Utrecht University
Institute of Environmental Biology
Ecology and Biodiversity
Padualaan 8
3584 CH Utrecht
The Netherlands
+31 30 253 7441


My research interest focuses on the interactions between plants and soil in the context of cycles of carbon and nitrogen and the response of soil ecosystems to multiple global change drivers. I want to 1) understand the role of living and dead plants with their functional traits on nutrient and carbon cycling processes (studying decomposition, soil respiration, nitrification and denitrification) and 2) understand the interactive effects of nitrogen enrichment and climate change on soil organic matter dynamics and emissions of greenhouse gases. Most of my research experience is based on riparian zone and riverine ecosystems, concentrating on hot-spot areas with intense nitrogen cycling and N2O emissions. As nitrogen transformation processes and organic matter sequestration are strongly driven by carbon quality and availability, this is the focal topic in my current research projects.



TEA BAG INDEX (TBI) Decomposition proxies to generate a global soil functioning map

Together with Joost Keuskamp, Bas Dingemans, Judith Sarneel and Taru Lethinen we developed a decomposition proxy, using commercially available tea bags. This proxy enables us to study decomposition rates in a large number of contrasting ecosystems and biomes across the world. Uniquely, this research will be done with the explicit participation of volunteers worldwide, putting this project potentially among the largest research networks of scientists and non- scientists ever.

The newly developed tea bag proxy will provide us with conceptually new integrative parameters describing this "decomposition matrix" or more generally "soil functioning" as indicators of soil functioning are classically provided by soil respiration measurements or enzyme activities strongly related to decomposition. The tea bag proxy has much potential as an integrative measure for soil functioning as this "functioning" cannot be measured directly, but is inferred by measuring soil attributes or properties that serve as indicators. Changes in these indicators can be used to determine whether soil functioning or soil quality is improving, stable, or declining with changes in environmental conditions or soil management.

Reading tea leaves for soil carbon sequestration



Two contrasting tree cemeteries (on nutrient poor sand and nutrient rich clay soil) were setup to study coarse wood decomposition of different tree species. This huge common garden approach in forest plots, initiated by Prof. Hans Cornelissen, together with an interdisciplinary team of researchers including myself. Other people joining this project are microbiologist (Dr. Annemieke van der Wal and Wietse de Boer), wood anatomy and forest ecologists (Dr. Ute Sass- Klaassen, Dr. Rene Klaassen, Frank Sterck and Dr. Lourens Poorter) and entomologists (Dr. Matty Berg). In the first months of 2012 we started the incubation of 120 big (dead) trees cut up into 600 logs of 25 cm diameter and 1 m length. Over the course of 15 years we will harvest and sample logs for decay dynamics, chemical changes, colonization by microbes, mosses and invertebrates. I will study the chemical changes (e.g. shifts in lignin types) of different tree species over time; perform multiple organ comparison and study the development of soil organic matter profiles below decomposing logs.

Photo: Gregoire Freschet


Cornelissen JHC., Sass-Klaassen U., Poorter L.,van Geffen K., van Logtestijn RSP.,van Hal J., Goudzwaard L.,Sterck F.J.,Klaassen RKWM., Freschet GT., van der Wal A, Eshuis H., Zuo J., de Boer W.,Lamers T.,Weemstra M., Cretin V.,Martin R.,den Ouden J., Berg MP., Aerts R., Mohren GMJ., Hefting MM. (2012) AMBIO 41: 231-3245


BNI Project

Study on the biological nitrification inhibition by characteristic plant species from Matgras sward vegetation in collaboration with Dr. Nina Smits (Alterra) and Prof. Riks Laanbroek (NIOO).


To study the interaction effect between warming and N deposition on soil organic carbon dynamics we run a long term field manipulation study, fertilising naturally ambient and wetland patches in a geothermal area in Iceland.


Identification of hot spots and hot moments of nitrous oxide emission in riverine ecosystems as a basis for reliable estimates of emissions at the landscape level

Recent changes in flood protection strategies, allowing a more natural situation by the creation of water retention zones and riparian wetlands may have positive effects on stream water quality. High nitrate concentrations in the groundwater and floodwater may however create hot spots and hot moments of nitrous oxide N2O emission in these wetlands. Until now the number of studies on N2O emission from (semi) aquatic systems is very limited and it is generally agreed that our current knowledge on N2O emissions from riparian zones is still not sufficient to evaluate the existing IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) emission factor for indirect emissions. In this research we study N2O emission rates from wetlands at different stream orders, addressing landscape scale N2O emissions from N–loaded semi-natural riverine systems. We expect that N transformation by N-loaded riparian zones may result in a significant increase of greenhouse gas emission. Until now, only the beneficial function of wetlands on water quality improvement has received a lot of attention. To perform a full assessment, however, we have to evaluate the precise consequences of water pollution and N2O emission to determine the environmental risks. Results from this proposed research will contribute to the knowledge base for this future risk assessment.

