Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography


Harnessing ranger-collected data for adaptive management in protected area

Credit Arash Ghoddousi 1.JPG
Photo credits: Arash Ghoddousi

Ranger patrols are the most common conservation measures against poaching in protected areas. We extracted, digitized and analyzed ranger-collected data from logbooks to predict poaching prevalence, its determinants and to devise future patrolling strategies.

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Deforestation frontiers are widespread across tropical dry woodlands

Photo credits: Patrick Meyfroidt

We develop an approach to map spatial and temporal patterns of deforestation frontiers and apply it to the world’s tropical dry woodlands. We find across regions, areas under drastic loss, termed rampant frontiers, and that many frontiers are just starting to unfold.

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Need for a holistic management of conflicts with rebounding large carnivores in Europe

Photo credits: Andrea Benvenuti

The return of large carnivores in Europe challenges conservation because of increasing human-wildlife conflict. We here show that, along with livestock protection, preventive measures should consider predator-prey effects and resulting indirect conflict with humans, such as via crop damage.

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Drought in Syria caused crop failure but not agricultural collapse before the 2011 conflict


Syrian agriculture was affected by drought in 2008 and 2009, but recovered before the conflict started in 2011. Claims of an agricultural collapse that led to large scale land abandonment in Syria before 2011 need to be re-examined.

Revealing forest disturbance agents in the Argentine Dry Chaco


Identifying causal agents of disturbances is important for understanding forest degradation patterns and for addressing their outcomes, including biodiversity loss and carbon emission. Using information derived from the Landsat archive, we attribute and map key agents of forest disturbances for the Argentine Chaco.

Ten facts about land systems for sustainability

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Land systems are key to overcoming existential challenges facing humanity and achieving sustainable development. Land System Scientists from around the globe synthesized their knowledge into 10 Facts on Land Systems that together light the way toward a sustainable future.

Humans rather than a large carnivore shape ungulate browsing patterns


Integrating different types of field data, we compared the effects of human activities and Eurasian lynx occurrence on foraging patterns by roe deer inside a national park. Our findings highlight that recreational activities and hunting are more influential than lynx occurrence in shaping the variation in browsing intensity and diet selection by deer, thus highlighting the importance of human activities in creating ‘landscapes of fear’ for large herbivores.

Mapping international conservation funding

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We mapped conservation-related foreign aid in South America’s major deforestation frontiers between 1975-2013. The combinations of project objectives, interventions and locations reflected linkages between donating and receiving regions, as well as donor’s value and preferences.

Hunting game - the overlocked land use to advance context-specific planning in multi-functional landscapes


Using Sweden as a case, we show that hunting of different game groups is a wide-spread activity, covering more area than forestry or agricultural. We found strong spatial associations between hunting, agriculture, and forestry related to wildlife group or species, specific environmental conditions, socioeconomic and institutional factors.

Regional matters in times of global change


The free availability of global satellite data archives, increased computational power & open-source algorithms have led to a proliferation of global Earth Observation (EO) land-cover data. Does that mean that regional EO land-cover data are no longer needed?
Our Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation interdisciplinary perspective presents the pros and cons of regional & global EO-derived land-cover data, the context in which both are preferable, and the pathways for aligning regional and global data products.

Carbon stocks in the Chaco are often underestimated

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biomass stocks in tropical and subtropical forests is important to understand where and how agricultural expansion will result in carbon emissions, and where measures to protect carbon stocks should be targeted to. Using MODIS and Sentinel 1 time series, we show that the dry Chaco, a global deforestation hotspot, still contains vast amounts of carbon. Our paper in Remote Sensing of Environment also highlights that global maps typically underestimate the carbon stored in Chaco vegetation dramatically.

A novel framework for evaluating the contribution of protected areas to conservation and sustainability goals

Photo A Ghoddousi.png

The increase in the coverage of protected areas worldwide is often celebrated as a major conservation success. But the effectiveness of protected areas is often debated. We propose a holistic framework to evaluate the ecological and social outcomes of protected areas.


