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Strategic Plans
Three Breakthrough Areas
Location: Home > Strategic Plans > Three Breakthrough Areas
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Three Breakthrough Areas

      Maintenance and Regulation of Forest Ecosystem Functions

As an integral part of terrestrial ecosystems, the forest ecosystem can conserve soil and water, sequester CO2, mitigate environmental hazards, mediate climate, and maintain biodiversity. These functions are crucial to life on earth. However, long-term forest exploitation due to human activities have caused serious ecological and environmental problems such as biodiversity loss, decline in forest quality and stability, habitat fragmentation across forest landscapes, and a decline in forest ecosystem services. Such problems have threatened the ecological integrity of China’s forests. To address these problems, IAE has been focusing research on the structure, function, processes, and regulation of forest ecosystems, in order to reveal the mechanisms governing interactions between forest and environment under global climate change and increasing human activities. We monitor and evaluate the ecological and environmental effects of state key forestry projects such as the Natural Forest Protection Program, the Shelter Forest Program, and the Conversion of Cropland to Forest and Grassland Program. We also conduct studies to optimize the configuration of forest landscapes; develop theories and technical solutions for forest resource protection, management and restoration; and provide technical support for ecological engineering in China. In the coming decade, the Institute will strive to achieve major scientific advances in the following research areas: (1) the relationship forest productivity and biodiversity, and maintenance of biodiversity in natural forest ecosystems; (2) key processes that control the primary productivity of artificial forest plantations; (3) forest soil biota and their ecological functions; (4) biogeochemical cycles and the interactions of elements; (5) forest landscape management that shapes the structure, function, and stability of forest ecosystems; (6) linkages and feedbacks between above-ground and below-ground processes; and (7) stoichiometric controls of forest ecosystem primary productivity.

In the past decade, the Institute of Applied Ecology has attained noteworthy accomplishments in the following areas that are related to this research theme: (1) Pattern, dynamics and maintenance mechanisms of biodiversity in the natural forests of Changbai Mountain; (2) Influence of human activities on the structure and function of old-growth forest ecosystems and the regeneration mechanisms of key tree species (e.g., Korean pine) in the forests of northeastern China; (3) Theory and technology for sustainable natural forest management; (4) Structure, function and kinetic laws of canopy-atmosphere, soil-atmosphere and root-soil interfaces, (5) Site degradation and management practices of timber plantation forests; (6) Degradation processes of sandy lands and experiment and demonstration of utilizing human-assisted vegetation recovery; (7) Forest management theory and technology of the Three-North Shelterbelt; (8) Carbon cycling in artificial forests and their response and feedback to global climate change; and (9) Forest landscape processes and their underlying mechanisms. More detailed information on these research topics is provided in the Appendix (List of Research Impacts).

The Institute currently has a cluster of research groups in forest ecology working in this major field ¾ Natural Forest Conservation Group, Secondary Forest Ecology and Management Group, Plantation Forest Ecology Group, Boundary Interface Ecology Group, Ecological Meteorology Group, Forestry Eco-engineering Group, Landscape Ecology Group, Landscape Process Group, and Disturbance Ecology Group. The cluster has 18 senior scientists (full professors), 16 associated scientists, 18 assistant scientists, and more than 60 postdoctoral scientists, Ph.D. and M.S. students. The staff is comprised of: (a) a “Chinese Academy of Sciences International Collaboration and Partnership Innovation Team”; (b) two chief-scientists of “National Basic Research Program of China (973 Project)”; (c) a recipient of the Chinese “Distinguished Young Scholars of NSFC”; (d) two recipients of the Chinese NSFC “National Excellent Young Scientist Award”; and (e) four CAS-endowed “One Hundred Talents Program” scientists. A detailed biography of principal investigators is provided in the Appendix.

Research related to the maintenance and regulation of forest ecosystem functions relies primarily on the following facilities: the State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology; the Changbai Mountain Forest Ecosystem Research Station; the Huitong Forest Ecological Research Station; the Qingyuan Forest Ecological Research Station; the Grand Green Valley Sandy Land Ecological Experiment Station; the Desertification Research Experiment Station in Ulanaodu and the Shenyang Ecological Arboretum. Major scientific research platforms include: (1) A large fixed plot with a total area of more than 40 ha for monitoring and research of natural forest biodiversity in the Changbai Mountain, including 25 ha of mixed broadleaf Korean pine and several auxiliary sample plots of 1–5 ha; (2) Global change research experiment: a long-term OTC simulation experiment on responses of tree species to elevated CO2, a long-term carbon and water flux observation system in a mixed broadleaf Korean pine forest, large-scale field experiments on carbon, nitrogen and water in forest ecosystems, a tower crane observation system above the forest canopy; (3) Forest hydrology simulation laboratory for small-scale hydrological processes; (4) 30 1-ha experimental plots for natural forest management; (5) 56 1-ha sampling plots in plantation forests with different tree species and age classes, with long-term treatments such as mixed species plantation, fertilization, harvesting, litter addition and removal, and thinning and pruning; and (6) Fixed sampling plots in plantation forests for sand-fixation with different forest age classes and cultivation patterns since 1975.

