Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

News archive


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

Romero Munoz_jaguar
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

Fernandez cattle
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

photo marmots

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 

Benjamin Bleyhl_wisent_Poland
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.


Mapping habitat suitability directly from the Landsat archive

Oeser_Lynx Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald
Photo: Julian Oeser

We show that Landsat-based spectral-temporal metrics can significantly improve habitat assessments for large mammals when compared to land-cover maps, better capturing fine scale variation and temporal dynamics in habitat conditions.


New study reveals changes in GHG emissions after the collapse of the Soviet Union 

Large greenhouse gas savings
Photo: Eugene Chernetsov, Fotolia

The effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union on GHG emissions was unclear until now. In our new study, we estimated that the changes in food production, food trade, and cropland extend in the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine etc.) resulted in a massive net reduction of GHG emissions.


A land system perspective on sustainable intensification

Photo: Tobias Kümmerle

Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is expected to be an important pathway for achieving future food security while protecting the environment. Recognizing that there is no single answer to how different dimensions of intensification can be achieved sustainably, we identify opportunities for research across spatial scales.


Restoring wildness in ecosystems

alluvial forest

The practice of rewilding has been both promoted and criticized in recent years. Benefits include flexibility to react to environmental change and the promotion of opportunities for society to reconnect with nature. Criticisms include the lack of a clear conceptualization of rewilding, insufficient knowledge about possible outcomes, and the perception that rewilding excludes people from landscapes.


Make EU trade with Brazil sustainable


The effects of European consumption are being felt in Brazil, driving disastrous deforestation and violence. But the destruction can end if the European Union demands higher environmental and human rights standards on Brazilian goods. 600 EU scientists and 300 Indigenous groups agree: the time to act is now, before it's too late.


Agricultural abandonment and re-cultivation during and after the Chechen Wars in the northern Caucasus

He Yin_Chechen Wars

Armed conflicts are globally widespread and can strongly influence societies and the environment. However, where and how armed conflicts affect agricultural land-use is not well-understood. The Caucasus is a multi-ethnic region that experienced several conflicts shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most notably the two Chechen Wars, raising the question how agricultural lands were changed.


Maximising carbon stock and biodiversity in European temperate forests: can we fill two needs with one deed?


Can managing forests for storing carbon jointly achieve biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation goals? Global and regional environmental policies often assume co‐benefits between carbon and biodiversity, but it is unclear whether this assumption holds at fine scales relevant for management.


Jaguars lost an area the size of Austria of key habitat since the 1980’s in the Gran Chaco

Habitat loss and overhunting synergistically drive the extirpation of jaguars from the Gran Chaco
Photo: Daniel Alarcón

Overhunting and habitat loss acted alone or in tandem to reduce jaguar’s key habitat by a third since the 1980’s in the Gran Chaco. Overhunting extended over seven million hectares of jaguar habitat versus habitat loss occupying three million hectares by 2013. Larger protected areas maintained key jaguar habitat better than smaller ones, but 95% of the loss occurred in unprotected areas. Most of the remaining key jaguar habitat remains along international borders of the Chaco countries.


Wild sheep are threatened by domestic sheep in the Caucasus


In this study, led by Benjamin Bleyhl, we mapped niche overlap between wild and domestic sheep to assess competition and to identify priority areas for wild sheep conservation. Niche differences indicated that competition might push wild sheep to marginal habitat.


Counting mowing events from space

Estel Moving frequency

Using time series from a space borne vegetation index and livestock statistics we mapped the mowing frequency and grassland management regimes across Europe. Our spatially-detailed maps may help to improve regionally targeted land-use and conservation policies.


Europe’s cultural landscapes are threatened by urbanization and abandonment


We show that urbanization and agricultural abandonment are the main threats towards Europe’s cultural landscapes. Cultural landscapes are sensitive to specific land-change trajectories and react differently to diverse policies, which is crucial to consider for safeguarding valuable cultural landscape in the future.


Unbridled international trade eats up the land-savings from pasture intensification and diminishes the potential for conservation

Pasture intensification cows

Pasture intensification holds the promise of producing more food in the same patch of land – but will future intensification relieve pressure on natural areas? Our new study suggests that the answer to this question depends largely on international trade and timely land-use planning.


