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.
Article promoted in the Blog of Journal of Ecology
Recently the article ”The type of nutrient limitation affects the plant species richness–productivity relationship: evidence from dry grasslands across Eurasia” by Palpurina et al. got published online in Journal of Ecology. This paper is the outcome of a data merging project led jointly by colleagues from Bulgaria, Czech Republic and the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group at the Institute of Landscape Ecology in Münster. To promote and illustrate this work James Ross, Blog Editor of Journal of Ecology, has posted a photo-story giving impressions about fieldwork in the vast steppe grasslands of Central Eurasia. The pictures come along with short stories about specific sampling locations and peculiarities of fieldwork in such remote areas.
Fieldwork season in the biodiversity exploratories finished
Three and a half years after establishing the SADE experiment, members of our working group sampled additional data to study the effects of seed addition and sward disturbance in grasslands on plant diversity and ecosystem functioning. From March until September, our colleagues and students carried out fieldwork in the three study regions of the biodiversity exploratories.
Characteristics of plant diversity, biomass production, nutrient cycling, decomposition rates and seed rain along a land-use gradient will help us to test and understand biodiversity and ecosystem functioning relations in agricultural grasslands.
Songbird migration along the East Asian flyway
The migration routes used by birds travelling from Eurasia to Africa and vice versa are well studied, but little do we know on the whereabouts of birds moving to Asia. Within the project Migration ecology of Asian landbirds we used light-level geolocation to map the full migration of a songbird along the East Asian flyway for the very first time. Three Siberian Rubythroats Calliope calliope were followed from their breeding site at Muraviovka Park in Far East Russia to their wintering grounds in tropical South-East Asia. The results were published recently in the Journal of Ornithology.
Meanwhile, the Amur Bird Project team in Far East Russia led by Wieland Heim has retrieved 13 more geolocators carried not only by Siberian Rubythroats but Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica, Red-rumped Swallows Cecropis daurica and Pallas´s Grasshoppper Warblers Locustella certhiola as well. The information stored on these data loggers will significantly enhance our understanding of important stop-over and wintering areas of songbirds from continental Asia.
Furthermore, a total of 113 individuals out of 8 species were equipped with new tracking devices during this year’s field season at four more study sites. The team started off in the Far East, and followed the Trans-Siberian Railway across Siberia to Northwest-Russia. One of the target species was the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola. To study the survival rate of this declining songbird, we colour-ringed several individuals in the Selenga river delta at Lake Baikal and near Syktyvkar, where a second team led by Dr. Johannes Kamp worked with one of the last populations in the west of its range. First results of our studies are featured in a recent article published in the South China Morning Post.
Two students from Münster have joined the expedition in 2018: Ilka Beermann studies the habitat use of the Yellow-breasted Bunting in her Master thesis, while Lukas Fuhse conducted point counts to estimate population sizes of songbirds for his Bachelor project. Working in remote areas of Russia with a tight schedule was only possible through the support of our partners on site, many thanks to Aleksey Antonov, Sergei Smirenski, Yury Anisimov, Oleg Bourski, Katya Demidova, Gleb Nakul and Ural Expeditions.
Mid of July, a team of 13 students and researchers from all over Russia and Münster University, coordinated by Ramona Heim and Andrey Yurtaev, continued the work about fire impacts on the forest tundra.
Some decades ago, wildfires have been a rather uncommon phenomena in Tundra ecosystems. Recent studies predict an increase in fire frequency and extent in the course of climate change but the ecological impact of tundra fires are so far poorly understood.
This year, we collected data regarding vegetation and soil on a fire scar, which burnt over 25 years ago and is situated in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Daniel Rieker collected Data for his Master thesis on plant functional traits while Betty Haas, also student of the University of Münster, was interested in tundra soils. Moreover, Dr. Christian Lampei took a closer look on active layer thickness and Wieland Heim carried out a breeding bird survey.
In spite of harsh conditions because of loads of mosquitos, we can look back on a successful field work with a promising data set.
The international field course was carried out together with the University of Tyumen, the Department of Science and Innovation of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, and the Scientific Research Centre of the Arctic in Nadym, and ended with a day full of cultural program in Novy Urengoy.
Between Europe and the Orient
The Volkswagen Foundation funds a larger number of inter- and transdisciplinary projects both from the natural and social science in Central Asia and on the Caucasus within the funding measure Between Europe and the Orient.
The AG Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research was asked by the foundation to organize a status symposium of the funding measure jointly with our partner in Kazakhstan, ACBK. The conference took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from 16-18 April 2018. More than 130 participants from across the region presented results from 16 projects. The focus was very broad, ranging from land-use changes and biodiversity conservation to security making, mobility and gender issues. A recurring theme were the long-lasting legacies of the Soviet Union in all aspects of life in the region. Workshops on scientific writing and successful fundraising were offered to young scholars and PhD students, and a field trip to the Tien Shan mountains south of Almaty allowed the participants to stretch their legs after two packed days of intense discussions and inspiring talks.
