Sofia J.
van Moorsel





I am a community ecologist interested in rapid evolution and how it influences community stability and functioning. Currently, I am a Postdoc at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

E-mail: sofia.vanmoorsel[at]ieu.uzh.ch

For a series of experiments on eco-evolutionary feedbacks in the coming months, I'm looking for a student! I'd be happy to be your MSc project host or to have you in the lab for a shorter research project/internship.
You may also want to check out the lab webpage of the Petchey Group Page. For MSc theses, have a look at the eligibility criteria on the University of Zurich webpage.



February 17, '21. New publication! My commentary entitled Born with a silver spoon: Dandelion parents’ life experiences affect the lives and afterlives of their offspring has now been published in New Phytologist! I commented on the excellent paper by Javier Puy & colleagues and wrote about how transgenerational inheritance of plasticity via epigenetic mechanisms can provide a way for plants to adapt to a changing climate and novel competitors. The paper is open access (yay!) and can be found here.

February 3, '21. Editorial board member at Ecology & Evolution. I'm thrilled to announce that I have joined the editorial board of Ecology & Evolution as an Associate Editor!

jena August 17, '20. Manuscript accepted! I'm thrilled that my final PhD chapter entitled Co-occurrence history increases ecosystem stability and resilience in experimental plant communities has been accepted for publication in Ecology. In this paper, we showed that co-selected plant communities recovered better from a flood than naïve communities and they were also more temporally stable in terms of their community biomass. The paper is now published online!

July 13, '20. New preprint! In the framework of my PhD project and the Jena Experiment, we looked at the influence of plant diversity and plant community history on microbial soil community composition. Have a look at the preprint here!

June 15, '20. Grant awarded! I got awarded a competitive UZH Forschungskredit Postdoc grant to conduct a series of experiments investigating the response of aquatic plant communities to environmental stress and how it's modified by diversity!

May 14, '20. I'm happy to announce that in a couple of months, on 1st of July 2020, I will return to the University of Zurich where I will continue my current projects with Andy Gonzalez and Owen Petchey. Due to COVID-19, we'll have to see what form this research will take.

Jan 29, '20. New preprint alert! You can now find a preprint of my Postdoc work at LEAP on bioRxiv. We applied wavelet analysis to show how acidification affects the temporal stability of DO functioning in plankton communities held at a mesocosms platform, the Large Experimental Array of Ponds (LEAP). We show that 1) acidification resulted in a transient loss of diurnal DO variation, and 2) that a pre-exposure to weaker acidification alleviated the impact on the DO temporal stability. In the context of global change, it is essential that we understand how freshwater communities respond to environmental degradation and how we can restore their function. And we believe that this paper contributes to the search of said understanding. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Dec 1, '19. Paper accepted! As an early Christmas present, Functional Ecology has accepted our paper entitled Plant responses to diversity-driven selection and associated rhizosphere microbial communities led by Terhi Hahl and co-authored by me, Marc W. Schmid, Debra Zuppinger-Dingley, Bernhard Schmid and Cameron Wagg. In an experiment using grassland plants grown in both monocultures and species mixtures for 11 years, we found that root microbes associated with the plants influenced plant growth differently depending on whether the plants were from monoculture or mixtures. Furthermore, plants from monocultures invested more in defence against enemies than plants from species mixtures. This suggests that plants in monocultures and mixtures may favour different strategies. How the plants responded, however, depended strongly on the species. Our results indicate that plant diversity loss in the long-term could lead to selection for altered plant-plant and plant-soil interactions. The species-specific capacity to respond, however, makes it difficult to predict community-level responses to diversity loss.
Link to the paper.

October 8, '19. Oral presentation at BES2019 in Belfast I'm very happy that my abstract for the BES annual meeting for an oral presentation has been accepted. I'm very much looking forward to meeting some familiar and new faces in Belfast in December.

October 3, '19. Blog post behind the scenes. We were invited to contribute to the Spotlight Molecular Ecology blog to provide a view behind the scenes of our paper on rapid evolution in grasslands. We share some pictures, the motivation behind the study and the lessons we learned. Have a look here!

July 18, '19. Paper accepted! Our paper (and my PhD chapter) on rapid evolution in grasslands has been accepted for publication in Molecular Ecology. This is work I'm particularly proud of, because, to my knowledge, this is the first paper trying to establish whether epigenetic and/or genetic divergence is responsible for the observed biodiversity effects in the field. The hypothesis was that plants that grow in experimental (or potentially natural) mixtures evolve to be more suited for said environment, either via selection on standing genetic/epigenetic variation or by novel mutations arising over time. Vice versa, plants growing in monoculture would be selected for different set of traits and their underlying genetic/epigenetic factors. We have found genetic divergence for 5 perennial grassland species, but little evidence for epigenetic contribution. This paper
could be really important for the field of grassland community ecology (and beyond).
Link to the paper. For a PDF, contact me directly.

van Moorsel, S.J.°, Schmid, M.W.°, Wagemaker, C.A.M., van Gurp T., Schmid, B. & Vergeer, P. Evidence for rapid evolution in a grassland biodiversity experiment. Molecular Ecology 28:4097–4117
°equal contribution

The faculty of Science at the University of Zurich reported about our paper here.