Combining multiple sensors reveals distinct land-use impacts on woody vegetation in the Chaco

Combining multiple sensors reveals distinct land-use impacts on woody vegetation in the Chaco

Mapping savannas and dry forests is challenging, but combining data from Landsat-8 and Sentinel-1 help mapping fractional tree- and shrub cover. Using these maps we revealed distinct impacts of land-use on aboveground woody vegetation.


How much do European bison use forests?

How much do European bison use forests?

The most comprehensive assessment of European bison habitat selection ever made reveals that European bison are pretty generalist in their habitat use. A new study, led by Tobias Kümmerle and just published in Landscape ecology used an extensive telemetry dataset from 45 individuals from five free-ranging herds in Poland to show that European bison are connected to forest, but use and select for open areas to varying degrees.


Did irrigation dams increase cropping frequency across the globe?

Rufin_irrigation dam

We analyzed cropping frequencies in +1k irrigation dam command areas to assess benefits of reservoirs for crop production. Globally, cropping frequencies were 16% higher than rainfed control areas, but spatial variability was apparent across world regions.


Location matters: Spatial determinants of agricultural abandonment in Europe

Location matters: Spatial determinants of agricultural abandonment in Europe

Agricultural abandonment is a common land-use trend in many regions worldwide. We identified the leading spatial determinants of abandonment patterns in Europe using model-based boosting. Climate, farm management, and socioeconomic settings mainly explained abandonment. Context-specific, regionalized policies needed to mitigate abandonment outcomes.


Where are Europe’s last primary forests?

Where are Europe’s last primary forests?
Photo: F. M. Sabatini

Agriculture and forestry have transformed much of Europe – but truly wild places still exist. We have just published the map of remaining primary forest for Europe in the scientific journal ‘Diversity and Distribution’. This work is the result of a pan-European collective effort involving more than 30 researchers, NGOs and institutions. The map includes 1.4 Million hectares of primary forest, and represents the first attempt to get a clear picture concerning primary forests in Europe.


Quantities matter! How dense time series improve the mapping of cropland abandonment

Quantities matter! How dense time series improve the mapping of cropland abandonment
Fig.: Andrey Dara

We show how dense time series of satellite data can help mapping the timing of cropland abandonment more accurately, and that more in-depth information on the time substantially influences the detail of subsequent analyses.


How to map land abandonment from Landsat time series?


Agricultural land abandonment is a common land-use change, yet it is challenging to distinguish agricultural abandonment from transitional classes such as fallow land at high spatial resolutions due to the complexity of change process.


What does it mean to have many threatened mammals?


In relation to land use, concentrations of threatened species are associated to relatively little-transformed areas in the Tropics, whereas they occur in much modified areas in Europe. Considering different land-use metrics and looking at different regions separately help us to better interpret these global patterns.


Profits are not always a driver of deforestation in Argentina


This paper shows that in Argentina profits explain agricultural intensification patterns well (e.g., ranching to soybean), but not deforestation patterns. This suggests that other factors, such as cultural ties to the land, land speculation or zonation, drive expansion frontiers in the Chaco - and that profit-related policies might not be very effective in influencing deforestation rates.


Not all is lost! Mapping extinction debt can avert biodiversity loss in the Chaco


We highlight areas in the Argentinian Dry Chaco where future local extinctions due to unpaid extinction debt are more likely to happen. In these areas, up to 56% and 29% of the extant birds and mammals, respectively, may go locally extinct if conservation actions are not implemented soon.


Collecting scats in the Gran Chaco - not an easy job!


Our PhD student Asunción Semper-Pascual has recently carried out her fieldwork in the Argentinian Dry Chaco to collect data for one of her thesis chapters. Here you can find a report of her experience.


Low-hanging fruits for representing land use better in Earth System Models


Land use is a key driver of global environmental change but it remains poorly considered in the current generation of Earth System Models. A new paper, led by Julia Pongratz and just published in Global Change Biology, systematically evaluates ten land management practices, from forestry harvest, to crop species selection, tillage, and fire management regarding their importance as well as technological and data challenges in terms of the possibility of implementing them in Earth System Models.


How good are your maps?


