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Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Research profile

Humankind is rapidly transforming the planet, with drastic consequences for natural ecosystems and biodiversity. These transformations also critically feed back on human well-being. Finding ways to use natural resources sustainably while protecting biodiversity effectively is perhaps the greatest challenge we face in the 21st century. Land use is central to these challenges, as it is essential for human survival, yet intimately linked to most sustainability problems. Land use change is also the main driver of biodiversity loss and has large synergistic effects with other key drivers of the extinction crisis such as overexploitation and climate change.

The Conservation Biogeography Lab seeks to better understand dynamics in coupled human-natural systems, and how these dynamics affect biodiversity – from landscape to global scales. We strive to carry out cutting-edge, sound, and typically quantitative and spatially-explicit research. We do this in the hope of producing a science basis that can inform policy making and conservation action in order to navigate land systems towards sustainable futures.

The group develops and applies approaches grounded in spatial ecology, quantitative geography, conservation planning, spatial statistics, econometric modeling, and remote sensing. We work in strong collaboration with researchers and science institutions worldwide, and are active contributors to a range of international science networks such as FutureEarth’s Global Land Programme. We also generally maintain close ties with conservation organizations and stakeholders

Our research can be broadly grouped into four research areas:

  • Land system dynamics: This research theme explores where, why, and how land use changes. Research foci include assessing patterns and quantifying changes in land use intensity, studying the effect of shock events (e.g., revolutions, warfare, or economic crises) on land systems, exploring how telecouplings emerge and drive land system dynamics, and identifying archetypical patterns and pathways of land system change. Within this theme, we also develop methods to map and reconstruct land system change across large spatial extents using detailed satellite images.
  • Threats to biodiversity: This research area focuses on understanding the outcome of land change on species and communities - relative to other drivers of biodiversity such as exploitation and climate change. At the species level, we often focus on past and future changes in habitat, abundance, and population dynamics. At the community level, we assess how communities restructure in response to increasing human pressure and against environmental gradients. We are particularly interested in understanding interactions among threats, such as land use and hunting.
  • Conservation effectiveness: This research themes seeks to assess whether conservation tools, such as protected areas, reintroductions, payment for ecosystem services schemes or supply-chain interventions are effective in addressing these threats. We often use quasi-experimental setups for that purpose and develop conservation planning approaches to identify which conservation measures are most promising. This theme also seeks to understand which conservation approaches are effective in telecoupled land systems.
  • Tradeoffs in land systems: This research field asks how human resource use can be aligned with the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity that ultimately underpin these resources. We quantify the trade-offs and synergies between biodiversity conservation and land use, and explore the biodiversity outcomes of alternative management options (e.g., land expansion vs. intensification). A focus in this research field also lies on spatial priorization in order to align competing goals.

We work in many different places and systems, but current geographic focus areas of our research are in the Caucasus Mountains and Tropical Dry Forest in South America.