Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography


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. The focus is on the concept of telecouplings, which helps to explain drivers and outcomes of land use change by investigating the interrelationship between different actors, drivers, and feedback over long distances. The research will be conducted in close cooperation with companies, NGOs, international organizations and administrative bodies in order to better integrate research, innovation and social responsibility.

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.

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.

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.

Conflicting EU policies may hamper biodiversity conservation without mitigating climate change

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

Hotspots of land use change in Europe

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

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. This contrasts from abandonment patterns in the 1990s, when also land reform and institutional factors played a role, together suggesting that much land will remain abandoned.

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. While nearly 50 million hectares (Mha) of cropland lay idle in this region, only 8.5 Mha of them had low environmental trade-offs and low socio-economic constraints, while more than 30 Mha are unlikely to provide important contributions to future crop production, highlighting that cropland reclamation is not a panacea to addressing global food security or reduce pressure on tropical ecosystems.

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.