Nele Schmitz

Nele Schmitz
Résidents Labex RFIEA+
Résidents Programme EURIAS

dates de séjour

15/09/2014 - 15/07/2015


Sciences de la terre, de l’environnement et du climat

Fonction d’origine


Institution d’origine

Institute of Botany - BOKU, Vienne (Autriche)

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

The role of trees in our society : The impact of a tree-less world on man and environment

Decreasing stocks of natural resources is one of the global megatrends threatening societies. How do we rhyme the on-going destruction of our environment with the evolution towards a knowledge society? In this study the focus is on trees, a natural resource widely spread through the daily lives of many. Little integrative research, merging the focus of ecologist and social scientist, has been done so far. However, to tackle the problem of deforestation a long term vision is needed that is shared and understood by everyone, including the human and sociological aspects and using a common language. Starting from the hypothesis that life on earth is possible without trees, without significantly influencing people’s lives, the following questions will be researched:

(i) What are the biological, economic and social values of trees?

(ii) How do these values change with country-dependent variables?

(iii) How did and do these values change over time?

To this goal the available literature will be reviewed, the relationships between values, and between values and country-dependent variables analysed and the temporal evolution of the values investigated. The ambition is to understand why we are destroying our forests while we actually don’t want to. Certainly in times of economic crisis, people want to be correctly informed before giving up some of their privileges in favour of a bigger, long term goal. Complex environmental issues with potentially severe consequences for ecosystems, such as the depletion of natural resources, ask for clear and integral information. Only understanding can alert to own responsibility to take care of the environment to which also humankind belongs. In addition, it will help governments in decision making concerning our forests.


Nele Schmitz is a biologist by education and a critical thinker by nature. This combination gave her some wonderful years of deep digging research at several research institutes and in magnificent forests around the world. Her interest goes to the water transporting system of mangrove trees, the only trees being able to grow in the sea. She focused on the wood anatomy of mangrove species and how this changes with the environment. Then she flew over to Australia to link her wood anatomical knowledge with the functioning of those trees and did some eco-physiological experiments. With her hypotheses hanging in front of her, asking to be tackled, she finished her MSc, PhD and 3 years postdoc in one go. Immobilized in her current niche, after eight years of focused research on drought and flooding tolerance of mangrove trees, she aspires to fuel her mind and grow out of her bubble. Her ambition is to be able to deal with biological issues in favour of our environment and well-being from a more integral perspective. Complexity serves functionality so next to drilling deep holes we need to have a look at what lies between the holes to understand the whole picture. She conquered her freedom and proposed a new project for the EURIAS Fellowship Programme to which she is very grateful. Her thanks go as well to the Free University of Brussels (VUB), the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, the Australian National University, the Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut in Hamburg and the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT) and the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) giving her the support needed during her past research.