Sabine Both

Lecturer - School of Environmental and Rural Science

Sabine Both

Phone: +61 6773 4308



I joined UNE in 2018 as Lecturer in Vegetation Management. Previously I was based at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.

I have broad expertise in undertaking scientific research in forest ecosystems around the world, with observational studies in subtropical China, in small and large-scale forest biodiversity and ecosystem functioning experiments, and in pristine and selectively logged tropical rainforest in Malaysian Borneo. I have spent more than 29 months conducting fieldwork in these forests!

Observational studies form an important part of my research and shed light on the relationships between species richness of various taxa, the functional traits of species, and the interplay with their abiotic environment. To evaluate the functioning of forest ecosystems, I have focussed on a wide range of functions such as plant community productivity, decomposition and nutrient cycling, herbivory, habitat invasibility and the invasion of exotic plant species. Most recently, to quantify the relative importance of functional plant traits for ecosystem functions, I analysed more than 30 structural, physiological and anatomical traits from almost 300 tree species in tropical rainforest in Borneo.

I am passionate about designing and conducting ecological experiments, which enable us to understand biotic and abiotic relationships within an ecological community.


2011 - Ph.D. in Biology (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany), Topic: “Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning across structural strata in subtropical forests in China“

2008 - Diploma (B.Sc. + M.Sc.) in Biology (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany) studying “Trait diversity in woody species in a subtropical forest in Dujiangyan (Sichuan, China)”

Teaching Areas

ECOL100 - Ecology: Concepts and Applications (Coordinator)

BIOL120 - Biology II

Research Interests

In my scientific research I focus on tropical and subtropical species-rich forest ecosystems and the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functions. My main interest lies in the interactions between tree species richness and functional diversity of tropical forests and the relationship with other trophic levels.

In observational and experimental studies I investigate plant community responses to species diversity as well as plant-plant interactions and plant-soil interactions and the mechanisms behind these relationships. Due to the complexity of these interactions, I often use experimental studies to disentangle biotic and abiotic links.

In 2018 and 2019 I received Robine Enid Wilson Grants to study plant-herbivore interactions and their response to elevation and functional plant traits. The motivation for these projects is that global change is predicted to affect temperature and precipitation regimes, but also the presence and abundance of herbivores and certain plant species. Elevation gradients offer an opportunity to simulate climate change because the increase in elevation causes alterations in microclimate, like temperature and humidity, and often coincides with differences in soil properties. The different habitats along an elevation gradient are ideal to study the effect of the environment on trees and herbivores. They help us to understand what might happen to a forest when climatic conditions change. It is likely that some tree species will cope better with such modifications whilst others will be seriously threatened. This knowledge can be essential for the management of existing forest and to facilitate the protection of rare tree species. In addition, there are feedback effects from plant species to herbivores, mainly through plant functional traits. Functional diversity in plant communities can strengthen ecosystem functioning but the impact of plant herbivores is insufficiently clear and is needed to understand today’s threats from global climate change. This research will be undertaken in the New England National Park, New South Wales, in 2018-2020


Nunes M, Both S, Philipson C, Bongalov B, Brelsford C, Burslem DFRP, Coomes D, Majalap N, Cutler M (accepted) ‘Greening of rainforest leaves, and other trait changes, associated with an El Niño event in Borneo’. Environmental Research Letters.

Goebes P, Schmidt K, Seitz S, Both S, Bruelheide H, Erfmeier A, Scholten T, Kühn P (2019) ‘Strength of soil – plant relationships under forest – is there a critical soil depth?’ Scientific Reports.

Both S, Riutta T, Paine CET, Elias DM, Chino R, Jain A, Johnson D, Kritzler UH, Kuntz M, Majalap-Lee N, Mielke N, Montoya Pilco MX, Ostle NJ, Teh YA, Malhi Y, Burslem DFRP (2018) ‘Logging and soil nutrients independently explain plant trait expression in tropical forests’. New Phytologist, vol 221(4), pp. 1853-1865. DOI: 10.1111/nph.15444

Blonder B, Both S, Coomes D, Elias D, Jucker T, Kvasnica J, Majalap N, Malhi Y, Milodowski D, Riutta T, Svatek M (2018) ‘Logging causes extreme and highly heterogeneous tropical forest microclimates’.Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, vol 1. DOI: 10.3389/ffgc.2018.00005

Huang Y, Chen Y, Castro-Izaguirre N, Baruffol M, Brezzi M, Lang A, Li Y, Härdtle W, von Oheimb G, Yang X, Pei K, Both S et al. (2018) ‘Strong positive biodiversity–productivity relationships in a subtropical forest experiment’. Science, vol 362(6410), pp. 80-83. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat6405

Jucker T, Hardwick SR, Both S, Elias DM, Ewers RM, Milodowski DT, Swinfield T, Coomes DA (2018) ‘Canopy structure and topography jointly constrain the microclimate of human‐modified tropical landscapes.’ Global Change Biology, vol 24(11), pp. 5243-5258. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14415

Riutta T, Malhi Y, Kho LK, Marthews TR, Huaraca Huasco W, Khoo M, Tan S, Turner E, Reynolds G, Both S, Burslem DFRP et al. (2018). ‘Logging disturbance shifts net primary productivity and its allocation in Bornean tropical forests’. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14068