Land-cover maps are the basis for many analyses in ecology, conservation and land system science. The quality of these maps is thus an important determinant of the quality of downstream analyses, but quantifying these impacts is often difficult. A new study, published in Global Change Biology and led by Lyndon Estes, uses a unique ground-truth dataset from southern Africa to systematically assess errors in land cover maps at various resolutions, and how these impact subsequent analyses – from understanding carbon stocks, evapotranspiration, to crop production and household food security.


Ten candidate sites for European bison reintroductions in Germany


European bison (Bison bonasus) were historically part of the fauna of Germany, yet the species and the role it played in ecosystems were lost until their recent reintroduction. In a study using the largest dataset of European bison occurrence points ever collected we mapped habitat suitability and identified candidate sites for reintroductions throughout Germany.


Land Systems Version 2 & associated Biodiversity Loss


As part of our recent paper by Kehoe et al. (2017), we developed a global 1km land systems map that delineates between the major land use classes and includes low, medium, and intensive cropland and pasture. The map also includes natural areas suitable and not suitable for future cropland expansion.


Call for applications for a PhD position in our lab starting in July 2018 the latest


We are now accepting applications for a new PhD position in our lab. The PhD position will be in the context of our newly funded European PhD Training Network COUPLED (http://coupled-itn.eu). The focus of this graduate school will be on operationalizing the telecouplings concept in order to assess and solve sustainability challenges connected to land use. Recruiting has started, the application deadline is 24 November, 2017.


Classical land rent theory fails to explain land-use dynamics in the Chaco


We use land-use/cover change maps, interviews and expert knowledge to identify different agricultural frontiers across the Chaco. Analyzing these frontiers reveals that existing land rent theory does not explain the land-use dynamics in the Chaco without appropriately considering the different actors levels.


Conference for protection of old growth forest in Europe – We go, do You?


In order to protect the last old-growth forests, you need to know where they are! We will present our 'Map of primary forests of Europe' at the Conference for protection of old growth forest in Europe (Brussels, 13-14th September 2017).


Carving up the tropics for dinner


We highlight the hot spots around the world that are most susceptible to agricultural development. We find up to a one third loss of terrestrial species and abundance in the tropics. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly at-risk and has only half the protected area coverage of potentially high risk agricultural development areas as Latin America.


The global soybean boom drives deforestation in the Chaco


The South American dry Chaco is losing forests at an alarming rate. This new study provides more evidence that while cattle ranching appears to be the dominant proximate cause for deforestation, ultimately the global soybean boom may drive deforestation in the Chaco.


The type of land tenure regimes affects the trade-off between production and environmental outcomes


Combining data on biodiversity, land-use change and production across different land-tenure regimes in the Chaco shows that no single land-tenure regime is able to minimize trade-offs between production and environmental outcomes best, emphasizing the need for spatially adapted zoning strategies to limit deforestation in the Chaco.


Biogeography field trip to the Polish Carpathians


Here are some impressions of our lab excursion to the Polish Bieszczady Mountains in the outer Eastern Carpathians. As part of a study project, students were trained in field data collection. There was also time to experience the astonishing wilderness of the Bieszczady area with visits to beautiful landscapes, and exciting wildlife observations.


European Training Network COUPLED will kick off in 2018


The network "Operationalising Telecoupling for Solving Sustainability Challenges for Land Use" (COUPLED) is a joint graduate school of HU Berlin, other European universities and partner organizations from business and civil society that is funded by the EU. The program is to run until 2022 and will train outstanding PhD students in trans- and interdisciplinary concepts and methodologies within the framework of excellent research projects.


New paper using Landsat 8 composites to derive large mammal corridors in the Caucasus


In this paper we used the Landsat 8 record to classify land cover for the entire Caucasus ecoregion (70 Mha). Based on the land cover we identified numerous large mammal corridors among protected areas, but also widespread bottlenecks within the corridors that indicate limited functioning. Our study highlights how remote sensing can support connectivity analyses across large areas, one of the key instruments in conservation planning.


Letter published in Science on the importance of the Gran Chaco

Chaco forest

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.


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.


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.


A pivotal year for Bolivian conservation policy

As Bolivia approaches presidential elections in October 2019, the country’s environmental leadership is at stake. We discuss urgent challenges and opportunities for reconciling conservation and societal needs in this mega-diverse country.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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”.


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.