Deforestation threatens forest-dependent people in the Gran Chaco


Millions of people globally rely on forest-based resources for their livelihoods, and deforestation is putting them at risk. We mapped homesteads of forest-dependent people in the Chaco and showed they are widespread across Chaco forests, that their numbers have declined drastically since the 1980s, and that expanding commodity agriculture diminishes their resource base.


Enhancing the potential of social-ecological system archetype mapping to guide sustainable landscape management

Photo: Manuel Pacheco-Romero

Social-ecological system (SES) mapping can be a fundamental tool to guide more integrated and sustainable land management. Here we combined inductive and deductive analyses to identify context-specific typical SES and changes therein in Southern Spain, and then linked them to globally recognizable types of human-nature connectedness. This allowed to identify archetypes of social-ecological conditions related to key sustainability challenges, such as potential social-ecological traps and regime shifts associated to decreasing human-nature connectedness. Our work provides a spatial template within which contextualized policy making and management can take place.

Sustainable land use in the Gran Chaco is still possible – but not for long

Photo: Asunción Semper-Pascual

We show that the Gran Chaco, one of the world’s largest – and most rapidly disappearing – tropical dry forests, still has opportunities to balance the goals of agricultural production, protecting biodiversity, and maintaining the carbon stored in forests. Sustainable farming (e.g. silvopastures) may provide useful opportunities to balance development and conservation trade-offs, but even with these biodiversity-friendly options sustainable landscapes still require at least 40-50% forest cover. However, the window of opportunity is closing rapidly as deforestation progresses – it is now or never for sustainability in the Gran Chaco.

Where are the forests of high conservation value in Romania?

Photo: Gabriel Covaza

Romania has over 700,000 ha of high-conservation-value forests, but as much as half of them are under high anthropogenic pressure.


Roads shape the survival of European wildcat across Europe

Photo: Fabrice Cahez / Biosphoto

Understanding survival is crucial for effective species conservation. We studied survival and cause-specific mortality of European wildcat across Europe and found that 83% of wildcat annual mortality was caused by humans. Roadkill was the main source of mortality and the survival decreased with increasing density of high-traffic roads.


European Primary Forests and where to find them

Photo: Matthias Schickhofer

In Europe, primary forests are scarce and continue to disappear. Despite these losses, we know little about where these forests occur. Here, we present a comprehensive geodatabase and map of Europe’s known primary forests. Our work expands previous mapping efforts (https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.12778) to now cover 48 independent datasets across 33 countries, and releasing all data with open-access (https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/European_Primary_Forest_Database/13194095).


Reducing persecution is key to restore large carnivore populations

Photo: WWF Azerbaijan

Large carnivores are lost from many places worldwide. Preventing these extirpations and restoring their populations are central goals for conservation. Yet, choosing the right conservation strategy can be tricky in the face of uncertain information, which is typical for rare and threatened large carnivores. In our new paper, we use Persian leopards in the Caucasus as an example to demonstrate how combining a rule-based habitat model with an individual-based, spatially explicit population model can provide deep insights into the potential value of such conservation strategies.


Importance of rear-edge populations under climate change

Photo: Idris Ölmez

Climate change threatens wildlife populations globally. Particularly rear-edge populations that typically occupy warmer areas than core populations are at stake when temperatures rise. In our new paper, we show for Caucasian grouse that rear-edge populations harbor important adaptive capacity for species to adapt to warmer climates. Our study also demonstrates that ignoring rear-edge populations in range shift predictions leads to a substantial underestimation of the future potential range. Preventing the loss of rear-edge populations should therefore be a priority to support climate change adaptation for species.


How do human behaviours impact wildlife movements?

Photo: Biplab Hazra

We introduce the term ‘anthropogenic resistance’ as the approximation of human psychological and socioeconomic factors that can impact species’ movement, and highlight how to include anthropogenic resistance in connectivity planning to ensure functionality of corridors.