      Terrestrial Biogeochemical Cycles and Their Controls

Properly maintaining and enhancing soil functions and advancing scientific understanding of terrestrial biogeochemical cycles has been one of the highest priorities in the national and international research agenda. The IAE possesses the historical infrastructure and intellectual strength to address this need and to make significant scientific and societal contributions in this major field of study. In the coming decade, the Institute plans to achieve major scientific and technological advances in the following areas: the stabilizing and destabilizing mechanisms of soil organic matter; the coupling and interactions of carbon and nitrogen transformation processes; the relationship between ecosystem stoichiometry and ecosystem functions; soil carbon sequestration and microorganism-mediated carbon transformations; and development of new techniques for increasing fertilizer use efficiency. We set these goals based on our current and future strengths.

Our ongoing research has made significant impacts in the following areas: (1) Discovering mechanisms responsible for soil carbon and nitrogen retention and storage; (2) Finding new mechanisms governing the control and influence of soil N dynamics and N use efficiency; (3) Defining the role of soil biological interactions in regulating C-N cycling; (4) Investigating ecological stoichiometric mechanisms in C-N cycling processes; (5) Developing new approaches for tracing soil microbial residues and metabolites through time; (6) Exploring the role of newly produced microbial residues in regulating SOM storage; and (7) Guiding technical development in new high-efficiency fertilizers and biological fertilizers. More detailed information on these research topics is provided in the Appendix (List of Research Impacts).

The Institute currently has a cluster of 11 research groups working in this major field ¾ Soil Ecology; Soil Chemistry; Applied Soil Chemistry and Ecology; Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers; Nutrient Cycles; Biogeochemistry; Ecological Stoichiometry; Rhizosphere Ecology; Agricultural Water Conservation; Agricultural Water and Soil Engineering and Ecological Engineering for Agriculture. The cluster has 15 senior scientists (full professors), 18 associated scientists, 18 assistant scientists, and 5 assistant researchers. Among the 15 senior scientists, six are research leaders in the Center (Drs. X. Han, W. Cheng, X. Zhang, Z. Wu, E. Bai and C. Liang), who have held nationally influential positions such as the Chief Scientist for the National “973” Project, nationally endowed “One Thousand Talent Plan” scientist, CAS-endowed “One Hundred Talents Program” scientist, and the Chief Scientist for the “863 Agricultural Project”. A detailed biography of each leader is provided in the appendix.

This major field of study is also built upon our strength in research infrastructure, which consists of national and regional key laboratories and research centers. The State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology focuses on research related to soil biodiversity and ecosystem functions, biogeochemical cycles of nutrient elements, and interactive mechanisms among nutrient elements. The major research topics of The National Laboratory of Soil Nutrient Engineering and Management includes: prevention and acclimation of soil degradation; enhancement of soil fertility and use of organic materials; precision and efficiency of soil nutrient management; and development of new fertilizers. The Shenyang Agro-ecosystem Research Station was established in 1987, was integrated into the CERN network in 1992, and was formally incorporated into the National Field Observation Network in 2005. Ongoing research at the station includes: improvement of the structure and functions of grain crop agro-ecosystems; sustainable development of agriculture; ecologically efficient use of soil resources; nutrient and water cycling in agro-ecosystems, and techniques for improving nutrient and water use efficiencies. The Liaoning Provincial Key Laboratory for Soil Environmental Quality and Agricultural Product Safety conducts research related to regional planning for arable lands, monitoring of soil quality and the quality of agricultural products, changes in soil quality under intensive agricultural production, and key safe production techniques and their extension. The Liaoning Provincial Key Laboratory for Water-Saving Agriculture focuses primarily on major research issues in the arid and semi-arid area of western Liaoning Province, including water conservation tillage, key agricultural techniques for water conservation, coupling mechanisms between fertilization and water, and research development of water-saving materials. The Liaoning Provincial Center for Fertilizer Engineering Research, as the national leader for development of high efficiency fertilizers and the primary source of national standards for the entire industrial sector of high efficiency fertilizers, screens new nitrification and urease inhibitors, conducts research on the development of new high efficiency fertilizers and biological fertilizers, and showcases new fertilizer production techniques and product extensions. The Shenyang City Center for Agricultural Product Safety Services focuses on research related to efficient use of agro-chemicals in the surrounding area of Shenyang City, proper use and treatment of agricultural by-products, and integrative techniques and procedures for safe agricultural production.