Of Wolves, Bisons and Deportation. Wild Bieszczady Mountains


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Kick-Off meeting PASANOA: sustainable land management in Northern Argentina

The new project PASANOA - Pathways to sustainable land management in Northern Argentina - starts with a Kick-Off meeting on 3./4. October 2015 in Mar de Plata, Argentina. The workshop enables the Project-Partners to discuss and organize the tasks and deliverables within the work packages.

Kick-Off meeting PASANOA: sustainable land management in Northern Argentina - Read More…

Humans matter in food webs

Understanding whether top-down or bottom-up drivers are more important in controlling food webs is a long-standing research question in ecology. Most research to date has focused on assessing this question in natural ecosystems. A new paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and led by Ine Dorresteijn shows that in transformed landscapes, humans have an important top-down effect, influencing species across trophic levels. Given that most ecosystems across the global are influenced by land use, the study highlights the need to explicitly embed humans within trophic cascade theory.

Humans matter in food webs - Read More…

Land use legacies determine logging patterns in the Carpathians

The Carpathians, Europe's largest mountain range and Europe's largest temperate forest ecosystem, are currently undergoing a period of intensive logging. A number of factors have been identified to contribute to high logging rates in the Carpathians , including ownership changes, illegal logging, and rising timber prices. A new study led by Catalina Munteanu and published in Global Environmental Change now shows that past land management is an important factor determining today's logging patterns. Using a unique set of historical maps, the study highlights that logging was much more likely in areas that were historically used for agriculture - areas where today spruce mono-cultures dominate in much of the Carpathians.

Land use legacies determine logging patterns in the Carpathians - Read More…

Big congratulations to Stephan Estel!

Stephan Estel defended his PhD yesterday with a very nice presentation. Stephan worked on mapping patterns of agricultural land-use intensity across Europe. In the tradition of the institute, Stephan got a very special hat summarizing his time here with us... Click for pictures of the event.

Big congratulations to Stephan Estel! - Read More…

New study of global patterns of agricultural land use-intensity and biodiversity

By 2050 it is estimated that we will need around 50% more food. Even under ambitious future scenarios of reducing food waste, consumption of meat and dairy, and inequality, agricultural production increases will still be necessary (Visconti et al., 2015). Biodiversity is already in trouble, notably due to agricultural expansion into natural areas. Land-use intensification often touted as solution to stop expanding into natural areas and grow more on the same patch. However, in finding a balance between agriculture and wildlife, most research focuses on yields and biodiversity. Our new study published in Diversity and Distributions this week shows that this is an over-simplistic approach. Focusing on yields alone in agricultural intensification misses a big part of the story, and potentially overlooks numerous drivers of biodiversity loss (e.g. irrigation causing salinization of soils, toxic livestock runoff). Our study shows that if we wish to find sustainable ways in which to feed the world, we need to take into account the full spectrum of management practises by which we grow food.

New study of global patterns of agricultural land use-intensity and biodiversity - Read More…

Correlates of vertebrate species richness over Europe across scales

What determines patterns of species richness is a fundamental question in biogeography. A new paper led by Maud Mouchet, just published in PLoS ONE, provides new insights related to this question by assessing avian, amphibian, and mammalian richness patterns in Europe across scales using boosted regression trees. Land cover and evapotranspiration were main correlates of vertebrate species richness over Europe, correlates varied substantially among regions and across scales - with land-use/land-cover becoming more important at finer scales.

Correlates of vertebrate species richness over Europe across scales - Read More…

Call for applications for 2 PhD positions in our lab starting in the fall (deadline extended!)

We are now accepting applications for two new PhD positions in our lab. Both PhD projects will focus on the South American Chaco - the biggest continuous dry forest in the world, spanning parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. This area has undergone rapid deforestation and agricultural intensification in the past few decades with drastic outcomes for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Recruiting has started, but the application deadline has been extended until 31 Juli.

Call for applications for 2 PhD positions in our lab starting in the fall (deadline extended!) - Read More…

European bison habitat in the Caucasus

European bison have been successfully saved from extinction, but their long-term survival requires larger and well-connected herds. A new paper in Biological Conservation, led by Benjamin Bleyhl, shows that the Caucasus mountains is a place where a large bison population could be establish, providing ample summer and winter habitat.

