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.

up in the north

Field course in the forest tundra of Western Siberia


Field course near Nadym 2017
© Ramona Fitz
  • Field course near Nadym 2017
    © Ramona Fitz

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.

meeting in the meadow

British colleagues visiting the floodplain meadows at the Upper Rhine


Field trip group in the meadows, Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue, June 2017
© Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Norbert Hölzel explaining, Riedwiesen von Wächterstadt, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Landscape flooding model with water flowing across surface, Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Cirsium tuberosum, Riedwiesen von Wächterstadt, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • David Gowing with Valerian in meadow, Lampertheimer Altrhein, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Galium wirtgenii and Galium album, Bruderlöcher, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Floodplain meadows group fieldtrip, Riedwiesen von Wächterstadt, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership
  • Floodplain meadows group identifying a tricky species in the field, Bruderlöcher, June 2017
    © Mike Dodd - Floodplain Meadows Partnership

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.

An article in german is available on the Riedstadt website.

Honorary Professor degree for Norbert Hölzel

Honorary Doctor degree for Prof. Dr. Norbert Hölzel at University of Tyumen.
© UT/Denis Zinoviev
  • Honorary Doctor degree for Prof. Dr. Norbert Hölzel at University of Tyumen.
    © UT/Denis Zinoviev
  • Honorary Doctor degree for Prof. Dr. Norbert Hölzel at University of Tyumen.
    © UT/Denis Zinoviev

The University of Tyumen has granted Norbert Hölzel a Honorary Doctor degree, to value his engagement for the german-russian cooperation in research.

press release WWU [de]
press release University of Tyumen [en]

Lab fieldtrip

Spring Flowers in the Eifel mountains


© J. Kamp
  • © V.H. Klaus
  • © D. Rupprecht
  • © J. Karthäuser
  • © J. Kamp
  • © D. Rupprecht
  • © J. Kamp
  • © N. Hölzel
  • © N. Hölzel

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.

new paper in Global Change Biology

Benefits of post-Soviet land-use change on soil carbon sequestration

© T-M Wertebach

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

© WWU/Karola Heveling/AG Hölzel

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]

Successful follow-up application

Prolongation of the ESCAPE project

© Valentin H. Klaus

Dr. Ute Hamer (Soil Ecology and Land Use), Dr. Till Kleinebecker and Prof. Dr. Norbert Hölzel (both Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group) successfully applied for a prolongation of the ESCAPE project within the Biodiversity Exploratories at the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - German Research Foundation). In close collaboration with Prof. Dr. Markus Fischer and Dr. Daniel Prati from the University of Bern the effects of seed addition and disturbance on plant diversity, nutrient retention and litter decomposition along a land-use gradient will be further evaluated in the SADE experiment. Coordinated by postdoc Dr. Valentin Klaus this project stage will again allow for various options for students projects and theses.

Winter Garden Bird Survey

© Frank Derer / Nabu.de

Last weekend, German Birdlife partner NABU called for citizens to count all birds in their garden or local park. What such citizen science surveys can reveal about the state of garden birds explained Johannes Kamp in a interview on lokal television.
TV: WDR Lokalzeit Münsterland 06.01.2017 available until 13.01.2017
Newspaper: Spiegel online 05.01.2017, ZEIT online 05.01.2017, WN online 06.01.2017
Information on the NABU's "Winter Garden Birdwatch"

Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment

Special Issue on Grazing in European open landscapes

© Kristin Gilhaus

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?

in the very north of Western Siberia

A winter visit to the Yamal tundra


Reindeer bulls just losing the skin from their fresh antler. Fresh Reindeer antlers sold to China provide currently new and major source of income to Nenets Reindeer herders
© Norbert Hölzel
  • Conference theme
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • The shuttle bus of the Tundra: MI 8 helicopter from Soviet times - old but faithful and reliable.
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • “Tschums”, traditional nomad tents covered with Reideer skins, wooden sledges and a satellite antenna.
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • Nenets kids, a little confused by the crowd entering their camp.
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • Domestic Reindeers in the Shrub-Tundra of the southern Yamal peninsula
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • My first frosty winter experience in the Tundra.
    © Norbert Hölzel
  • A brand new Finnish Reindeer slaughter house in the Tundra: 320 tons of reindeer meat products are exported annually to Germany and other European countries.
    © Norbert Hölzel

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.

From research to action

Meeting in China on Conservation Measures for the Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting


A new poster for awareness raising among consumers
© BirdLifeAsia
  • Group picture
    © Simba Chan
  • Registration desk at Sun Yat Sen University
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Chinese and Hongkong participants
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Brainstorming for conservation action
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Fixing priorities is not always serious business
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Developing further research steps
    © Johannes Kamp

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.

