to the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group
The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group is part of the Institute of Landscape Ecology (ILÖK) of the University of Münster. We study the structure, function and change of terrestrial ecosystems by using plants, vegetation and soil as integrative key features in landscape ecology. We offer a broad range of courses in vegetation science and physical geography that addresses Bachelor and Master students in landscape ecology as well as studens of other disciplines of geosciences.
PhD Position in applied evolutionary ecology
For a job offer for a PhD Position in applied evolutionary ecology: Rapid evolution in cultivation please check the WWU website here.
Yellow-breasted Bunting: uplisted to Critically Endangered, consumption and trade go on, but there is hope
Yellow-breasted Bunting, once a superabundant songbird species, has declined by 85-95% since the early 1980s, with heavy, illegal persecution in China being an important driver. The species' status has recently been updated to Critically Endangered on IUCN's international Red List, based on a quantitative assessment of the decline led by Johannes Kamp of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group.
However, birds are still caught and sold in larger numbers, even on eBay-like platforms in China. A price of 15-30 USD per bird suggests high demand. Good news is that conservation organizations along the flyway are raising awareness, see e.g. this excellent video from Hongkong. Also, the Chinese law has been changed, and hunting and consumption are now criminal offences.
More research is underway to shed light on the year-round distribution and flyways of the species. Data on migration routes have been retrieved from geolocator devices by Wieland Heim. This will help us to identify key areas for conservation of the species, and learn more about potential additional drivers of the decline, such as land-use change and agricultural intensification on the wintering grounds.
Imagining the future of Kazakhstan’s agriculture and biodiversity
Scenarios are gaining importance as tools to outline and compare potential future land-use trends, and assess their impact on biodiversity. We have used scenario planning exercises successfully on smaller scales in Russia (publication). In parallel, we are now outlining how agriculture might look in neighbouring Kazakhstan in the year 2050, on a near-countrywide scale. On 15/11/2017, researchers of project BALTRAK from the IAMO in Halle, the Kazakh research institute TALAP and our group organized a workshop in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana that brought together policy makers, agricultural enterprises, experts from international organizations such as FAO and UNDP, and researchers from Kazakh universities. In small groups, the attendants discussed four different scenarios, reaching from an imagination of highly intensive, industrialised agriculture over collapse and consolidation in subsistence systems to an ‘eco’-scenario with state-subsidized organic and climate-friendly production. The screening of the scenario storylines and main drivers by a wide range of experts as well as the engaged discussion opened up new horizons for all participants.
Leaf traits of steppe plants in response to aridity
A new paper ‘Quantitative mesophyll parameters rather than whole-leaf traits predict response of C3 steppe plants to aridity’ by Larissa A. Ivanova, Polina K. Yudina, Dina A. Ronzhina, Leonid A. Ivanov and Norbert Hölzel got published last week in the leading plant science journal New Phytologist. The paper is a first significant output of a cooperation between our lab and the plant ecophysiologists group around Larissa Ivanova and Leonid Ivanov from the Botanic Garden Institute of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Science in Ekaterinburg. Further papers dealing with plant trait reponses across the entire latitudinal climate gradient in Central Eurasia from desert to tundra are currently on the way.
Ivanova L, Yudina P, Ronzhina D, Ivanov L, Hölzel N (in press) Quantitative mesophyll parameters rather than whole-leaf traits predict response of C3 steppe plants to aridity. New Phytologist [doi:10.1111/nph.14840]
Award for the "fit for climate change" project Davert
The project "Fit for Climate Change", run by the NABU Naturschutzstation Münsterland and the State Enterprise for Forestry and Timber North Rhine-
Westphalia with scientific supervision by our working group, developes measures for a sustainable, near-natural adaptation of wet forests in the Münsterland to climate change. For the successful work, the project was now awarded UN Decade project.
This year our group organized a field campaign in early summer in Central Kazakhstan to sample field data of grazing impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services in rangelands along a steep climatic gradient over 350 km from desert to dry steppe in the so called ‘hunger steppe’ (Betpak Dala). This work is part of the BIODESERT survey coordinated by Fernando T. Maestre, running the Dryland Ecology and Global Change Lab at Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC), Madrid, Spain. Besides Norbert Hölzel and Frederike Velbert from our lab, Salza Palpurina and Viktoria Wagner from the Masaryk University, Brno (Czech Republic) as well Tatyana Siderova (senior botanist) and Asel Esengalyeva (Bachelor student) from our partner organization ACBK (Association for the Protection of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan) participated in the survey. Our expedition was joined by a group of five Russian eco-physiologists from the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Science in Ekaterinburg under the lead of Larissa Ivanova.