PhD-PROJECTS (of which I am the co-promotor)

Publication summary: • Number of publications in international refereed scientific journals according to WoS: 22 • Number of citations according to WoS:479; H-index:12 • Number of publications as senior & corresponding authorships:8 • IF based on Web of Knowledge journal citation index JCR 2010. Average IF of the journals 3.57., Median IF 3.08 (compared to median from research field 1.562 Environmental sciences;1.814 Ecology and 1.492 Soil Science)

Cornelissen JHC., Sass-Klaassen U., Poorter L.,van Geffen K., van Logtestijn RSP.,van Hal J., Goudzwaard L.,Sterck F.J.,Klaassen RKWM., Freschet GT., van der Wal A, Eshuis H., Zuo J., de Boer W.,Lamers T.,Weemstra M., Cretin V.,Martin R.,den Ouden J., Berg MP., Aerts R., Mohren GMJ., Hefting MM. (2012) AMBIO 41: p.231-245.

Hefting, M.M., R.N. van den Heuvel and J.T.A. Verhoeven.(2012) Wetlands in agricultural landscapes for nitrogen retention and biodiversity enhancement: opportunities and limitations. Ecological Engineering. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2012.05.001IF 2.203

Van den Heuvel, R. N., Bakker, S. E., Jetten, M. S. M., and Hefting, M. M., 2011, Decreased N2O reduction by low soil pH causes high N2O emissions in a riparian ecosystem: Geobiology: 9, p. 294-300. IF 3.207

Smits, N. A. C., Bobbink, R., Laanbroek, H. J., Paalman, A. J., and Hefting, M. M., 2010a, Repression of potential nitrification activities by matgrass sward species: Plant and Soil: 337, p. 435-445.IF 2.773

Smits, N. A. C., Hefting, M. M., Kamst-van Agterveld, M. P., Laanbroek, H. J., Paalman, A. J., and Bobbink, R., 2010b, Nitrification along a grassland gradient: Inhibition found in matgrass swards: Soil Biology & Biochemistry: 42, p. 635-641.IF 3.242

Van de Riet, B. P., Barendregt, A., Brouns, K., Hefting, M. M., and Verhoeven, J. T. A., 2010, Nutrient limitation in species-rich Calthion grasslands in relation to opportunities for restoration in a peat meadow landscape: Applied Vegetation Science: 13, p. 315-325.IF 1.802

Van den Heuvel, R. N., van der Biezen, E., Jetten, M. S. M., Hefting, M. M., and Kartal, B., 2010, Denitrification at pH 4 by a soil-derived Rhodanobacter-dominated community: Environmental Microbiology: 12, p. 3264-3271.IF 5.537

Van den Heuvel, R. N., Hefting, M. M., Tan, N. C. G., Jetten, M. S. M., and Verhoeven, J. T. A., 2009, N2O emission hotspots at different spatial scales and governing factors for small scale hotspots: Science of the Total Environment: 407, p. 2325-2332.IF 3.190

Pinay, G., Gumiero, B., Tabacchi, E., Gimenez, O., Tabacchi-Planty, A. M., Hefting, M. M., Burt, T. P., Black, V. A., Nilsson, C., Iordache, V., Bureau, F., Vought, L., Petts, G. E., and Decamps, H., 2007, Patterns of denitrification rates in European alluvial soils under various hydrological regimes: Freshwater Biology: 52, p. 252-266.IF 3.082

Hefting, M., Beltman, B., Karssenberg, D., Rebel, K., van Riessen, M., and Spijker, M., 2006, Water quality dynamics and hydrology in nitrate loaded riparian zones in the Netherlands: Environmental Pollution: 139, p. 143-156.IF 3.395

Hefting, M. M., Bobbink, R., and Janssens, M. P., 2006, Spatial variation in denitrification and N2O emission in relation to nitrate removal efficiency in a n-stressed riparian buffer zone: Ecosystems: 9, p. 550-563.IF 3.679

Verhoeven, J. T. A., Arheimer, B., Yin, C. Q., and Hefting, M. M., 2006, Regional and global concerns over wetlands and water quality: Trends in Ecology & Evolution: 21, p. 96-103.IF 14.448

Hefting, M. M., Clement, J. C., Bienkowski, P., Dowrick, D., Guenat, C., Butturini, A., Topa, S., Pinay, G., and Verhoeven, J. T. A., 2005, The role of vegetation and litter in the nitrogen dynamics of riparian buffer zones in Europe: Ecological Engineering: 24, p. 465-482.IF 2.203

Hefting, M., Clement, J. C., Dowrick, D., Cosandey, A. C., Bernal, S., Cimpian, C., Tatur, A., Burt, T. P., and Pinay, G., 2004, Water table elevation controls on soil nitrogen cycling in riparian wetlands along a European climatic gradient: Biogeochemistry: 67, p. 113-134.IF 2.674

Hefting, M. M., Bobbink, R., and de Caluwe, H., 2003, Nitrous oxide emission and denitrification in chronically nitrate-loaded riparian buffer zones: Journal of Environmental Quality: 32, p. 1194-1203.IF 2.236

