Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.