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Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

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Letter published in Science on the importance of the Gran Chaco

Our letter in Science magazine highlights the importance of the large & diverse Gran Chaco, a dry forest ecoregion in urgent need of higher conservation attention.

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The Gran Chaco is a hotspot of deforestation and a major carbon emission source

Land-use change is a major driver of climate change, and in the South American Chaco agricultural expansion and intensification has been rampant during the last 30 years. Further, from a carbon perspective the Chaco is of similar importance as other global frontiers, though receives substantially less attention in policy arenas.

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Warfare affects land systems at multiple scales

Shocks can affect land systems in major ways. Warfare is a globally frequent shock, sometimes causing severe land-use change. This review suggests, though, that these changes are not unidirectional and much remains to be learned as the number of existing studies is low.

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PhD Position in Remote Sensing of Sub-Tropical Forest Degradation and Land Use

New PhD position open on remote sensing and forest degradation in the Chaco! The position is a joint position between the Conservation Biogeography Lab and the group of Prof. Eric Lambin at the Université catholique de Louvain.

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Logging threatens capercaillie in the Carpathians

Capercaillie are Europe’s largest grouse species and an umbrella species for biodiversity conservation. A new study led by Martin Mikolas and just published in Landscape Ecology shows that logging over the last 30 years, especially salvage logging following storm events, has resulted in diminishing capercaillie habitat in the Carpathians and declining connectivity among core habitat areas. Protection of remaining key capercaillie areas and more capercaillie-friendly forestry is urgently needed to halt the decline of this iconic species.

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The breakdown of the Soviet Union forges a beef telecoupling between Brazil and Russia

How do institutional shocks affect trade patterns and telecouplings? The breakdown of the Soviet Union provides an interesting example how such shocks can redistribute environmental footprints lastingly and over great distances. Florian Schierhorn and colleagues show in a paper just published in Global Food Security how Russia became the largest importer of Brazilian beef as a result of the collapse of its Russia’s livestock sector in the 1990s, and the emergence of Brazil as the leading global beef exporter in the early 2000s.

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Heterogeneous effectiveness of protected areas in the Carpathians

Protected areas are a cornerstone for forest protection, but they are not always effective during times of socioeconomic and institutional crises. A new paper by Van Butsic and co-authors just published in Conservation Biology analysed more than 1300 protected areas in the Carpathians to show that effectiveness varied substantially among countries, time periods, and protection levels. This indicates that the effectiveness of protected areas is transitory over time and space, and suggests that generalizations about the effectiveness of protected areas can be misleading.

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Agriculture rivals biomes in predicting global species richness

We find that agricultural land use performs as well as environmental variables in predicting global scale species richness patterns. This is an important finding, given that it is still unclear how important land use really is in driving global rather than local diversity patterns.

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Conflicting EU policies may hamper biodiversity conservation without mitigating climate change

In this paper, we reviewed the EU environmental policies and programmes aimed at mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity, and questioned the common assumption that in addition to the perceived climate benefits increasing forest area will also support biodiversity, thus making afforestation a “win-win scenario”. Indeed, joined climate and biodiversity benefits are strongly context-dependent. For instance, when afforestation occurs on extensively managed, biodiversity-rich semi-natural grasslands, the environmental benefits of afforestation are highly questionable. We found a striking ambivalence between policies and funding schemes addressing grassland conservation on the one hand and those supporting afforestation on the others, and highlighted the risk that the EU may be paying to maintain these grasslands in some areas, while also be paying to convert similar grasslands into forests.

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Agricultural intensification trends differed substantially between Europe's East and West since the 1990s

Patterns of yield and nitrogen application trends for six crop-type groups in the EU between 1990 and 2007 reveals marked spatial differences with high intensity levels particularly in Western and Central Europe. Soil quality, labor productivity, and climate were identified as main determinants for these trends.

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Of Wolves, Bisons and Deportation. Wild Bieszczady Mountains

Report and impressions from the Biogeography field trip to the Polish Bieszczady Mountains.

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Hotspots of land use change in Europe

How changes in the extent of land uses and the intensity at which these land uses take place relate to each other remains often unclear. A new paper by Tobias Kuemmerle and co-authors, published in Environmental Research Letters, uses a comprehensive dataset of land-use indicators for Europe to highlight the marked spatial differentiation of land-use trends in Europe. Many areas fell into at least one hotspots of land change, and change processes often co-occurred (e.g., .area decline and intensification or area increase and disintensification) highlighting the need for regionalized, context-specific policy-making.