We studied grazing gradients in three locations representing the climatic zones of northern desert, desert steppe and dry steppe. Sampling was done using a comprehensive standardized protocol, which included e.g. 1000 pin point measurements, 100 vegetation quadrats, plant traits, as well as dung and soil samples. To finish a single plot, we worked on average with 5 person for one full day (8-10 h). In parallel our Russian colleagues from Ekaterinburg undertook eco-physiological measurements of the dominant plants in the respective communities including measurements of photosynthesis and whole leaf traits and prepared frozen leaf samples for further analysis in the lab. Within the framework of the BIODESERT survey, covering drylands worldwide, our plots will be the only one from Central Eurasia the largest consecutive dryland area in the world. Meanwhile our soil and plant samples from Kazakhstan arrived safely in Madrid for further processing. First results of the worldwide survey are expected in the forthcoming year. One aim of the survey is to define thresholds of ecosystem degradation through grazing in global drylands. The following pictures give impressions about the fieldwork in remote areas with partly harsh conditions.
Successful fieldwork in Russia´s Amur region
The floodplains in the Amur region are one of the global hotspots of threatened biodiversity. Since 2011, the Amur Bird Project is studying endangered species and monitors bird population trends, coordinated by Wieland Heim. This year a team of volunteers and students of Münster University worked again for three months in the wetlands. One of the highlights of the field season was the recapture of several birds tagged with light-level geolocators in 2016 – for the first time we will now be able to analyze migration routes of songbirds along the East Asian flyway.
Besides the annual activities we also focused on fire impact on habitat use and return rate of the threatened Yellow-breasted Bunting. First results were already presented during the 11th conference of the European Ornithologist´s Union in August 2017 in Turku/Finland. How plant and bird diversity is shaped by man-made fires was surveyed again by Ramona Fitz. One of the “looser species” is the Swinhoe´s Rail – only recently we were able to describe the previously unknown song of this rare and less-known bird.
We hope to continue our projects in cooperation with Muraviovka Park in the next years.
Field course in the forest tundra of Western Siberia
As new collaborations with partners in Russia are emerging, several of our students are currently near Nadym, Western Siberia for a two-week field course.
Here, in the Russian forest tundra ecosystem, they support Ramona Fitz with her fieldwork for research on the effect of reindeer grazing and fire on the tundra ecosystems. The group also comprises students and researchers from the russian University of Tyumen, the Scientific Research Centre of the Arctic in Nadym and the Interregional Expedition Center "Arctic" in Yamal. The participanty are now busy with sampling vegetation, plant fuctional traits, biomass and soil along a gradient of fire history. We hope to establish a long-term collaboration using the Russian partners field station up in the north of Western Siberia.
British colleagues visiting the floodplain meadows at the Upper Rhine
British colleagues from „Floodplain Meadows Partnership“ lead by Professor David Gowing came to visit the floodplain meadows at the northern Upper Rhine in June.
Matthias Harnisch, project manager in Riedstadt, and Norbert Hölzel, doing research in the projects since years, took their guests to old floodplain meadows as well as 20-years-old and new restoration sites. The colleages were impressed to see the species-rich and diverse sites and the successful restoration projects.
Last sunday, with best sunny weather, most of of the lab members went to see pasqueflower and daffodil in the Eifel mountains and enjoy a day outside together.
Benefits of post-Soviet land-use change on soil carbon sequestration
Recently a paper of our working group, dealing with the effects of post-Soviet cropland abandonment on soil carbon sequestration in Western Siberia, got published online in Global Change Biology. The paper is based on a unique field data set with more than 470 sampling points across three test areas and stratified by land-use type that were collected in the course of the SASCHA-Project. Our results yield clear empirical evidence that abandoned croplands in Russia are currently a climate-relevant sink of atmospheric carbon. Research was conducted in close cooperation with colleagues from the University Applied Sciences in Osnabrück and Tyumen State University in Western Siberia.