Für die Deutschsprachigen: Die Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät der Universität Zürich berichtete über unsere Forschung hier.

Dec 14, '18. Paper accepted in Molecular Ecology I'm very happy to report that our paper led by Marc W. Schmid, Terhi Hahl and me has been accepted for publication in Molecular Ecology. In this publication, we looked at the rhizosphere microbiome of plants that had either a background of growing in plant mixtures or monocultures. We found that plant identy and soil legacy (from either plant mixture or monoculture) drove the formation of distinct microbiomes. We conclude that plant species richness can affect belowground community composition and diversity, feeding back to the assemblage of rhizosphere bacterial communities in newly establishing plants via the legacy in soil.

Schmid, M.W.°, Hahl, T.°, van Moorsel, S.J.°, Wagg, C., De Deyn, G.B. & Schmid, B. Feedbacks of plant identity and diversity on the diversity and community composition of rhizosphere microbiomes from a long-term biodiversity experiment. Molecular Ecology 28:863–878


Sept 20, '18. The LEAP 2018 project at the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont-St-Hilaire is slowly coming to an end. We will sample the 107 freshwater meta-communities for another couple of weeks and then dive into the most exciting part of any scientific project: data exploration! My focus will be to investigate the stability of these freshwater communities over time and in response to multiple stressors, i.e. acidification and temperature. This record-hot summer in Quebec will be a valuable “free” stressor. For any updates and to know what has been happening these past months, check out my Twitter handle @sofiavanmoorsel or the LEAP project Twitter handle @LEAP_sci.

May 25, '18. SNF Early.Postdoc Mobility grant accepted: My Postdoc grant entitled Extending evolutionary rescue to aquatic metacommunities has been accepted. This is huge! And it means that I get to stay in Montréal for at least another year and a half. I'm of course incredibly excited and happy and looking forward to continue working within LEAP and with Andy Gonzalez.

May 19, '18. Manuscript accepted: I'm very happy that my PhD Chapter entitled Selection in response to community diversity alters plant performance and functional traits has been accepted for publication in Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. Using five plant species selected for twelve years in a biodiversity experiment in mixture or monoculture and plants without such a selection history, we assessed whether differential selection altered productivity, biodiversity effects, and functional trait differences within newly assembled monocultures and 2-species mixtures.

April 6, '18. New publication: I'm happy to have contributed to a paper by Eri Yamasaki et al. Genomics meets remote sensing in global change studies: monitoring and predicting phenology, evolution and biodiversity recently published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.. In this paper we suggest integrating genomics and remote sensing to strengthen global change studies.

March 1, '18. Move to Montréal: I'm thrilled to announce that I've moved from Zurich to Montréal to do a Post-doc with Prof. Andy Gonzalez at McGill University. I'll be working within the LEAP project. All about the LEAP you can find here. Follow LEAP on Twitter (@LEAP_sci) to stay in the loop during the upcoming field season and for any exciting findings!

January 16, '18. New Phytologist Profile: A profile about myself was published in January 2018 in the Forum Section of New Phytologist. Have a look here. This is a rather weird publication which might not boost my h-index too much, but it will make my family proud. Thanks to New Phytologist for this opportunity.

January, '17. Post-doc position: I am very excited to start a Post-doc with Prof. Owen Petchey and Prof. Andrew Gonzalez in February 2018!

October 16, '17. Paper published: Today my first thesis chapter was accepted for publication in Ecology Letters. We tested effects of community evolution on primary productivity in 48 different plant communities of 1, 2, 4 or 8 grassland species. We found that productivity was increased if communities were assembled from plants that had previously been growing together for 8 years compared with communities assembled from plants without a common history. The observed positive effect of community evolution on productivity was independent of the presence of co-selected soil organisms but restricted to low diversity; mixtures of 8 species were not affected. We conclude that to preserve well-functioning ecosystems we need to protect interacting species in a community context.
You can read the paper here

October 4, '17. Successful PhD Defense: I successfully defended my thesis entitled Community Evolution Increases Ecosystem Functioning and Stability. Thanks to everyone who attended my presentation and the celebration afterwards. You can read the thesis here.

September 19, '17. Guest post for New Phyt blog: I was invited to write a short post about the 40th New Phytologist Symposium in Vienna. You can read it here.

September 15, '17. Poster Award: My poster won the poster prize at the New Phytologist Symposium in Vienna. Thanks to all the delegates for voting for my poster!