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Welcome to the Biogeography and Conservation Biology Lab!

We carry out research on understanding dynamics in coupled human-natural systems, as well as on how to balance human resource use and biodiversity conservation. Learn more about our ongoing research and classes offered by clicking on the links above!

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We contribute to:

The Land System Science Cluster at the Geography Department of Humboldt-University Berlin

2nd Open Science Meeting
March 2014, Berlin Adlershof

IRI THESys: Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems at Humboldt-University Berlin


Postal address

Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin


Office address

Rudower Chaussee 16
12489 Berlin



Room 2'227
Phone:  +49 (030) 2093-6905
Fax:  +49 (030) 2093-6848

Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät - Biogeographie


Paper published on drivers of forest harvesting intensity patterns in Europe

Forests provide humankind with essential raw materials and the demand for these materials is increasing. Meeting this demand will have to rely on intensifying forest management in existing production forests since expanding forestry is environmentally costly. Our current understanding of what determines forest management intensity is weak, which makes it difficult to assess the environmental and social trade-offs of intensification. A new paper just published in Forest Ecology & Management mapped the spatial patterns of forest harvesting intensity in Europe, identified its most important determinants along with their relative importance, and provides concrete starting points for developing measures targeted at increasing regional wood supply from forests or lowering harvest pressure in regions where forests are heavily used.


Biogeography class explores principles of island-biogeography

In one of their weekly sessions students of the Biogeography class played a game about island-biogeography throwing beermats from different distances on carpet-islands in different sizes. Find out more about the game and see some pictures...


Mapping threats to reindeer habitat in Russia

Migratory species often have large ranges, but some parts of their range are particularly critical. For Reindeer herds, calving grounds are crucial habitat, yet for many Russian reindeer herds calving grounds are neither well known nor protected. A new paper just published in Diversity and Distributions mapped, for the first time, the distribution of tundra reindeer calving ground habitat across Russia, and how oil and gas development as well as climate change may affect these habitats in the future.


New EU FP-7 project HERCULES started

The new project 'Sustainable futures for Europe’s HERitage in CULtural landscapES (HERCULES): Tools for understanding, managing, and protecting landscape functions and values' was just kicked off in Brussels. HERCULES seeks to better understand the characteristics, spatial patterns, and dynamics in Europe's cultural landscapes in order to develop tools to help protect, manage, and plan for sustainable landscapes.HERCULES is funded by the European Commission (FP7).


Paper on agricultural land use change in the Carpathians published

How agricultural land use changes is poorly understood in many world regions. A new paper by Patrick Griffiths that was just published in Environmental Research Letters used the composite images created from the Landsat archives to map cropland/grassland conversions, cropland abandonment, and recultivation for the entire Carpathians.


New paper on farmland abandonment and carbon sequestration in Eastern Europe

the breakdown of the Soviet union has triggered what has been called the most drastic episode of land use change - with many millions of hectares of farmland being abandoned. An important question in this context is how much carbon has been sequestered on abandoned farmland. A new paper led by Florian Schierhorn that was just published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles answers this question by disaggregating fine-scale cropland statistics to generate an area-wide abandonment map for European Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, and the LPJmL global vegetation model to calculate how much carbon has been sequestered since abandonment on these lands.


TV documentary on links between German wood demand and forest use in Eastern Europe

The German TV station NDR recently produced a documentary focusing on Germany's rapidly increasing fuel wood demand and the sources fuel wood. As Eastern Europe increasingly becomes an important exporter of wood, the documentary also shows some of the results from our satellite-based mapping of forest cover changes in the Carpathians and it features interviews with members from the Biogeography and Geomatics Labs of the Geography Department. the show was aired on Dec 2, 2013 and can be seen on the webpage of the station


New map of global land system archetypes

Land use is a major driver of global environmental change and many of the grand sustainbility challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. Unfortunately, our understanding of the global patterns of land use is limited, mainly because global data on land management intensity are scarce. A recently published in the journal Global Environmental Change combined a range of land use, environmental, and socio-economic datasets to provide a global map of land systems. This freely available map will be useful for assessing the environmental and social outcomes of changing land use. This study emerged from a collaboration between Humboldt-University Berlin and the Environmental Resaerch Centre (UFZ) in Leipzig and was jointly supported by the German BMBF and the Einstein Foundation Berlin.


New study in Nature Climate Change reveals potential bias in carbon flux estimates

A new study by Karlheinz Erb and coauthors suggests a substantial fraction of the terrestrial carbon sink, past and present, may be incorrectly attributed to environmental change rather than changes in forest management.


First pictures from our camera traps!

We recently purchased 40 camera traps to monitor wildlife activity. Check out some fascinating pictures from testing these cameras in Central Romania and Southern Sweden!


Research frontiers for better understanding trade-offs between agricultural production and biodiversity conservation

How to balance agricultural production and biodiversity conservation has emerged as a central question in Land Use Science and Conservation Biology. A new paper by Ricardo Grau and co-authors, recently published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, identifies research frontiers in the analysis of trade-offs between agriculture and conservation. The paper highlights that assessments of alternative land use strategies, such as land sparing and land sharing, could benefit from an improved consideration of environmental heterogeneity (in biodiversity patters and agricultural productivity), teleconnections, and the socio-economic constrants of particular land use strategies.


