Philippe Saner

Research Interests

My latest research interest as a Postdoc is based around sustainability and process optimization in organizations and I became involved in a number of projects around these topics. Together with Dr. Matthias Haeni (WSL) – I am an external consultant to the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD on the analysis of financial flows to combat desertification land degradation and drought (DLDD) (August 2014 - May 2015).  I co-supervise student projects on (i) food waste (Jasmin Küng, UZH, 2015, joint supervision with Prof. Dr. Lorenz Hilty), (ii) sustainability at Universities (Tatjana Bores, HTW Chur, 2015, joint supervision with Prof. Dr. Ivan Nikitin), and investor behaviour in sustainable finance (Tony Reyhanloo, UZH, 2016, joint supervision with Prof. Dr. Stefan Baumgärtner). As a co-project leader of DissGo I also define the requirements to optimize the PhD process for the Life Science Zurich Graduate School according to the regulations of the Faculty of Science (UZH) and the Department of Biology (ETH Zurich).

Apart from this more general interest in how to measure sustainability and optimize organizational processes my core research interest is in the restoration of tropical forests. Tropical forests are reknown for their wealth in biodiversity and their ongoing degradation leads to a subsequent loss of landscape, species and genetic diversity. Although restoration efforts can alter this loss to a certain extent, a degraded forest cannot be restored to pristine conditions again. The main questions of our research therefore also address, to what extent a degraded forest can provide functions at similar rates compared to pristine forests.

The focal study species belong to the wider taxa of dipterocarp trees. We formulate ecological hypotheses and test them on the basis of experimental field studies and under shadehouse conditions. Measured traits on individual species are then related to proposed survival strategies. The results may contribute directly to a better understanding of the ecology of these species, which is again of potential use for restoration efforts.


One important function that tropical forests fulfill is their role in the global carbon cycle. Depending on their state of degradation they can act as either a carbon sink (storage) or a source (release). As part of my research we determine how much carbon a selectively logged forest stores, and at what rate carbon is released, through fundamental ecosystem processes such as soil respiration. These results contribute to the wider aim of an overall carbon budget. It determines how much additional carbon can be stored by restoration efforts.

Apart from my own research on tropical plant community ecology I actively engage in the restoration and protection of key habitat for endangered wildlife. I link this engagement in nature conservation with public lectures at University of Zurich, FH St. Gallen and HTW Chur on sustainable consumption and the use of natural and non-renewable resources.


Education and Professional Positions

2013 - 2016 Postdoc in the research group Biology of Species Interactions, and scientific manager to Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schmid, Dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Zurich, Switzerland
2012 -  Co-project leader DissGo, Life Science Zurich Graduate School, Zurich, Switzerland
2011 - 2015 Coordinator of the PhD Program in Ecology, Life Science Zurich Graduate School, Switzerland
2006 - 2010 PhD and Postdoc on the Sabah Biodiversity Experiment. Environmental sciences, University of Zurich, Switzerland. Download PDF
2000 - 2005 Diploma in biology (major subject zoology, minor subject microbiology), University of Zurich, Switzerland

Other Positions

2015 Founder,, Zurich, Switzerland
2010 Partner, Binaïs Ltd Strategic Services, Switzerland
2009 Founder, Rhino and Forest Fund e.V., Germany

Selected Publications

  • Slik JW., et al. (2014). An estimate of the number of tropical tree species. PNAS, vol. 112 no. 24, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1423147112
  • UNCCD. Saner P., et al. (2015). Assessment of implementation of the Convention: Financing and technology transfer. ICCD/CRIC(13)/6/Rev.1. Link
  • UNCCD. Saner P., et al. (2015) Review of the financial support to the implementation of the Convention. ICCD/CRIC(13)/7/Rev.1. Link
  • Philipson CD., Dent DH., O’Brien MJ., Chamagne J., Dzulkifli D., Nilus R., Philips S., Reynolds G., Saner P., Hector A. (2014). A trait-based trade-off between growth and mortality: evidence from 15 tropical tree species using size-specific relative growth rates. Ecology and Evolution, 4(18):3675-3688. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1186
  • Muff S., Riebler A., Held L., Rue H., Saner P. (2014). Bayesian analysis of measurement error models using integrated nested Laplace approximations. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series C (Applied Statistics). Early view. DOI: 10.1111/rssc.12069
  • Saner P., Loh YY., Ong RC., Hector A. (2012). Carbon stocks and fluxes in tropical lowland dipterocarp rainforests in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. PLoS ONE, 7(1):e29642. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029642
  • Turnbull LA., Philipson CD., Purves DW., Atkinson RL., Cunniff J., Goodenough A., Hautier Y., Houghton J., Marthews TR., Osborne CP., Paul-Victor C., Rose K. E., Saner P., Taylor SH., Woodward FI., Hector A., Rees M. (2012). Plant growth rates and seed size: a re-evaluation. Ecology, 93(6):1283-1289. DOI: 10.1890/11-0261.1
  • Paine CET., Stenflo M., Philipson CD., Saner P., Bagchi R., Ong RC., Hector A. (2012). Differential growth responses in seedlings of ten species of Dipterocarpaceae to experimental shading and defoliation. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 28(4):377-384. DOI: 10.1017/S0266467412000326
  • Philipson CD., Saner P., Marthews TR., Nilus R., Reynolds G., Turnbull LA., Hector A. (2012). Light-based regeneration niches: Evidence from 21 Dipterocarp species using size-specific RGRs. Biotropica, 44(5):627-636. DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00833.x
  • Hector A., Philipson C., Saner P., Chamagne J., Dzulkifli D., O'Brien M., Snaddon JL., Ulok P., Weilenmann M., Reynolds G. and 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
  • Saner P., Philipson C., Ong RC., Majalap N., Egli S., Hector A. (2011). Positive effects of ectomycorrhizal colonization on growth of seedlings of a tropical tree across a range of forest floor light conditions. Plant and Soil, 338(1-2):411-421. DOI: 10.1007/s11104-010-0555-3
  • Hautier Y., Saner P., Philipson C., Bagchi R., Ong RC., Hector A. (2010). Effects of seed predators of different body size on seed mortality in Bornean logged forest. PLoS ONE, 5(7):e11651t. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011651
  • Hector A., Hautier Y., Saner P., Wacker L., Bagchi R., Joshi J., Scherer-Lorenzen M., Spehn EM., Bazeley-White E., Weilenmann M., Caldeira MC., Dimitrakopoulos PG., Finn JA., Huss-Danell K., Jumpponen A., Mulder CPH., Palmborg C., Pereira JS., Siamantziouras ASD., Terry AC., Troumbis AY., Schmid B., Loreau M. (2010). General stabilizing effects of plant diversity on grassland productivity through population asynchrony and overyielding. Ecology, 91(8):2213-2220. DOI: 10.1890/09-1162.1
  • Saner P., Lim R., Burla B., Scherer-Lorenzen M., Hector A. (2009). Reduced soil respiration in gaps in logged lowland dipterocarp forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 258:2007-2012. DOI: 10.5167/uzh-21018