Michael O'Brien

Link to Former Research Group page (Prof. Dr. Andrew Hector)

Research Interests

I am a community ecologist and eco-physiologist interested in the maintenance and loss of biodiversity and its impacts on the structure and functioning of ecosystems. My research interests have broadly focused on how plants live and die in a changing climate and the subsequent effects on forest communities. Because forests are both sensitive to and buffers against climate change, they represent an important component for maintaining ecosystem functions. Using a combination of controlled manipulations in greenhouses, field experiments and long-term observational data, my research focuses on disentangling the role of trait differences, environmental heterogeneity and species interactions in maintaining plant species diversity under novel climatic regimes and global change drivers.


2016 - present SNF Post-doctoral fellow, Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, funded by the Stiefel-Zangger Foundation
2015 Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland
2013 - 2015 Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies and Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland, Funded by the University Research Priority Program for Global Change and Biodiversity
2010 - 2013 Ph.D. Student, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland, Thesis: The role of functional-traits in the response of tropical forests to global change
2007 - 2009 M.Sc., Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY, USA
2005 - 2007 Lecturer Forest Ecology and Measurements Course, Summer Field Ecology Program, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
2007 - 2005 Research Assistant, Forest Ecology Lab, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
2001 - 2008 B.Sc., College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

Selected Publications

  • O’Brien MJ., Burslem DFRP., Caduff A., Tay J., Hector A. (2015) Contrasting nonstructural carbohydrate dynamics of tropical tree seedlings under water deficit and variability. New Phytologist, 205(3):1083-1094. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13134
  • O’Brien MJ., Leuzinger S., Philipson CD., Tay J., Hector A. (2014) Drought survival of tropical tree seedlings enhanced by non-structural carbohydrate levels. Nature Climate Change, 4(8):710-714. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2281
  • O’Brien MJ., Philipson CD., Tay J., Hector A. (2013) The Influence of Variable Rainfall Frequency on Germination and Early Growth of Shade-Tolerant Dipterocarp Seedlings in Borneo. PLoS ONE, 8(7):e70287. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070287
  • Hector A., Philipson C., Saner P., Chamagne J., Dzulkifli D., O’Brien MJ., Snaddon JL., Ulok P., Weilenmann M., Reynolds G., Godfray HCJ. (2011) The Sabah biodiversity experiment: a long-term test of the role of tree diversity in restoring tropical forest structure and functioning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366(1582):3303-3315. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0094
  • O’Brien MJ., Gomola CE., Horton TR. (2010) The effect of forest soil and community composition on ectomycorrhizal colonization and seedling growth. Plant and Soil 341:321 – 331. DOI: 10.1007/s11104-010-0646-1
  • O’Brien MJ., O’Hara KL., Erbilgin N., Wood DL. (2007) Overstory and shrub effects on natural regeneration processes in native Pinus radiata stands. Forest Ecology and Management 240:178 – 185. DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2006.12.025