European bison habitat in the Caucasus - Read More…

Declining trends in human appropriation of NPP over Europe

A new paper by Simone Gingrich and co-authors in Land Use Policy shows that Human Appropriation of NPP (HANPP) has declined during the 20th century across Europe. Using a comprehensive set of land use datasets from nine countries, the paper also shows that the starkly contrasting institutional and economic paradigms, with communism on the one hand and capitalism on the other, did not influence HANPP trajectories strongly - highlighting the importance of population and technological change as drivers of land management.

Declining trends in human appropriation of NPP over Europe - Read More…

Potential for cropland expansion in Kazakhstan lower than appreciated

Much cropland was abandoned in Kazakhstan after the breakdown of the Soviet Union and an important question is if and how these lands could contribute to global food security. A new paper by Roland Kramer in Environmental Research Letters suggests that the potential for further expansion may be lower than appreciated, because much recultivation has already occurred in the last years and the remaining abandoned lands largely is located in areas with low agricultural production potentials.

Potential for cropland expansion in Kazakhstan lower than appreciated - Read More…

Forst transitions and carbon budgets in the former Soviet Union

When forest transitions, the shift from net deforestation to net forest increase, happened has important implications for carbon budgets. A new paper in Global Change Biology, led by Tobias Kuemmerle, highlights that forest transitions in European Russia happened later and forest recovery was slower than previously appreciated. Moreover, the intensity of and use already 200 years ago may have been much higher than previously thought. Together, this suggest a high potential for increased carbon sequestration in European Russia.

Forst transitions and carbon budgets in the former Soviet Union - Read More…

Mapping agricultural abandonment and recultivation in Europe

Agricultural abandonment is a major land use change in the temperate region but where abandonment happens is often unclear. A new paper in Remote Sensing of Environment, led by Stephan Estel, uses MODIS time series analyses to map managed and fallow agricultural land for all of Europe annually since 2001. This allowed to identify hotspots of continued abandonment, mainly in mountain regions and Eastern Europe, but also to show that recultivation of cropland abandoned after the breakdown of the Soviet Union has become a major land trend in Europe.

Mapping agricultural abandonment and recultivation in Europe - Read More…

Unraveling drivers of scattered tree loss in Germany

Trees outside forests are often overlooked, yet are important for biodiversity and carbon dynamics. A new paper, led by Tobias Plieninger and just published in PLOS One, highlights that orchard meadows in Southern Germany have been disappearing rapidly over the last decades, mainly due to conversion to more profitable land uses and urban areas. The paper also identifies what characterizes persistent orchard meadows - information that could be used to craft more effective policies to preserve these landscape elements.

Unraveling drivers of scattered tree loss in Germany - Read More…

Forest loss in the Caucasus due to the Olypmic games

Much environmental concern surrounded the Winter Olympics in Sotchi 2014 as skiing slopes and facilities were constructed in one of the largest forest tracts of the Greater Caucasus. A new paper by Genya Bragina, published in Biological Conservation, used a satellite image analyses to find that the Olympics indeed led to sizable forest losses inside former protected areas. Overall though, forest loss in the region since 1990 was lower than in other regions in the former Soviet Union - which is encouraging given that the Caucasus is a biodiversity hotspot.

Forest loss in the Caucasus due to the Olypmic games - Read More…

Girl's Day 2015

On Thursday, 23. April 2015, the Biogeography Department took part in the "Girl's Day". We welcomed a group of Girls to discover what female scientists do in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Campus Adlershof.

Girl's Day 2015 - Read More…

Happy World Pangolin Day. What are we celebrating?

Laura Kehoe's new blog on the Pangolin featured in Mongabay.

Happy World Pangolin Day. What are we celebrating? - Read More…

Scenario analysis highlights the importance of small patches to maintain forest connectivity in the Argentine Chaco

Maintaining habitat connectivity at the eco-regional scale is a key goal of land-use and conservation planning, but it remains often unclear how current future connectivity change in the future. A new paper led by María Piquer-Rodríguez, and just published in Landscape Ecology, shows how scenarios of future deforestation can be used to identify those landscape elements that are key to maintaining connectivity. Moreover, the paper shows that the Argentine Forest Law, planned and implement at the state level, needs to be complemented by a eco-regional assessment connectivity assessment and should focus more on forest remnants acting as stepping stones and are thus important to preserve forest connectivity in the Chaco.