Picture: Humus-rich Chernozem soils in the forest steppe zone of Western Siberia store more than 20 kg of organic carbon per m². Photo: T-M Wertebach
Wertebach T-M, Hölzel N, Kämpf I, Yurtaev A, Tupitsin S, Kiehl K, Kamp J, Kleinebecker T (in press) Soil carbon sequestration due to post-Soviet cropland abandonment: Estimates from a large-scale SOC field inventory. Global Change Biology [doi:10.1111/gcb.13650]
Spotlight on 'Genetics and Restoration' in the Journal of Applied Ecology
In the current issue of Journal of Applied Ecology a Spotlight on 'Genetics and Restoration' has been launched including a directly linked blog post by Ryan Sadler from University of Toronto.
All five spotlight papers inlcuding two with involvement of our lab are currently free to read online.
Bucharova A, Michalski S, Hermann J-M, Heveling K, Durka W, Hölzel N, Kollmann J, Bossdorf O (2017) Genetic differentiation and regional adaptation among seed origins used for grassland restoration: lessons from a multispecies transplant experiment. Journal of Applied Ecology 54 (1): 127–136 [doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12645]
Durka W, Michalski SG, Berendzen KW, Bossdorf O, Bucharova A, Hermann JM, Hölzel N, Kollmann J (2017) Genetic differentiation within multiple common grassland plants supports seed transfer zones for ecological restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology 54 (1): 116–126 [doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12636]
Special Issue on Grazing in European open landscapes
A Special Issue of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment edited by Péter Török, Sabine Tischew, Rudy van Diggelen and Norbert Hölzel on Grazing in European open landscapes is out now, compiling papers on the potential of traditional and alternative grazing practices. Topics such as sustaniability, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services, and agri-envrionmental schemes are covered.
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 234 (October 2016) Special Issue: Grazing in European open landscapes: how to reconcile sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation?
A winter visit to the Yamal tundra
Upon invitation by the government of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district in the very north of Western Siberia, Norbert Hölzel and Ramona Fitz joint an international conference on “Preventing the dissemination of infectious animal diseases on climate change” held in the city of Salekhard at the polar circle from November 9th to 11th, 2016.
The conference topic was directly related to the first outbreak of Anthrax in Yamal since 1940 in July 2016 which killed 2.400 Reindeers and a 12 year old boy of a Nenets reindeer herder family. The Anthrax outbreak was most likely triggered by the extraordinary warm weather conditions in summer 2016 causing a deep melt down of permafrost soils that exposed persistent Anthrax spores. Russian and international experts from reindeer husbandry, veterinary science and grazing ecology discussed how such outbreaks can be controlled and mitigated under ongoing climate change.
Yamal is the last stronghold of reindeer husbandry worldwide with more than 14.000 indigenous people maintaining a nomadic life style, currently keeping ca. 750.000 Reindeers. During a helicopter excursion to the Tundra of the southern Yamal peninsula the conference participants were introduced to the peculiarities of regional reindeer husbandry and the nomadic life style of Nenets people.
Meeting in China on Conservation Measures for the Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting
In 2015, member of our group had helped to reveal the catastrophic population collapse of what was once one of the most abundant bird species of Eurasia, the Yellow-breasted Bunting. At that time, we concluded that ongoing illegal persecution of the species for food was one of the main reasons of the decline.
From 2-4 November 2016, a workshop was organized in Guangzhou, China, by Birdlife International, Sun Yat Sen University and the Hongkong Birdwatching Society. It aimed to bring together representatives of all countries that host Yellow-breasted Buntings during the breeding season and in winter, from Russia and China to Myanmar and Thailand. Each country provided an update on current population trends and threats to the species. Much emphasis was put on a prioritization of conservation measures, such as better enforcement of laws against illegal trapping and awareness raising among wildlife consumers. A new wildlife law will be approved in 2017 in China and there are high hopes that it will give the Yellow-breasted Bunting a higher level of protection. Exciting collaborative projects on research and conservation involving multiple range states were also agreed.
A Special Issue of Biodiversity and Conservation on the ecology and conservation of the Palearctic steppes is now out, including eight publications of our Working Group - one new synthesis paper and several papers on results of the projects in Russia (SASCHA) and Kazakhstan (BALTRAK).
Biodiversity and Conservation Volume 25, Issue 12 (November 2016) - Special Issue: Palaearctic Steppes: Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation. Edited by Jürgen Dengler, Didem Ambarlı, Johannes Kamp, Péter Török, Karsten Wesche
'North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment' published as book
Within the 'North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment' (NOSCCA)Prof. Norbert Hölzel together with Prof. Thomas Hickler (Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) and Goethe University Frankfurt) and Prof. Lars Kutzbach (CEN, University Hamburg) as Lead Authors composed a chapter on Environmental impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems in the North Sea Region.