Habitat amount or habitat fragmentation: what drives time-delayed responses of biodiversity to land-use change?


Land-use change is the most important driver of species’ extinctions, but how fast do species respond to landscape change, and how important is habitat loss versus fragmentation? We showed that birds and mammals in the Argentine Dry Chaco go locally extinct where habitat loss dominates, however, they can persist in fragmented landscapes. These findings contribute to better understand the effect of habitat fragmentation and the drivers of extinction debt – and the window of time we have to avert future extinctions.


ERC Consolidator Grant awarded to Tobias Kuemmerle to work on biodiversity conservation in tropical dry forests


The ERC project SYSTEMSHIFT will work at the intersection of Land System Science and Conservation Science. We will develop new approaches, based on social-ecological systems, to assess how land-use actors relate to threats to biodiversity, how different threats interact, and how to consider both for better conservation planning. SYSTEMSHIFT will focus on the world’s tropical dry forests, with case studies in the Chaco and Chiquitano forests in South America – both of them hotspots of land-use change, deforestation and biodiversity loss.


Habitat destruction and hunting reduce mammal diversity in the world’s largest tropical dry forest

Photo: Alfredo Romero-Muñoz

All aspects of the mammalian diversity have sufferend widespread declines across much of South America’s 1.1 million km2 Gran Chaco region, a global deforestation hotspot. This represent a widespread impoverishment of mammal species richness, branches of their evolutionary tree of life and the ecological roles they perform that contribute to ecosystem functioning and nature’s contributions to people.


Mapping wildlife habitat dynamics from Landsat time series

Photo: Rainer Simonis

In our new paper, we show how to move beyond one-time snapshots in wildlife habitat mapping with Landsat time series. Combining animal movement data with the LandTrendr algorithm, we document partially diverging responses by two deer species to different forest disturbances. Our findings highlight long-term impacts of forest disturbance on deer habitat with important implications for wildlife and forest management.


Landscape context determines agriculture-biodiversity trade-offs

Photo: Matthew Watts, via Wikimedia Commons

Mitigating the strong trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity has become a central goal for conservation planning and land-use planning alike. A new paper in Landscape Ecology, led by Ricardo Torres, shows that landscape configuration is an important factor determining how these trade-offs play out. In the Argentine Chaco, a global deforestation hotspot, trade-offs were often lower for more heterogeneous and mixed landscapes. Together, this suggests landscape design can realize co-benefits between agriculture and biodiversity—in the Gran Chaco and elsewhere.


A post-Soviet shift in disturbance regime changed the vegetation structure on the Eurasian steppe

Photo: Martin Freitag

Post-Soviet declines in livestock grazing on the Kazakh steppe caused the disturbance regime to shift from grazer to fire control. Differing effects of grazing and fire on the functional composition of plant communities suggest widespread changes in vegetation structure, with poorly understood implications for biodiversity and ecosystem functions.


Conservation priorities for restoring Bezoar goats in the Caucasus

Photo: Alexander Malkhasyan

Mountain ungulates around the world have been decimated to small, isolated populations. Our new paper in Conservation Science & Practice showcases an approach to spatially target threat‐specific restoration actions for bezoar goats in the Caucasus. We find widespread suitable habitat, but much of it is unoccupied. The reason for this is likely high poaching pressure that prevents natural recolonization. Our approach and map allow to pinpoint priority patches for specific restoration measures, such as reintroductions and anti‐poaching action.


Europe’s primary forests: What to protect? Where to restore?

Photo: Francesco Sabatini

Primary forests are an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage and are critical for conserving forest biodiversity. We used a unique geodatabase to assess the conservation status of Europe’s primary forests, and highlight protection gaps and priorities for restoration.