Scenario analysis highlights the importance of small patches to maintain forest connectivity in the Argentine Chaco - Read More…

Decline of large mammal populations after the breakdown of the Soviet Union

The breakdown of the Soviet Union constitutes one of the most dramatic institutional and socioeconomic shocks of the 20th century. A new paper, led by Eugenia Bragina and just published in Conservation Biology, suggests that large mammal populations in Russia may have been hit hard by the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Most most populations declined during the 1990s, likely a result of overexploitation, while wildlife populations appear to having rebounded after 2000.

Decline of large mammal populations after the breakdown of the Soviet Union - Read More…

Our lab at the IBS conference in Bayreuth

Last week our group participated in the International Biogeography Society 7th Biennial Conference in Bayreuth. We all had a great time there listening to inspiring talks, chatting with interesting people and exploring the Frankonian Beerdiversity. In the following you can find and download our four poster contributions to the conference.

Our lab at the IBS conference in Bayreuth - Read More…

A mix of sparing and sharing is more optimal than either land use strategy

Aligning food production with biodiversity conservation is a great challenge of our time. Much scientific debate has centered on whether land sparing (separating conservation and agriculture) or land sharing (integrating the two) is superior in this regard. A new paper by Van Butsic and Tobias Kuemmerle in Ecological Applications shows that at the landscape scale, a mix of both strategies outperforms both sharing and sparing in most cases. The paper also introduces an modelling framework to derive more optimal solutions than choosing between the black and white alternatives of sharing vs. sparing.

A mix of sparing and sharing is more optimal than either land use strategy - Read More…

Harnessing the biodiversity value of Central and Eastern European farmland

Farmland biodiversity depends on low-intensity farming practices, and Eastern Europe still harbors widespread traditional landscapes rich in farmland biodiversity. A large group of authors from Europe's East and West now highlights that farmland biodiversity in Eastern Europe is lost, and adequate conservation measures, adjusted to the local conditions in Eastern Europe, are needed to safeguard biodiversity heritage there.

Harnessing the biodiversity value of Central and Eastern European farmland - Read More…

Warfare triggered land use change in the Caucasus

Armed conflict are en extreme form of an institutional and socioeconomic and shock, but how conflict affects land use change trajectories remains poorly understood. Studying the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus region, a new paper in Regional Environmental Change, first-authored by Matthias Baumann, highlights land use changes at the conflicts site and away from it - potentially shifting land systems into new states.

Warfare triggered land use change in the Caucasus - Read More…

Does China's logging ban weaken the conservation function of sacred forest?

Understanding the effectiveness of different conservation approaches is important to guide conservation planning and policy making. A new paper by Jodi Brandt, just published in Biological Conservation, explored how three conservation policies, protected areas, a logging ban, and traditional sacred areas, affected old-growth forest protection in Yunnan in China's southwest. While protected areas and the logging ban resulted in positive forest conservation outcomes, old-growth forests logging inside sacred areas accelerated following the logging ban, suggesting that local institutions may have been weakened by national policies.

Does China's logging ban weaken the conservation function of sacred forest? - Read More…

New project on land-use change and biodiversity in Kazakhstan

A new 3-year-project in Kazakhstan will be funded by the Volkswagen Foundation entitled ‘Balancing trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity in the steppes of Kazakhstan (BALTRAK)’. The aim of the project is to quantify spatio-temporal trends in fire and land use in Kazakhstan, to understand the links between land use, fire, and biodiversity, and finally, to explore potentials for increasing agricultural production.

New project on land-use change and biodiversity in Kazakhstan - Read More…

Germany's land systems changed similarly - despite East-West separation

Socieal-economic and institutional shocks, such as revolutions, warfare or economic crisis can be powerful drivers of environmental change. A new study led by Maria Niedertscheider and just published in Global Environmental Change suggests that the industrialization of agriculture over the last 130 years was relatively unaffected by the numerous shock events during that time - including two world wars, the German separation and reunification, and the EU accession of Germany. The case of Germany illustrate that technological innovation, increasing resource efficiency, structural change, and demographic transformations may be more powerful drivers of land system change that institutional factors.

Germany's land systems changed similarly - despite East-West separation - Read More…

Field trip to the Carpathian Mountains - Bieszczady in May 2014

In the summer term, the Biogeography Lab and the Geomatics Lab as well as the Jagielonian University Krakow organized a joined student field trip to the Bieszczady Mountains in Southeastern Poland. Students carried out field work on measuring forest structure and biomass, as well as learned about a range of field methods to collect ecological data - from setting up camera traps to catching arthropods to conducting herpetile searches. The program was completed by visits of guest researchers talking about their work on wildlife ecology and conservation in the area.

