Climate change and risks 5 min

An ERC Starting Grant to study forest dynamics using leaves

INRAE researcher Marc Peaucelle has received a grant from the European Research Council for his LeafPace project, aimed at understanding the life cycle of tree leaves and how they respond to environmental changes and extreme climatic events. Essential for assessing the resilience of forests, the study will mobilize process modelling, experimental observations and satellite remote sensing.

Published on 07 February 2024

illustration An ERC Starting Grant to study forest dynamics using leaves

Forests cover about 30% of the Earth’s surface and play a major role in carbon, water and energy cycles. They also provide numerous ecosystem services. Forests face a host of natural disturbances caused by weather and living organisms and are undergoing countless structural and physiological changes.
At the tree level, the leaf is where photosynthesis occurs: the process by which a plant synthesises organic matter using light energy, water and carbon dioxide. Leaves are therefore an interface between a plant and its atmosphere, and as such a key component in the functioning of forest ecosystems.

Leaf it to phenology

The study of the life cycle of leaves, from bud development (or ‘break’) to leaf expansion, maturity and then senescence, is known as phenology. To date, the environmental factors that determine this succession of events are not fully known, despite their importance.

The five-year, €1.5 million project: “LeafPace: will leaf phenology keep pace with climate changing?” will build the first integrative framework used to understand and quantify the determining factors in forest leaf phenology based on biophysical and ecophysiological processes at all scales. The framework will also be used to assess how the world’s forests have reacted to climate change. It is thought that phenology responds to environmental factors by optimizing resource use and processes according to local conditions.

LeafPace will take a multidisciplinary approach based on process modelling, experimental observation and satellite remote sensing. One tool is the European Integrated Carbon Observation System, which produces measurements of concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, as well as carbon fluxes between the atmosphere, land surface and the oceans.  ICOS is operated by more than 500 researchers and engineers from 17 European countries and relies on 130 stations.

LeafPace also receives support from several French and European scientific partnerships.

Such data is important in reliably predicting carbon cycles and assessing the response of forests to climate change. These innovative tools will provide access to several fields — including forestry and agriculture — in which phenology plays a central role, and also generate a range of research subjects and untapped applications that require solid projections on forest dynamics (e.g. drought, fires).

The European Research Council, which funds exploratory research based solely on scientific excellence, enables researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research while recognising the status and visibility of Europe’s brightest minds. Above all, the ERC works to develop European research that rises to the challenges of a knowledge-based society and the frontier research needed to address global challenges. 

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Forest resilience

Understanding why trees develop or lose their leaves is therefore key to assessing forest resilience. While the LeafPace project looks at tree leaves, Marc Peaucelle’s research at the Soil–Plant–Atmosphere Interactions Unit at the INRAE Nouvelle Aquitaine – Bordeaux Centre goes even further. His work focuses on global-scale forest macroecology and looks at how forests — from the boreal region to the tropics — evolve in a given environment.

“Understanding how over 60,000 tree species around the world function and respond to global change is a real challenge. As a forestry ecologist and modeller, I’ve always been fascinated by the complex interplay between seemingly independent ecosystem processes and how they scale to leaf responses to landscape,” says the young scientist.

This fascination comes through in his involvement in One Forest Vision, an international initiative for which he acquires and analyses observations in tropical forests. He is also active in the TSARA initiative - Transforming Food and Agricultural Systems through Research in Partnership with Africa - where he works to understand and model the dynamics and resilience of African rainforest.

The One Forest Vision initiative aims to map forests at the individual tree level and assess the carbon budgets of the most vital carbon sinks and biodiversity reserves in the forest basins of the Amazon, Africa and Asia in the next five years.

Launched at the One Forest Summit in Libreville (Gabon) in March 2023, the purpose of this initiative is to collect and collate high-quality data at the landscape level to provide robust calibration and validation data for new remote sensing technologies and AI in order to better map deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the resulting carbon emissions.

His research also focuses on the functional traits of leaves, including their size and the chemical concentrations they contain, and leaf diversity in relation to the strategies used by different species to adapt to climate change.

Marc Peaucelle’s innovative research on forests spans wide spatial and temporal scales and is one of the many things he has already achieved in his career.


36 years old

  • Career
    Since 2021 - INRAE Research Scientist at the Soil–Plant–Atmosphere Interactions Unit (INRAE, Bordeaux Sciences Agro), Bordeaux
    2019-2021 - Post-doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium)
    2017-2019 -Post-doctoral researcher at CREAF, a research centre on ecological and forestry applications (Barcelona, Spain)
  • Education
    2016 - PhD in Environmental Sciences at Université Paris 6
    2012 - Master’s degree in Ecology and Plant Sciences, Université Paris-Saclay
    2012 - Graduate of ENS Cachan

Catherine Foucaud-Scheunemanntranslated by Emma Morton


Marc Peaucelle Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Interactions Unit (INRAE, Bordeaux Sciences Agro)



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