      Soil-Plant System Pollution Ecology and Ecological Restoration of Polluted Soil and Water

Over the past 30 years, rapid economic growth in China has unfortunately led to serious environmental problems, such as pollution of air and water, disposal of solid wastes, changes in land use patterns and decline in resource use efficiency, which have become an obstacle to sustainable economic growth. Expanded industrial and agricultural activities resulting from such rapid economic growth have generated significant levels of pollutants in the environment. Northeast China has been well recognized as the nation’s center for heavy industry and agriculture, which in turn has contributed to problems of environmental pollution. Understanding the occurrence and toxicities of pollutants in the ecosystem is one of the top research priorities worldwide. This has inevitably provided many opportunities for scientists at IAE to tackle the scientific questions on pollution ecology and environmental management. The research program on pollution ecology initiated by our institute is one of the first of its kind nationwide and has achieved a solid reputation in the field in China.

Significant progress has been made at the Institute in the field of pollution ecology over the past 30 years. The substantial time and effort put forth by generations of scientists from the Pollution Ecology and Environmental Management Center have greatly enhanced our understanding in the following areas: (1) The relationship between pollution sources, occurrence and distribution in northeast China and the mechanisms for the formation and distribution of the pollutants in the field. Typical pollutants include heavy metals such as Cd, As and Cr, and organic pollutants such as PAHs, POPs, PPCPs and TPHs; (2) The transport, behavior, speciation, transformation and ultimate fate of these typical pollutants at different scales in the soil-plant system and in aquatic ecosystems; (3) Toxicities of pollutants from molecular, individual, population, and community to ecosystem levels, especially the underlying mechanisms for the observed toxicities at different biological levels; (4) Pollution control and environmental restoration; in particular, the innovation and/or improvement of existing wastewater treatment technologies and restoration and phytoremediation of contaminated soils; (5) Circular economy and industrial ecology: improved symbiotic relationships and environmental functions in regional material recycling in order to achieve energy conservation and emission reduction as well as sustainable economic development in the region. Achievements from these efforts have been greatly appreciated by the scientific communities both at home and abroad (Please see Appendix for detailed information on these research topics).

The Center for Pollution Ecology and Environmental Management has eight independent research groups ¾ Ecological Processes of Pollution, Soil Pollution Ecology, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Molecular Science, Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Physics, Circular Economy and Industrial Ecology, and Environmental Toxicology. The groups have 33 research scientists ¾ 11 research professors, 13 associate research professors, and 9 assistant research professors, 24 Ph.D. students, and 37 M.S. students. The majority of the scientists have international research experience. This interdisciplinary team is financially supported by the International Cooperative Partnership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. One of our scientists is principal investigator of the “973” national key research project; two scientists have been awarded outstanding early-career grants by the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), and four young scientists were selected for funding by the Hundred-Talent Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The principal investigators of this environmental team include Dr. Guo Shu-Hai, Dr. Jia Yong-Feng, Dr. Geng Yong, Dr. Xie Ling-Tian, and Dr. Zhuang Jie. Detailed biographies of each are available in the Appendix.

Research by scientists of the Pollution Ecology and Environmental Management Center is facilitated by a research infrastructure that consists of key laboratories of CAS and the provincial government. The Key Laboratory of Pollution Ecology and Environmental Engineering (CAS) was established in 2009 and focuses on research related to effects of pollution on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, risk assessment of various types of pollutants, and restoration and phytoremediation of contaminated environments. The Laboratory of Ecological Restoration Technique, which is supported by Liaoning Province and was established in 2009, focuses on the development of ecological restoration techniques for contaminated environments and innovative techniques for wastewater treatment. The Laboratory of Petroleum Pollution Prevention and Ecological Restoration was established and funded by Liaoning Province in 2010. The laboratory focuses on the prevention of contamination from waste water and the proper disposal of solid wastes from the petroleum industry.

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