Overall, primary forests are in a perilous state, and are not representative of Europe’s diversity of forest types. Yet, there are considerable opportunities for ensuring better protection and restoring primary forest structure, composition and functioning, at least partially.


Fight Fire with Trade

Fig.: Laura Kehoe

Our three tenets of sustainable trade—inclusion, transparency, and enforcement—are widely applicable and provide policymakers, producers, consumers, and the wider international community with a clear and practical pathway toward supporting human rights, a habitable climate, and a healthy environment.


Mapping the direct and indirect effects of agricultural expansion on species

Photo: Julieta Decarre (INTA)

We developed an approach to isolate and map the direct and indirect effects of agricultural expansion on species, using the giant anteater in the Gran Chaco as an example. Anteater occupancy decreased substantially since 1985, particularly after 2000 when agriculture expanded rapidly. Importantly, anteater occupancy declined over much wider areas than those directly affected by forest loss, suggesting that agricultural expansion has substantial indirect effects on species.


Ecosystem services decline drastically as agriculture expands in the Argentine Chaco 

Photo: Matias Mastrangelo

Agricultural expansion often leads to drastic changes in ecosystem functions and services, but the spatial patterns of these changes often remain elusive. A new paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology, led by Paula Barral, shows how non-parametric spatial clustering can be used to identify typical bundles of ecosystem functions and services – and how land-use changes alters them in the Argentine Chaco, a global deforestation hotspot. This provides a spatial template for land use planning to address and mitigate trade-offs between ecosystem services.


Conservation strategies must adapt when landscapes change

Photo: Martin Lepez

- Agriculture provides societies with food and biomass, but where agriculture expands into tropical and subtropical forests, biodiversity losses can be large.

- Understanding how exactly agriculture impacts biodiversity is therefore critically important for helping farmers and planners to find ways to avoid biodiversity losses.


Topographic correction matters: Land-cover mapping in the Caucasus

Photo: Volker Radeloff

Our study found that topographic correction matters for land-cover mapping, especially for discriminating forest typesin steep terrain, and examinedthree decades of Landsat imagery revealingthat cropland loss was the most prevalentland-cover change in the Caucasus.


Does conflict inhibit connectivity for big cats?

Photo: PWHF

Maintaining connectivity is among important conservation measures against habitat fragmentation. Yet, conflict risk may compromise the functionality of corridors. In this study, we show that by ignoring human-leopard conflict, safe corridors are substantially overestimated in NE Iran.


Land grabs lead to increasing deforestation in the tropics

Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim / Wikimedia Commons

Land acquisitions in the tropics by multinational companies or countries have been a growing phenomenon recently, but it remains unclear whether that leads to more deforestation. A new study, led by Kyle Davis from the University of Delaware, analyzed over 82,000 individual land deals in 15 tropical countries to show that land deals do indeed target areas with disproportionally high forest cover and that once deals are made they lead to increased deforestation. This emphasizes the need for stronger policies curbing the negative environmental impacts of land deals.


Post-Soviet rewilding in the Eurasia steppes results in increasing landscape connectivity

Photo: Johannes Kamp

In the steppes of Kazakhstan, large-scale passive rewilding maybe taking place, substantially increasing protected area connectivity! Using a unique combination of satellite imagery and historic topographic maps we developed a set of spatial indicators that allowed to spatially assess post-Soviet trends in human influence. 


Spy satellites reveal species’ declines

Photo: Alyona Koshkina

Species’ responses to land use conversions can occur on timescales not previously observed for mammals. Marmot burrow densities declined for over 60 years following agricultural conversions. To demonstrate these remarkable long-term responses, we relied on a novel data source for conservation - Corona spy satellite imagery from the Cold War.