Initiated by the Institute of Coastal Research of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht in Germany, the NOSCAA Report is a comprehensive climate change assessment for the Greater North Sea region and adjacent land areas. Recent and future climate changes and their impacts are discussed for the North Sea, rivers, lakes and atmosphere as well as terrestrial ecosystems and socio-economic aspects, for example coastal protection or fisheries. NOSCCA is writen by over thirty Lead Authors and numerous Contributing Authors under the overview of an international Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) and with an independent review. The report is now published as book with Open Access by Springer.
Hölzel N, Hickler T, Kutzbach L, Joosten H, van Huissteden J, Hiederer R (2016) Environmental Impacts - Terrestrial Ecosystems. In: Quante M, Colijn F (eds.) North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment. Regional Climate Studies, Part III, pp 341-372 [doi:10.1007/978-3-319-39745-0_11] Available under Open Access
Biodiversity at multiple trophic levels is needed for ecosystem multi-functionality
Not only birds and flowers, but also rather unpopular insects and invisible soil-dwelling organisms maintain a wide range of ecosystem services. This is the result of a recent study published in Nature, to which Norbert Hölzel, Till Kleinebecker and Valentin Klaus of our group contributed. The lead author Dr. Santiago Soliveres of the University of Bern synthesized extensive datasets on a large number of taxa, that had been collected since 2009 in the framework of the DFG focal programme “Biodiversity Exploratories”. (press release)
Family Events in our Working Group!
Congratulations for the (almost) newlyweds! Ho and Van tied the knot on the 16th of April of this year. We wish them all the best for their future!
More Babynews for the ILÖK! Hale and hearty Lina was born on 17th of June.
Congratulations and all the best to the parents, Anne and Wanja!
Welcome, Joke! We heartly congratulate Wiebke and Sebastian, as their son was born
on the 25th of May - and wish the little family all the best!
Coppiced woods – traditional socio-ecological systems with a high biodiversity value
The biodiversity of open landscapes has been declining strongly over the past decades in Central Europe. Agricultural intensification and farmland abandonment are among the most prominent reasons behind this. Changes in forest management are now surfacing as an additional cause: a transition from light, open forests to tall, dense stands with a cooler microclimate has resulted in population losses of many open-habitat plants and animals during the past decades.
The management of forests with a short cutting cycle, such as coppiced woods, has ceased now over most of Central Europe. To document the value of this rather sustainable forest management for biodiversity, two BSc-students of our group are currently quantifying the abundance and distribution of birds, butterflies and moths in one of the few remaining large areas of coppiced woods in Germany, the ‘Hauberge’ near Haiger in the state of Hesse. A contiguous area of 1,800 ha oak-birch-forest is managed there by village communities in a very traditional way, mostly for firewood. Stands are cut down patchily at an age of 18-20 years, which results in a rich mosaic of forest regrowth of young age classes. First results suggest that the area is of outstanding importance for long distance migrants, a group of birds that has declined strongly. The forests also appear to be the last strongholds of a number of butterflies and moths in Western Germany.
Citizen science online databases – how useful are they for monitoring population trends?
Monitoring of animal and plant population trends is important to identify declining species that can then be prioritized for conservation actions. Standardized, country-wide monitoring schemes are expensive, and need a large number of skilled volunteers to participate. However, with the advent of mobile technology, more and more people report casual observations of birds and other taxa online. Databases such as ‘ornitho’ or ‘eBird’ already store millions of records. The huge potential of these repositories for research and conservation has been recognized repeatedly, e.g. for explaining climate-change related phenology shifts or changes in the routes of migratory animals. If the mass of of ‘citizen scientists’ records is also useful to understand whether populations are increasing or decreasing was however unclear.
Using a country-wide database for birds,Johannes Kamp and colleagues from theRSPBand the Danish BirdLife partnerDOF examined if bird population trends derived from online recording matched those from a more standardized monitoring scheme. In a recent paper in Diversity & Distributions [doi: 10.1111/ddi.12463/full], they report that declines in many bird species detected by standardized monitoring were not picked up by the unstructured online databases, suggesting that the latter are no easy substitute for cost-intensive structured monitoring. This is most likely explained by observer behaviour – encouraging birdwatchers to report all species in an area (and not only rare or interesting ones) will increase the usefulness of the data for many research questions.