We congratulate Till Kleinebecker on his call for a full professorship in Landscape Ecology and Landscape Planning at the University of Gießen!
Thank you for more than 10 years of enjoyable collaboration, strong coffee and your never ending patience, helpfulness and serenity - it was always great fun! All the best with your new position - we are already looking forward to future cooperation!
Paper on C3 steppe plants highlighted by Faculty of 1000
Recently our paper ‘Quantitative mesophyll parameters rather than whole-leaf traits predict response of C3 steppe plants to aridity’ by Ivanova et al. published 2018 in New Phytologist got highlighted in Faculty of 1000.
Jaume Flexas and Marc Carriqui say in their comment …‘This is an enjoyable paper that reminds us that, in a nowadays scientific world dominated by ‘omics’ and technical-based science, it is still possible to produce important scientific knowledge from sound hypothesis-based experiments and observations even using simple perhaps ‘old-fashioned’ methodologies.’
Overall Runners-Up Poster Award for Denise Rupprecht
On the joint conference of the GfÖ and BES Ecology Accros Borders 2017 in Ghent, the poster of Denise Rupprecht was awarded as Overall Runners-up for the Student Poster Prize. A diverse group of judges was obviously impressed and selected the poster as one of the best out of 320 applicants. The poster is presenting data of an exclosure experiment in calcareous grasslands in limestone quarries in the Teutoburg Mountains in North-Western Germany.
Rupprecht D, Brinkert A, Gilhaus K, Hölzel N, Jedrzejek B (2017) Sheep and deer grazing as tool for restoration and maintenance of calcareous grasslands: A six-year experiment. Poster, BES, GfÖ, NecoV and EEF Joint Annual Meeting: Ecology Across Borders. Ghent, 11.-14.12.2017 download
Bird Congress in Russia
End of January, a delegation of our group participated in the 1st All-Russian Ornithological Conference in Tver, Russia. More than 300 participants presented their work from all corners of this huge country.
Wieland Heim demonstrated the value of light-level based geolocators to track Siberian land birds from their breeding areas to locate previously unknown stop-over and wintering sites in South-East Asia. Knowledge of these areas will be crucial to protect migratory birds all along their route. Johannes Kamp presented an updated population trend for the Critically Endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, and illustrated the need for a nationwide land bird monitoring using the bunting as a flagship species. Both talks resulted in engaged discussions and interresting new contacts with Russian colleagues.
Further presentations included an update on the surveys of European Russia and Kazakhstan for the new European Breeding Bird Atlas, to which members of our working group contributed. For many species, reliable population estimates and distribution maps are now available for the first time, which is important as Russia harbors large proportions of several species that are rare or decline elsewhere.
wet forests and climate change - state and future
The final conference of the "Fit for Climate Change" project was held on the 15th and 16th of February, 2018 at the Institute of Landscape Ecology. Approximately 150 participants joined.
press release of the NABU-Naturschutzstation Münsterland [in german]
television report of the WDR in the local tv news "Lokalzeit Münsterland" from 15th of February including an interview with Dr. Britta Linnemann on the project, available until 22nd of February
Farming the forest steppe – results of the SASCHA project summarized
Our interdisciplinary research project SASCHA has come to an end, and most results are now published. As scientific papers are not accessible to everyone, we have now summarized the results in a brochure for stakeholders and the general public.
SASCHA was a research collaboration between eight Russian and German institutions, and aimed to provide tools for more sustainable farming in the Western Siberian grain belt. The economic and social dimensions of food production in Russia were linked to the maintenance of ecosystem functions and biodiversity in an era of growing food demand.
Ecology Across Borders: Joint Annual Meeting 2017 was the first time the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GfÖ), the British Ecological Society (BES), the Nederlands-Vlaamse vereniging voor ecologie (NecoV), and the European Ecological Federation (EEF), the umbrella organisation of the European ecological societies, organised their annual meetings together.
Amur Bird Project Meeting at ILÖK
On Saturday, 9th of December 2017, the annual meeting of the Amur Bird Project took place at the Institute of Landscape Ecology (ILÖK) in Münster, Germany. More than 45 participants, including guests from Kazakhstan and Russia, listened to 12 presentations in three sessions. A wide range of scientific topics based on the data collected at Muraviovka Park and Far East Russia´s Amur region covered diverse aspects of ecology, habitat use, fire impact, biodiversity as well as parasites, population trends and migration of birds. Furthermore, additional results were presented on eight posters. This was the 5th meeting of its kind, the largest one so far and the first one to take place in Münster. I want to thank Norbert Hölzel, Johannes Kamp and the staff of the ILÖK for making this meeting possible, and many thanks to all speakers, the Amur Bird Project team and all visitors for their contributions resulting in a great and successful meeting.
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