Merot, P., Squividant, H., Aurousseau, P., Hefting, M., Burt, T., Maitre, V., Kruk, M., Butturini, A., Thenail, C., and Viaud, V., 2003, Testing a climato-topographic index for predicting wetlands distribution along an European climate gradient: Ecological Modelling: 163, p. 51-71.IF 1.769

Sabater, S., Butturini, A., Clement, J. C., Burt, T., Dowrick, D., Hefting, M., Maitre, V., Pinay, G., Postolache, C., Rzepecki, M., and Sabater, F., 2003, Nitrogen removal by riparian buffers along a European climatic gradient: Patterns and factors of variation: Ecosystems: 6, p. 20-30.IF 3.679

Burt, T. P., Pinay, G., Matheson, F. E., Haycock, N. E., Butturini, A., Clement, J. C., Danielescu, S., Dowrick, D. J., Hefting, M. M., Hillbricht-Ilkowska, A., and Maitre, V., 2002, Water table fluctuations in the riparian zone: comparative results from a pan-European experiment: Journal of Hydrology: 265, p. 129-148.IF 2.514

Verburg, P. S. J., Van Dam, D., Hefting, M. M., and Tietema, A., 1999, Microbial transformations of C and N in a boreal forest floor as affected by temperature: Plant and Soil: 208, p. 187-197.IF 2.773

Hefting, M. M., and de Klein, J. J. M., 1998, Nitrogen removal in buffer strips along a lowland stream in the Netherlands: a pilot study: Environmental Pollution: 102, p. 521-526.IF 3.395

Marinussen, M., vanderZee, S., deHaan, F. A. M., Bouwman, L. M., and Hefting, M. M., 1997, Heavy metal (copper, lead, and zinc) accumulation and excretion by the earthworm, Dendrobaena veneta: Journal of Environmental Quality: 26, p. 278-284.IF 2.236


Contributions to books

Jeppesen, E., M. Meerhoff, M.B. Soons, M.M. Hefting, J.T.A. Verhoeven and B. Moss (2008) Interactions of climate change with nutrients. In: Climate Change impacts on Freshwater Ecosystems ¬ direct effects and interactions with other stresses (edited by M. Kernan, B. Moss and R.W. Battarbee), Blackwell, 2009

Burt T.P., Hefting M.M., Pinay G. and Sabater S. Chapter 14 In : Hydroecology and Ecohydrology; Past Present and Future Ed. Paul Wood. Wiley and Sons 20073, 2011


Ecologie-B-B1ECO05 Ecology course year 1

Ecology and Natural Resource Management (MsC course in ENRM track)

Group coordinator of BSc theses

Supervision of MSc-theses

Lectures in: Biostatistics course and Tropical ecology


SAP coordinator of OEB: Organisms, Ecosystems and Biodivesity

OBN Member of the expert team River landscapes, Ministry of Economic Affairs and

Innovation (2004-present)

Editorial boards: FEMS Microbiology Letters (Associate Editor, 2007-2010)

WUR external advisor in EU-funded research on buffer strip for water purification (2005-2010)


Prof. dr. Hans Cornelissen (VU) LOGLIFE project

Taru Lethinen (Tea Bag Index )Devision of Science and Research, University of Iceland

Dr. Paul Bodelier (NIOO) collaboration on methane emission and consumption measurements in Dutch floodplain areas.

Dr. Judith Sarneel (NIOO) Tea bag index collaboration

Prof. dr Lex Bouwman (NMP/ GEO-UU) and Prof dr. Jasper Griffioen (DELTARES/GEO-UU) collaboration on world wide nitrous oxide emission estimates from riparian zones

In the Flevopolder, Prof. K. Kalbitz and Dr. C. Cerli will study biomarkers in soil profiles under different tree species to determine the origin of the sequestered carbon. We will perform our soil organic matter and decomposition measurements in the same plots and profiles. Data integration will strengthen the overall picture of carbon dynamics and will help to validate our functional plant trait approach.

Dr. Gilles Pinay, University of Rennes I, ECOBIO Rennes Cedex, France.

Prof Dennis Whigham, Smithonian Institute, Smithonian Environmental Research Centre. Edgewater, Maryland, USA

Dr. T. Thordarson, University of Iceland, Iceland (on global warming effects on wetland carbon sequestration, field work and meetings in Hengill Mountains, Hveragerdi, Iceland)



Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ecology & Biodiversity

Assistant professor in Soil Ecology



Utrecht, The Netherlands

Landscape Ecology


valuation of the Stimulation Programme Biodiversity NWO




Landscape Ecology

PhD student

Nitrogen transformation in riparian buffer zones in NICOLAS (Nitrogen Control by Landscape Structures in Agricultural Environments) (EU-DGXIII project) Research focus on the nitrogen transformation in riparian zones (1998-2003)

Development and teaching of the Master course Ecology of plant communities and landscapes.


Wageningen, The Netherlands


Junior researcher

Literature study and system analysis on nutrient uptake by aquatic vegetation to incorporate vegetation related processes in the water quality model NUSWA.


Wageningen, The Netherlands

Water quality and Aquatic ecology group

Junior researcher

Research on the spatial variability of denitrification in grassland soils. With special emphasis on the importance of variability in explaining gaps in the N balance.