Research Group Leader 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 Postdoc at the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE)
  • 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 – now working at BAFU/FOEN
  • 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 internship at Kanton Aargau, Departement Bau, Verkehr und Umwelt
  • Eilísh Richards (Msc student) – January 2019 to January 2020 – now research assistant at ETHZ
  • 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) – October 2019 to December 2020 – now Peking University
  • Géraldine Keat (Research Internship) – November and December 2019
  • 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 Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at UBC
  • Angela Jenny (MSc student) – July 2018 to June 2019
  • 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 – now doing a MSc project at University of Zurich
  • Dr. Rubén del Campo Gonzales (visiting Postdoc)  September 2018 to November 2018 – Postdoc at IGB, Berlin
  • 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 MSc at University of Zurich
  • Olaf Rodrigues (Semester Student) – May 2018 to July 2018 – now doing a MSc at ETH Zurich
  • Prof. Dr. Mary O’Connor (Sabbatical Guest) – August 2017 to July 2018 – Professor at University of British Columbia
  • Simon Benateau (Research Associate) – September 2017 to May 2018 – LinkedIn
  • 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 NSERC postdoc at University of Toronto
  • Lynn Govaert (visting PhD student) – May 2017 to July 2017 – University of Leuven – now back in the Altermatt lab as a postdoc
  • Martina Torquato (ehem. Ramel) (MSc student) – November 2015 to December 2016 – now working 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 Postdoc at Harvard
  • 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 working at Stadtforstamt Baden
  • 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
  • Katharina Kaelin (MSc student) – September 2014 to December 2015 – now working at the Statistical Office of the Canton of Zurich
  • 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 – now postdoc at Bangor University, Bangor.
  • 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
  • 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