PhD Position on biodiversity responses to land-use change in the former Soviet Union

Photo: Rotislav Stach/​Bundesamt für Naturschutz/​dpa

The Conservation Biology department at the University of Göttingen (Germany) seeks highly qualified and motivated candidates for a PhD Position on biodiversity responses to
land-use change in the former Soviet Union.
One PhD position (TV-L 13, 65%) for three years.
Starting date: from 1st October 2020

Application deadline: 30 June 2020


Cropland distribution and local climate shape bird beta diversity 

Photo: Gregorio Gavier Pizarro

Using generalized dissimilarity models we find that cropland distribution and local climate characteristics are important factors in shaping beta diversity of birds in the South American Dry Chaco. 


Increasing joint impacts of habitat destruction and hunting on mammals in the Gran Chaco

Photo: Alfredo Romero-Muñoz

Habitat destruction and overexploitation – the main threats to biodiversity worldwide – are increasingly affecting several mammal species in the same areas. In such areas, the total effect of both threats may be even larger than the sum of the parts, likely resulting in fast biodiversity loss. Our work identifies priority areas for protection, as well as hotspots were one or both threats should be managed in order to save the imperiled biodiversity of the Chaco.


Trade in soybean and beef affect Jaguars more than trafficking

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Photo: Daniel Alarcón

The increasing trade in jaguar body parts to China have drawn global conservation attention. However, we argue that the trade in soybean and beef pose far greater threats to jaguars through increasing habitat destruction and direct killing that they promote. Conservation should focus on these threats and their interactions with trafficking.


Cattle systems in the Dry Chaco

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Photo: Pedro D. Fernández

Cattle production has major impacts on the environment, but these impacts vary depending on the cattle production systems. Data on these systems are notoriously scarce, which is a real obstacle for context-specific impact assessments and spatial planning. Here, we developed a novel approach that combines vaccination data, which contains detailed information on the location and composition of cattle herds, with fine-scale land-cover information to map cattle production systems.


A novel Landsat-derived index shows a 73% drop in grazing pressure on the Eurasian steppe


Producing food while maintaining biodiversity is a global challenge and fierce debates exist about the optimal strategy to do so. We show that the best strategy depends on both species response to agriculture as well as the productive capacity of land.


Maintaining biodiversity may take multiple land use strategies

figure Butsic

Producing food while maintaining biodiversity is a global challenge and fierce debates exist about the optimal strategy to do so. We show that the best strategy depends on both species response to agriculture as well as the productive capacity of land.


Fires scorching Bolivia's Chiquitano forest

Photo: Daniel Coimbra

The Chiquitano dry Forest, the world’s largest and best preserved tropical dry forest, has lost a staggering 1.4 million ha (~12 of its total area) to forest fires over weeks in 2019. The Bolivian government should revise the legislation encouraging agricultural expansion to protect these unique forest.


Mapping marmots from space

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We used Google Earth and Bing images to map the distribution of Bobak marmot (Marmota bobak) across its range in Kazakhstan and southern Russia (~950,000 km2). Our ground-truth survey showed that the imagery we used are suitable for detection marmot burrows form space. Based on we occurrence data we built habitat models and derived a new population estimate for the species in Kazahkstan.


Land-use change caused a tremendous increase in steppe fires in Kazakhstan

Photo: Andrey Dara

Dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in an unprecedented cropland and grazing abandonment. We detected a sevenfold increase in burned area in northern Kazahkstan using Landsat imagery. This change in fire regimes can be attributed to post-Soviet land-use change.


Connectivity or isolation? Wisent reintroductions in Poland 

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Photo: Heindriken Dahmann

In this study, we developed an approach to identify candidate reintroduction sites to increase connectivity as well as to serve as potential reservoirs. We used European bison (wisents) as an example and mapped 47 reintroduction candidate sites in Poland.


Assessing the impacts of deforestation on collared peccaries at the population and individual level

Asun photo deforestation
Photo: Julieta Decarre / INTA

In this study, we developed an approach to identify candidate reintroduction sites to increase connectivity as well as to serve as potential reservoirs. We used European bison (wisents) as an example and mapped 47 reintroduction candidate sites in Poland.


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