CAVElab contributes to an increased understanding of ecosystem functioning in a changing environment, to nature conservation and development cooperation. To do this, we train scientists and conduct question-driven research on vegetation ecology and biogeochemistry of terrestrial ecoystems, with a strong focus on tropical forest ecosystems.


CAVELab aims to catalyse innovative, fundamental and applied research through the integration of vegetation modelling and field work. We believe that team dynamics lift our science to a higher level and therefore invest energy both in personal and team goals. Good personal relationships and job satisfaction are key. We are committed to share our research with the widest possible audience; therefore, we publish in high quality scientific journals and invest in public outreach. We value ethics and invest resources for capacity building for our activities in developing countries. We believe that true collaborative research is only possible by sharing: open source software and codes, data sharing, open access publications.

Our research lines

  1. Vegetation dynamics in the climate response of (tropical) woody ecosystems (e.g. lianas, succession, monodominance, phenology, functional diversity & disturbance)
  2. Biogeochemical cycles in (tropical) forests (C-N-P, water) in response to climate and land use change, including land-atmosphere interactions.
  3. The role of vegetation structure in ecosystem functioning.

Our methodologies

  1. Process-based vegetation models. We are currently running projects where we develop, parameterise and apply various vegetation models including ED2, ORCHIDEE, LPJ-GUESS and FORMIND. We integrate vegetation models with multiscale observational data from leaf level gas-exchange, over plot-scale inventories and eddy covariance fluxes to remote sensing data.
  2. Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS). We use 3D TLS data to virtually reconstruct forests that can be used as input for vegetation models; to assess their aboveground biomass; or to understand their natural structural dynamics or response to disturbances.
  3. Field observational work. We go out in the field to do a range of measurement, particularly in data-poor regions, like the Congo Basin. We do ecophysiological observations, eddy covariance measurement (Congoflux), inventories, traits sampling, …

Our ecosystems

  1. We work in wet tropical forest in French Guiana, Panama, DR Congo and Australia; in tropical mountain forests in Ecuador and Africa; in temperate forest in Europe.
  2. We work in dryland savannas in Senegal and Australia.
  3. Urban ecosystems. We study city trees and their ecosystem services in Belgium and France, and work closely together with the council of Ghent.


  • CAVElab is a member of the Natural Capital platform of the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering at Ghent University, Belgium.
  • CAVElab is a member of CAFRINAT, an international centre of excellence for the African Great Lakes' Natural Capital
  • CAVElab is a member of the NASA CEOS Aboveground Biomass Product validation
  • Via the Congoflux fluxtower, CAVElab is member of ICOS
  • We participate in the COST Action 3DForEcoTech on three-dimensional forest ecosystem monitoring and better understanding by terrestrial-based technologies

Current Research Projects

FWO-project: Does liana proliferation cool down tropical forests?


Team: Hans Verbeeck, Felicien Meunier, Kasper Coppieters (UGent) & Marco Visser (ULeiden)

Funding: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)

FWO-project: There’s no such thing as “The Tropical Rainforest”: incorporating heterogeneity of tropical forests in a global vegetation model 


Team: Hans Verbeeck, Pascal Boeckx, Marc Peaucelle, Félicien Meunier, Marijn Bauters Ines Vieira (UGent)

Funding: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)

FWO jr postdoc grant - Félicien Meunier


Modelling the current and future impacts of liana infestation on
the demography and biogeochemical cycles of tropical forests; PI: Félicien Meunier; 2019-2022

Funding: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), junior postdoctoral fellowship

FWO jr postdoc grant - Marijn Bauters


Evaluating and understanding the role of biogeochemical cycling of phosphorus in regrowth forests in central Africa (RDC, Regrow Deforested Congo); PI: Marijn Bauters; 2019-2022

Funding: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), junior postdoctoral fellowship

DG-DEVCO/FWO-project: Congoflux


Continuous monitoring of atmosphere-ecosystem exchange of greenhouse gasses in the Congo Basin forest: Building a flux tower in the Yangambi Man and Biosphere Reserve;




Congo basin eco-climatological data recovery and valorization
2017-2020 (extended)

Funding: Federal funding, BELSPO BRAIN

BOF-PhD grant - Louise Terryn


Winners and Losers: does water availability affect the Structural Economic Spectrum of tropical forests? 2019-2023

Funding: Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund (BOF)

BOF-PhD grant - Franklin Marin


Disentangling potential drivers of success in ecological restoration along an altitudinal gradient in the Andes, Ecuador; 2021-2025

Funding: Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund (BOF)



Consolidating a long-term forest monitoring network in a human modified landscape in Northern Ecuador; 2020-2021 (extended 2022)

Funding: Federal funding, VLIR-UOS

CSC - PhD grant - Liu Chang


Automatic Estimation of Forest Structural Parameters in Multiple Forest Conditions Using Terrestrial Laser Scanning; 2019-2023

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

STEREO-project: UTURN I & II


Understanding turning points in dryland ecosystem functioning; 2016-2020 (extended)

Funding: Federal funding, BELSPO STEREO III

EU-Interreg2-project: Nature Smart Cities

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Research towards evidence-based business models for greener cities

Funding: European Union’s Interreg 2 

CSC - PhD grant - Xi Peng


Structural Traits Relationships and the Structural Economics Spectrum of Woody Plant; 2021-2025

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

CSC - PhD grant - Quan Pan


Mapping plant functional traits in forest; 2021-2025.

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

CSC - Visiting scientist grant - Tao Chen

tao chen project

Research on the spatiotemporal patterns and driving mechanism of carbon and water fluxes in tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems of China; 2021-2022

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

CSC - PhD grant - Mengxi Wang

mengxi project

Integrated use of LiDAR and optical data for structural diversity assessment; 2020-2024

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

CSC - PhD grant - Xingyan Cao


Impact of lianas on forest structure and function; 2020-2024

Funding: State Scholarship Fund awarded by China Scholarship Council

FWO - SB PhD grant - Barbara D'hont


Better Quantifying Ecosystem Services through Digital Twins of Urban Trees; 2021-2025

FWO PhD fellowship strategic basic research



Biocarbon Europe: Advancing Measurement Standards (BEAMS)

Funding: Climate Solutions Exchange, UK

ICOS Belgium research infrastructure


ICOS Belgium research infrastructure; 2021-2025




Monitoring trees in intensive, large-scale and long-term inventory plots for scaling eddy covariance carbon dioxide fluxes in Congo basin fluxes (TREE4FLUX)

Funding: ESFRI-FED

      Previous Research Projects

      MSCA-project: LEAF-2-TBM


      From Leaf to Terrestrial Biosphere Model: Integrating multi-scale observations of highly diverse tropical ecosystems for global scale simulations; PI: Marc Peaucelle; 2020-2022 (ended in Nov. 2021 when dr Peaucelle was offered a permanent position at INRAE, France)

      Funding: European funding: framework programme, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action

      MSCA-project: 3D-FOGROD


      Understanding forest growth dynamics using novel 3D measurements and modelling approaches; PI: Kim Calders; 2019-2021

      Funding: European funding: framework programme, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action

      ERC-Starting Grant: TREECLIMBERS


      Modelling lianas as key drivers of tropical forest responses to climate change

      Funding: European funding: framework programme, ERC Starting Grant

      STEREO-project: 3D Forest


      Novel in-situ 3D forest structure and biomass estimates to validate air/spaceborne products

      Funding: Federal funding, Belspo STEREO

      Full overview of current and previous research projects