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Brown bear habitat connectivity in the Carpathians

Connectivity assessments typically assume that animals move preferable in suitable habitat. A new paper by Elżbieta Ziółkowska, just published in Landscape Ecology, shows for bears in the northern Carpathians, that this assumption can be simplistic. Corridors identified based on habitat models and movement models differed substantially, highlighting the value of movement data when assessing connectivity.

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New typology of European agricultural landscapes

Targeting land management, landscape planning, and conservation measures require identifying appropriate spatial units. A new paper by Emma van der Zanden, just published in Urban and Landscape Planning, does so in providing the first topology of European landscapes sensitive to land management, landscape structure, and land cover.

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Farmland recultivation patterns in Ukraine

Vast areas of farmland were abandoned in Ukraine after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Recently, much farmland is taken back into production, thanks to rising global prices and a recovery of Ukraine’s agricultural sector. A new paper by Anatoly Smalichuk highlights that the drivers governing recultivation are mainly economic in nature, as most recultivation happens where agricultural potential is high. This contrasts from abandonment patterns in the 1990s, when also land reform and institutional factors played a role, together suggesting that much land will remain abandoned.

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New maps on cropping intensity patterns in Europe

Understanding the intensity of cropping is important for identifying potentials to close yield and harvesting gaps, and thus to lessen pressure on further land conversions. A new paper by Stephan Estel, published in Environmental Research letters, shows new maps of cropping frequency, multi- vs. single cropping, fallow cycles, and actual time a field is under crops on MODIS image time series from 2000 to 2012 for all of Europe.

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Environmental trade-off and social constraints of recultivating Soviet farmland

Recultivating abandoned agricultural land is an attractive option for raising agricultural production, but the environmental trade-offs and socio-economic constraint of recultivation remain unclear. A new paper, led by Patrick Meyfroidt and published in Global Environmental Change assesses recultivation potential in the European part of the former Soviet Union. While nearly 50 million hectares (Mha) of cropland lay idle in this region, only 8.5 Mha of them had low environmental trade-offs and low socio-economic constraints, while more than 30 Mha are unlikely to provide important contributions to future crop production, highlighting that cropland reclamation is not a panacea to addressing global food security or reduce pressure on tropical ecosystems.

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Fusing optical and radar images improves land-use change mapping, but is rarely done

A review of existing studies combining optical and radar reveals that only a minority of the studies have a concrete rationale on the application of the methods in the context of the land-use science question.

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Explaining unexpected European bison dispersal

Reintroduced populations may sometimes not behave as predicted. A new paper, led by Elzbieta Ziolkowska, uses connectivity assessments based on circuit theory to highlight bottlenecks and barriers for European bison dispersal in Eastern Carpathians, and thus why bison are not colonizing apparently suitable habitat. Establishing a large meta-population of bison in the Carpathians will thus require to establish functional dispersal corridors for bison along the Carpathian ridge.

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Stronger polarization of land use in Europe until 2040, with a loss of multifunctional landscapes

Scenario-based land-change trajectories for the EU until 2040 revealed marked differences with regard to extent and spatial patterns. Results indicate strong polarization trends of land use along with losses of multifunctional landscapes, which have diverging impacts on ecosystem service provisioning.

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Impressions of field work in the Chaco

During the fall of 2015 the Biogeography-lab travelled through the Chaco for field work and to kick-off the new project PASANOA.

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Addressing Climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation in European Forests – FORESTS and CO project launched

European forests store huge amounts of carbon, and are thus important for mitigating climate change. Forest management can increase carbon storage, but it is often unclear how this affects forest biodiversity. Answering this question is at the core of the new EU-funded research project ‘CO-Benefits and COnflicts between CO2 sequestration and biodiversity conservation in European FORESTS’, (FORESTS and CO), carried out by Dr. Francesco Maria Sabatini and Prof. Tobias Kuemmerle with the partnership of the European Forest Institute.

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New DFG project started: Understanding links between agriculture and biodiversity in the Chaco

A new project, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, KU 2458/5-1) and entitled “Trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity conservation in the South American Chaco” started with a Kickoff meeting of German and Argentine project partners in Argentina in October 2015. The Argentine Chaco is among the most rapidly transforming forest ecoregions worldwide, mainly due to the expansion of export-oriented agriculture and cattle ranching. The widespread conversions of natural grasslands and forests to agricultural lands in the Chaco also exert great pressure on the region’s biodiversity, but how different taxa respond to land use change, which species are loosers and which winners of the recent agricultural boom, and how agriculture and conservation goals could be balanced in the region remains highly unclear.

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