Summary of the meeting at the website of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS): www.cms.int/es/node/10782

Biodiversity and Conservation

Special Issue on Palearctic steppes

© Johannes Kamp

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

new release

'North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment' published as book

Hoelzel 2016 North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment
© SpringerOpen

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

© Valentin Klaus

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


Birch stands recently cut for firewood
© Johannes Kamp
  • Traditional signs mark areas cut by different village communities
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Birches ready to cut, recently cut and starting to resprout
    © Johannes Kamp
  • The orderly arranged twigs remain at the slopes
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Ca. 10 year old regrowth, dominated by common broom
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Ca. 20 year old coppice - typical is the higher number of stems per tree
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Speckled Yellow
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Very rare and now confined to few places in Germany: Argent & Sable
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Caterpillar of Ground Lackey...
    © Johannes Kamp
  • ...and its preferred grassy habitat.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Recording habitat parameters.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • The surveyed coppiced woods are a stronghold for the rare Ilex Hairstreak.
    © Johanna Trappe
  • Scarce Copper.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • - Seed trees in a savannah-like age class.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Heath fritillary - disappeared from most of Northern Germany, regular in coppiced woods.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Foxglove colours the slopes in summer.
    © Johannes Kamp
  • Fresh regrowth in June.
    © Johannes Kamp

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.

For more information contact Johannes Kamp.

© Johannes Kamp

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 the RSPB and the Danish BirdLife partner DOF 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.

The Tea Decomposition Project - It´s Tea Time!

© Ika Djukic

Since beginning of June the ILÖK takes part in the worldwide project "TeaComposition". This project is led by the Ecosystem Research and Environmental Information Management Working Group of the Federal Environment Agency in Vienna, and aims at analysing long term litter decomposition dynamics in different habitat types.

Main focus will be the assessment of carbon losses and storage in litter and their key drivers under recent and predicted climatic scenarios worldwide. The instalation of tea bags as well as the subsequent analyses will be performed in cooperation of the working groups Soil Ecology and Land use and Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research within the Biodiversity Exploratories.

Two successful doctorates at once!

Img-20160430-wa0012 Schnitt

We congratulate our PhD students Kristin Gilhaus and Immo Kämpf to their successful thesis defenses. At the same day as Elisa Fleischer (Climatology group) they defended their theses with the titles “Grassland management by year-round grazing – opportunities and constraints“ and “Effects of Land-use Change on Agroecosystems of Western Siberia”.

University newspaper reports on urban ecological research

Forschung an städtischen Grünlandflächen

The current issue of the wissen|leben (Issue 2, April 2016 (German); german article  here), the official newspaper of WWU Münster, reports on biodiversity research by Valentin H. Klaus and his students. In various bachelor and master theses, the researchers assessed plant diversity and environmental conditions in parks and urban grasslands in Münster. Additionally, at the lake Aasee, experimental plots were installed to floristically enrich the established grassland vegetation (Publication in the Project "Urban Ecological Research").

Teams are already standing on their starting blocks for the Field Work Season 2016

Auf zur Feldsaison 2016

Fieldteams of the projects STOICHIO and  ESCAPE of the Biodiversity-Exploratories will take off for their last field season of the current project phase.

Both teams will conduct vegetation relevés and collect biomass samples on grassland plots  in the National Park Hainich-Dün (Thuringia) and its surroundings. During this field work phase we will complete data sets regarding nutrient stoichiometry, biodiversity, productivity, disturbance and resilience of grasslands along a land use gradient.

New edition of the "Davert Depesche+"

Titelblatt Davert Depesche+

Recently and within the project "Fit for Climate Change", the new edition of the "Davert Depesche+" brochure has been released. The University's role as scientific supervisor of the project is displayed vividly, a spring flower is presented and to "natural scientists" are being portrayed.

This edition also counts with the second quartal's programme and is completed by a searching game for children. The brochure is released quarterly and is on display in many locations in the South of Münster and in the Institute for Landscape Ecology. Additionally, a german version may be downloaded here.

Asynchrony plays a greater role in stability than diversity alone

Csm 2016 Hohe-asynchronita _t-hohe-stabilitaet 9648928a22
© TUM/ Gossner

The stability of animal or plant communities under consideration of external factors does not only depend on biodiversity. Most influencing factor is the asynchrony of populations: the greater the temporal variation of the development of different species within one ecosystem, the higher its stability. These results were obtained by scientists of our groupunder the leadership of colleagues of the TU München and the TU Darmstadt and have now been published in "Nature Communications". Press releases with more more graphics from our colleagues from Munic and Darmstadt.