Trogisch S, Schuldt A, Bauhaus J, Blum J, Both S, Buscot F, Castro-Izaguirre N et al. (2017) 'Towards a methodical framework for comprehensively assessing forest multifunctionality'. Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3488

Both S, Elias D, Kritzler UH, Ostle NJ & Johnson D (2017) 'Land use not litter quality is a stronger driver of decomposition in hyper-diverse tropical forest'. Ecology and Evolution, vol 7, pp. 9307-9318. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3460

Yang B, Li Y, Ding B, Both S, Erfmeier A, Härdtle W, Ma K, Schmid B, Scholten T et al. (2017). 'Impact of tree diversity and environmental conditions on the survival of shrub species in a forest biodiversity experiment in subtropical China'. Plant Ecology, vol 10 (1), pp. 179-189. DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtw099

Apaza-Quevedo A, Lippok D, Hensen I, Schleuning M & Both S (2015). 'Elevation, Topography and Edge Effects Drive Functional Composition of Woody Plant Species in Tropical Montane Forests'. Biotropica, vol 47 (4), pp. 449-458. DOI: 10.1111/btp.12232

Gao C, Zhang Y, Shi N-N, Zheng Y, Chen L, Wubet T, Bruelheide H, Both S et al. (2015). 'Community assembly of ectomycorrhizal fungi along a subtropical secondary forest succession'. New Phytologist, vol 205 (2), pp. 771-785. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13068

Schuldt A, Wubet T, Buscot F, Staab M, Assmann T, Böhnke-Kammerlander M, Both S et al. (2015). 'Multitrophic diversity in a biodiverse forest is highly nonlinear across spatial scales'. Nature communications, vol 6, 10169. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10169

Nadrowski K, Pietsch K, Baruffol M, Both S, Gutknecht J, Bruelheide H, Heklau H et al. (2014). 'Tree species traits but not diversity mitigate stem breakage in a subtropical forest following a rare and extreme ice storm'. PLoS ONE, vol 9 (5), e96022. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096022

Bruelheide H, Nadrowski K, Assmann T, Bauhus J, Both S, Buscot F, Chen X-Y et al. (2014). 'Designing forest biodiversity experiments: general considerations illustrated by a new large experiment in subtropical China'. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, vol 5 (1), pp. 74-89. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12126

Yang X, Bauhus J, Both S, Fang T, Härdtle W, Kröber W, Ma K, Nadrowski K et al. (2013). 'Establishment success in a forest biodiversity and ecosystem functioning experiment in subtropical China (BEF-China)'. European Journal of Forest Research, vol 132 (4), pp. 593-606. DOI: 10.1007/s10342-013-0696-z

Wu YT, Wubet T, Trogisch S, Both S, Scholten T, Bruelheide H & Buscot F (2013). 'Forest age and plant species composition determine the soil fungal community composition in a Chinese subtropical forest'. PLoS ONE, vol 8 (6), e66829. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066829

Bachmann D, Both S, Bruelheide H, Ding BY, Gao M, Haerdtle W, Scherer-Lorenzen M et al. (2012). 'Functional trait similarity of native and invasive herb species in subtropical China: environment-specific differences are the key'. Environmental and Experimental Botany, vol 83, pp. 82-92. DOI: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2012.04.009

Wu YT, Gutknecht J, Nadrowski K, Geissler C, Kühn P, Scholten T, Both S et al. (2012). 'Relationships between soil microorganisms, plant communities, and soil characteristics in Chinese subtropical forests'. Ecosystems, vol 15 (4), pp. 624-636. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-012-9533-3

Both S, Fang T, Baruffol M, Schmid B, Bruelheide H & Erfmeier A (2012). 'Effects of tree sapling diversity and nutrient addition on herb-layer invasibility in communities of subtropical species'. Open Journal of Ecology, vol 2 (1), pp. 1-11. DOI: 10.4236/oje.2012.21001

Both S, Fang T, Böhnke M, Bruelheide H, Geissler C, Kühn P, Scholten T, Trogisch S et al. (2011). 'Lack of tree layer control on herb layer characteristics in a subtropical forest, China'. Journal of Vegetation Science, vol 22 (6), pp. 1120-1131. DOI: 10.1111/j.1654-1103.2011.01324.x

Schuldt A, Both S, Bruelheide H, Härdtle W, Schmid B, Zhou H & Assmann T (2011). 'Predator diversity and abundance provide little support for the enemies hypothesis in forests of high tree diversity'. PLoS ONE, vol 6 (7), e22905. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022905

Bruelheide H, Böhnke M, Both S, Fang T, Assmann T, Baruffol M, Bauhus J, Buscot F et al. (2011). 'Community assembly during secondary forest succession in a Chinese subtropical forest'. Ecological Monographs, vol 81 (1), pp. 25-41. DOI: 10.1890/09-2172.1


Associate Editor of Plant Ecology & Diversity

Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, UK

External Profiles

Further Information

Potential student projects

  • Leaf anatomical traits of Borneo’s rainforest trees
  • The relationship of wood anatomical traits and land-use modification in Bornean rainforests
  • Plant-herbivore interactions along an elevation gradient in the New England National Park

Please get in touch if you are interested in one of these student projects or if you have project ideas in the area of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning relationships and forest ecosystems.