PSC Summer School 2017

Understanding Risks and Resilience in Plant Systems

29 May – 2 June 2017, Einsiedeln, Switzerland


• What are systemic risks in the climate system, ecology, economy or agriculture?
• How can we use modelling to predict and manage risks?
• What are the effects of genetic diversity on food-web stability?
• What role does diversity have in achieving stable systems?


With humankind exceeding the planetary boundaries and the safe operating space, systemic risks have become frequent: our climate system is approaching a new state; biodiversity losses are endangering ecosystem services; pests are globally spreading and are threatening our food security.

Complex systems are characterized by inter-connections between species, agents, individuals and multiple stable states, whereas regime shifts can be triggered after periods of stability towards non-linear behavior, i.e. path dependence, sustained oscillation, contagion and synchrony. Systemic risks arise from the potential for unpredictable changes of the system to another state. While we cannot predict the tipping points, we can stabilize the system in the current state through increasing or restoring resilience and diversity.

We will discuss modeling of variable to be considered in complex systems and their threshold effects as well as some interaction at the socio-ecological interface, the so-called complex adaptive systems. The range of topics spans from plant sciences to economy with a focus on modeling from the mathematical background to complex ecological models. Research and case studies are taken from climate change, ecosystem research, epidemiology, agriculture and economics with strong links to plant sciences.

Invited speakers will make presentations on the topic and their research, give insight into their research field, conduct interactive workshops and take part in plenary discussions. They will act as mentors in the case studies group work. The outcome of the group work will be made available in the proceedings.

Program & invited speakers

The program of the summer school will include sessions on:

Systemic Risks: Overview

• Dr. Melanie Paschke, Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center, CH

• Dr. Pia-Johanna Schweizer, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, DE

• Dr. Andrea Downing, Stockholm Resilience Center, SWE

Modeling of variable to be considered in complex systems

• Prof. Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, USA

• Adam Clark, MSc, University of Minnesota, USA

Examples for systemic risks from plant epidemology and from plant ecology

• Prof. Chris Gilligan, University of Cambridge, UK

• Dr. Christophe Randin, University of Lausanne, CH

Examples for systemic risks from economy

• Prof. Robert Finger, ETH Zürich, CH

• Dr. Matthew Barbour, University of Zurich, CH

Learning objectives

By the end of the summer school participants will:

  • Understand features of complex systems with non-linear behavior and non-linear feedback
  • Understand key features for stabilizing systems: diversity and resilience
  • Learn about fast and slow variables and their contribution to the modeling of systemic risks
  • Learn about systemic risks arising from socio-ecological interactions: complex adaptive systems

Organization of student work

Before summer school:

  • Application includes description of motivation and background
  • Preparatory reading: Students will need to read the assigned literature before the summer school

During summer school:

  • Sessions are composed as lectures, discussions and case study work
  • Group work will be done on case studies, individual working time on this group work is expected to be 10h
  • Presentation and integration: at the end of each afternoon, 1 group presents their experiences and insights. Open Format
  • Case study presentation on day 5

After summer school:

  • Groups hand in a finalized version of their case study for inclusion in the proceedings


Preference will be given to students enrolled in one of the following PhD programs: Plant Sciences and Science & Policy.

MSc students, PhD students and PostDocs at University of Zurich, ETH Zurich or University of Basel. Students form national or international universities are welcome if places are available.


PhD students: CHF 150; MSc students: CHF 60. Fee covers board, lodging and
activities during the summer school study week. Travel expenses are not covered.
Students are expected to arrive at the venue on Monday, the 29th of May 2017. For
cancellation less than four weeks before the summer school a late cancellation fee
of CHF 150 applies.

Date and Venue

29 May – 02 June 2017, Study week in Einsiedeln (Canton Schwyz):

Schweizer Jugend-und Bildungszentrum (SJBZ), Hotel Allegro


Registration deadline:  15 April 2017.

Please register here:

Applicants are requested to submit the following items as a merged PDF:

(1) CV

(2) short motivation statement (5–10 sentences)

(3) latest publication or chapter of dissertation (if applicable).

Evaluation of the incoming registrations will be based on the participant’s education, link of personal research work to the summer school topics and motivation statement.




Zurich-Basel Plant Sciene Center: Dr. Melanie Paschke, Dr. Carole Rapo, Dr. Luisa Last


This summer school is funded by the Swiss University Conference (SUC), SUC
Programme 2013-1016 P-1 «Doctoral programmes».

Questions about this summer school? Contact (coordination):

Dr. Carole Rapo


Phone: +41 (0)44 632 89 50