Field trip to the Carpathian Mountains - Bieszczady in May 2014 - Read More…

Mapping land systems in Ukraine

Mapping spatial patterns in agricultural management intensity is important to understanding the environmental outcomes of land use. A new study by Jan Stefanski, just published in Remote Sensing, highlights a new approach that combines optical and radar data to map farmland management regimes - from subsistence gardening to intensified agriculture - in Western Ukraine.

Mapping land systems in Ukraine - Read More…

8th Long Night of Science

On 10th March 2014 the Long Night of Science took place for the 8th time. From 5 to 12 pm the Biogeography department organised the interactive game “Where the wild things are”. Participants chose up to 10 animals from three different difficulty levels and tried to locate their range on wall maps. Winners got a “Biogeography-expert batch” to take home. It was well-frequented and great fun for many children and adults as well. Further, we explained how our camera traps work and showed pictures of a wide range of animals in their natural habitat. The traps took pictures in the Carpathians, Caucasus, Sweden, South Africa, and Columbia. Especially the night shots taken with infrared technique were very impressive for our guests. We are looking forward to the next Long Night of Science. Follow the link to some pictures...

8th Long Night of Science - Read More…

Review on finite land resources and competition

The competition for land is rising due to surging rates of consumption of land-based products as well as the emergence of new, globally important land uses such as the conservation of land as well as the expansion of built-up areas. A new publication led by Helmut Haberl discusses emerging issues related to land competition, including the effect of increased demand for non-provisioning ecosystem services (biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration), urbanization, bioenergy, and teleconnections. This publication is part of a book arising as from a Strüngmann workshop on “Rethinking Global Land Use in an Urban Era”.

Review on finite land resources and competition - Read More…

Moving beyond land cover change in climate change assessments

Are changes in land management, such as changes in forestry or agricultural intensity, important drivers of regional and global climate change? A new paper in Nature Climate Change, led by Sebastiaan Luyssaert, suggests that both conversions among broad land use classes and changes in land management within these classes should be considered when assessing the climate impact of land use change. Using flux tower measurements and remote sensing analyses of pairs of sites with and without conversions or management showed that both types of land use changes results in significant changes in temperature and albedo.

Moving beyond land cover change in climate change assessments - Read More…

Modelling avian biodiversity using unclassified satellite imagery

Satellite images can provide important information on species’ habitats, yet most habitat studies rely on image classifications that do not capture the variability within broad land cover classes well, and are challenging to derive for areas where sparse vegetation classes dominate. A new paper by Véronique St-Louis, published as a part of a special issue by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on Satellite remote sensing for biodiversity research and conservation applications, shows how indices derived from unclassified imagery can help to describe bird habitat in semi-arid environments.

Modelling avian biodiversity using unclassified satellite imagery - Read More…

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.

Paper published on drivers of forest harvesting intensity patterns in Europe - Read More…

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...

Biogeography class explores principles of island-biogeography - Read More…

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.

Mapping threats to reindeer habitat in Russia - Read More…

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.

Paper on agricultural land use change in the Carpathians published - Read More…

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.

New paper on farmland abandonment and carbon sequestration in Eastern Europe - Read More…

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

TV documentary on links between German wood demand and forest use in Eastern Europe - Read More…

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).

New EU FP-7 project HERCULES started - Read More…

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 map of global land system archetypes - Read More…

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.

Read More…

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!

First pictures from our camera traps! - Read More…

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.

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

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.

Improving understanding of changes in land use intensity - Read More…

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.

New study highlights barriers to interdisciplinary research - Read More…

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.

Identifying reintroduction sites for European bison in Germany - Read More…

Land use change isolates the Greater Serengeti ecosystem

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Field trip to the South-American Chaco

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Conservation in traditional farming landscapes

onservation in traditional farming landscapes - Read More…


Forests are increasing in Russia's temperate zone

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Trade-offs between conservation and land use

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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.

Future land use effects on habitat connectivity - Read More…


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.

Biogeography class trip to the Museum für Naturkunde - Read More…