New study highlights barriers to interdisciplinary research

Environmental problems are complex and require expertise from multiple disciplines, but environmental research that integrates natural and social science can be challenging. A new study in BioScience carried out by the 2009 class of fellows of the Coupled Human and Natural Systems Network (CHANS-Net) highlights both the benefits of and barriers to successful interdisciplinary resaerch. A comprehensive survey among environmental scientists showed that respondents identified many advantages and rewards of interdisciplinary research, but also revealed substantial barriers at the institutional level. The survey furthermore suggests that interdisciplinary training should begin as early as possible in scientists' careers.


Identifying reintroduction sites for European bison in Germany

The Biogeography and Conservation Biology Lab recently started a new project together with researchers fromPoland and WWF Germany to identify potential reintroduction sites for European bison in Germany.


Improving understanding of changes in land use intensity

Two new papers recently published in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability address existing knowledge gaps surrounding land use intensity. In the first study, Erb and co-authors review the disciplinary context of research on land use intensity, discuss conceptualizations of indicators to measure land use intensity, and propose a new, systemic framework for addressing land use intensity. The second study by Kuemmerle and co-authors review approaches to map land use intensity globally, summarize existing quantitative, spatially-explicit metrics, and outline challenges and concrete steps forward to better characterize land use intensity and changes therein at the global scale. Both papers emerge from a Global Land Project (GLP) synthesis effort and research carried out within the EU FP7 Integrated Research Project VOLANTE.


Tobias Kuemmerle appointed to the Young Academy of Sciences

Tobias Kuemmerle was recently appointed as one out of ten new members of the Young Academy of Sciences of Germany. The Young Academy is an initiative of Germany’s Academy of Science and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and provides a forum for interdisciplinary exchange and research among young scholars of all scientific disciplines. The Young Academy also engages in communicating between research and society.


Effectiveness of protected areas in European Russia

How effective were Russia's protected areas after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, during a time characterized by institutional reorganization, economic hardships, and weak law enforcment? A new paper by Anika Sieber suggests that despite these socioeconomic and institutional changes, protected areas in European Russia were surprisingly effective in limiting human-induced forest disturbance inside them. Moreover, her study found drastic land-cover changes, particularly farmland abandonment and forest regrowth, in the surroundings of these protected areas, highlighting potential conservation opportunities.


Biogeography class trip to the Museum für Naturkunde

After the final exam of the semester the Biogeography class had the opportunity to learn about research and conservation in action with a back-stage tour of the Museum für Naturkunde. Students had the chance to see the some of the 30 million objects in the Museum’s collection along with learning about behind the scenes cataloging and research techniques including amphibian studies in Western Africa and microscopic digitalization of specimens.


Regime shifts in alpine vegetation in the Himalayas

Understanding how climate and land use affect shrub encroachment is important for identifying strategies to preserve biodiverse grassland in mountain regions. Jodi Brandt's new paper uses extensive field data in combination with satellite image analyses to reconstruct vegetation, climate, and land use patterns for a region in northwestern Yunnan (China). Jodi could show that shrublands rapidly expanded into grasslands, and because fire may no longer be effective in controlling shrub encroachment, these vegetation changes may be irreversible and theaten endemic biodiversity and local livelihoods.


Hot moments for biodiversity conservation

That conservation efforst should focus on biodiversity hotspots (i.e., areas where biodiversity is high and particualrly at risk) is a well-established concept in conservation biology. A new paper in Conservation Letters lead by Volker Radeloff (UW Madison) argues that there are also hot moments for conservation - that is, periods of time when conservation efforts are more likely to be implemented. Analyzing the evolution of the global protected area networks provides ample evidence for such hot moments for example following gouvernment changes in the United States or after the Fall of the Berlin wall in Eastern German.


Future land use effects on habitat connectivity

Maintaining habitat connectivity is a major challenge for conservation planners. Using an example from Southern Spain, a new paper by Maria Piquer-Rodriguez highlights how conservation planning for connectivity can be improved by considering future scenarios and and by identifying those landscape connectors that are at highest risk of being lost.


Welcome to Laura Kehoe and Patrick Culbert!

The Biogeography and Conservation Biology Group warmly welcomes Laura Kehoe and Patrick Culbert!


Satellite images allow reconstructing plant invasions

Invasions of exotic species are a major threat to biodiversity and understand the rates and patterns of invasions is important for identifying effective management strategies. A study lead by Gregorio Pizzaro highlights the potential of the Landsat image archive to reconstruct invasion patterns, by mapping the invasion of the exotic tree glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) around the city of Cordoba, Argentina. Glossy privet is native China and has been introduced to Argentina as an ornamental plant in gardens. When it escapes, glossy privet can form very dense, monospecific stands, resulting in a fundametnal restructurring of forest communities.


Mapping Eastern Europe's abandoned farmlands

Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union experienced drastic land use changes in the wake of the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Most notably, millions of hectares of former farmland were abandoned, but the extent and spatial pattern of abandoned lands remains highly unclear. Camilo Alcantara used MODIS reflectance and NDVI time series and a Support Vector Machines classification algorithm to test which remote sensing dataset captures abandoned farmlands best, and to provide an abandonment map for a major portion of Eastern Europe. His paper was just published in Remote Sensing of Environment.