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Integrating abiotic covariates, functional trait diversity and consequences of important processes on the ecosystem level

Yve ProjektThe proposed project aims at linking trait diversity of communities with herbivory and other ecological processes along environmental gradients (climate and land-use change). To achieve this, we will 1) carry out experimental work to investigate how herbivory and the traits of herbivores changes along environmental gradients. 2) We will use a trait-based approach to combine abiotic covariates, trait and process data collected in the proposed research unit (RU) to understand the impact and importance of traits and biotic interactions for biomass production and water fluxes. This will allow us to understand the role of traits and their distribution within communities for the level of herbivory and to provide a statistical synthesis on the importance of traits to predict the effects of climate and land-use change for the two target ecosystem functions that are within the focus of the proposed research unit. Relating these community responses to biotic interactions and associated ecosystem processes and functions along environmental gradients will provide insights into a system's ability to resist environmental change and thus maintain its original state after disturbance.

This project is funded by: DFG

Relationship between the grazing continuity of European bison and dung beetle communities

DungkäferDung beetles are excellent indicators for microclimatic conditions and the ecological quality of pastures. Large grazers and their associated dung beetles are largely missing in central European forest. In central Europe, around 100 dung beetle species are known to be associated with grazers. Almost half of them are endangered. The decline in dung beetle species might be due to the loss of suitable habitats and the disruption of grazing tradition. It is expected that many species occur in low densities, which makes them particularly sensitive against habitat loss. Here, we sample and compare dung beetle communities across several areas with wild living European bison (Bialowieza, Bad Berleburg, Döbritzer Heide, Bieszczady). These areas differ in the grazing continuity by the European bison.

This project is supported by:  Heinz Sielmann Stiftung

Consequences of forest fragmentation on plant-animal interactions: a novel approach using molecular methods to identify seed dispersers

Habitat fragmentation is one of the main threat factors for tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems. It leads to a loss of biodiversity and to alterations of associated ecosystem processes. Seed dispersal by frugivorous animals is an important ecosystem process, as up to 90 percent of plant species in the tropics depend on animals that disperse their seeds. A variety of different animal species thereby act as dispersers, and they differ in quantity, quality and thus in effectiveness of seed dispersal services. Especially for bird species, which are an important guild of seed dispersers in ecosystems worldwide, disperser identification from fecal samples has so far been impossible. Recently, first attempts have been published using genetic methods to determine the identity of seed dispersers from fecal material enclosing dispersed seeds. In our project, we are using this novel approach to gain a better understanding of the effects of forest fragmentation on seed dispersal processes in subtropical forests. The project builds on a comprehensive dataset on plant-animal interaction networks in a fragmented forest landscape in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The aim of the project is to correlate observation data from seed removal with actual seed deposition data of plant species. By doing so, we would like to assess the effect of observed changes in seed removal patterns in fragmented forests on seed deposition patterns. In the long-term, our project should lead to a better understanding of the effects of forest fragmentation on subtropical forest ecosystems.

This project is supported by the Schimper-Stiftung

Analyzing the movement behavior of Red Kites (Milvus milvus)

Rotmilan (Milvus milvus). @ S. RösnerIn an association of research, planning, authorities and conservationists, we study ecological principles for the protection and development of the Red Kite population in Hesse. The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) probably is the species that is most frequently discussed in context of the expansion of wind energy. Approximately 50% of the world population of this threatened species breeds in Germany, which gives rise to a special responsibility for its protection and preservation. Its breeding and foraging habitats often overlap with the position of wind farms. Therefore, it appears to be the most frequent collision victim of wind turbines in relation to the number of individuals. In order to be able to assess the impact on the Red Kite through different forms of land use, and in particular by wind turbines, more detailed, it is essential to understand the individual movement patterns of these highly mobile animals. By analyzing the movement behavior of Red Kites, habitats and landscape structures with increased potential for conflict can be identified, and the risks posed by wind turbines can get assessed more detailed. Hence, recommendations for suitable wind park positions can be derived or methods to keep Red Kites out of the danger zone of wind turbines can be evaluated and developed further.

For more information, see www.rotmilane.de

This project is funded by: DBU

Landscape and environmental determinants as drivers for movement patterns of the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) 

Geier2Vultures provide important but underappreciated services for human and livestock health. Despite this, the majority of vulture species are at risk of extinction, owing to a decrease in available carrion, inadvertent poisoning, electrocution on power lines and unsustainable land use changes. An understanding of general movement patterns of these highly mobile animals, particularly in terms of foraging flights on large spatial scales is indispensable for successful conservation measures. The Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) is endemic to southern Africa and serves as a model species to identify large-scale movement patterns of large soaring scavengers. Using high-end tracking technology (www. e-obs.de), we try to answer the questions how (a) landscape and environmental determinants trigger movement decisions and behavior (b) movement behaviour differs between adult and juvenile birds. By revealing insights into the utilization of landscape structures, e.g. power lines, roost sites or artificial feeding sites, of adult and subadult birds, our results should guide management decisions for the protection of the endangered species.

For more information, see www.gyps-coprotheres.net

Closing the seed dispersal loop: quantitatively linking plant-frugivore interactions to the recruitment cycle of plant communities

DFG_PolenThe ability to quantitatively link frugivore activity to later recruitment is the key to the understanding of seed dispersal processes and plant demography, especially in view of environmental impact factors such as forest degradation. However, owing to the high complexity of the cascade of seed dispersal and recruitment processes, establishing this link has so far largely been impossible. The proposed project aims at filling this gap by quantitatively linking plant-frugivore interactions to recruitment of associated plant populations in the light of forest degradation. To achieve this, we will use a novel molecular technique that determines the identity of seed dispersers from fecal material enclosing dispersed seeds. We will combine this approach with classic matrix population models based on empirical assessments of a fleshy-fruiting plant community in the field. This will allow us to track the impact of frugivore activity on recruitment of a plant community in logged and old-growth forest. Our study system is the Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF) in Eastern Poland, the last pristine forest ecosystem of the European lowland. The forest provides a unique reference site, as species communities and ecological processes have evolved nearly uninterrupted since the last ice age. The project builds on comprehensive datasets from our previous studies on interactions among frugivore and plant communities in BPF, which show a significant loss of interactions and partners in plant-frugivore interactions in logged compared to old-growth forest. By assessing the impact of dispersers through recruitment, our project will allow for unique insights into the consequences of the loss of seed disperser species in degraded forest habitats for population dynamics in plant communities.

This project is funded by: DFG

Remote sensing as surrogate for phylodiversity and functional processes along land-use  and elevation gradients

DFG_EcuadorThe proposed project aims at investigating how changes in land use and elevation affect the functional and phylodiversity of trees and birds and how this translates into the associated processes in particular herbivory and predation. As it is time consuming to quantify these measures of biodiversity and processes we need a simple indicator system for routine monitoring across large areas. New developments in remote sensing provide promising information for predicting biodiversity as well as ecosystem processes. Spectral diversity derived from remote sensing is for example positively linked to biochemical diversity of trees. In addition, the vegetation reacts on subtle changes due to herbivory by detectable changes in net primary production and leaf pigment status. Therefore, we expect that we can predict variables describing the status of biodiversity as well as certain processes by measures of spectral and structural diversity derived from remote sensing. This would provide the ground to develop a simple and integrative indicator for ecosystem services. Such an indicator system based on remote sensing would be an important step towards an integrative monitoring of the status of biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and finally ecosystem services that can be used across large areas and even in areas with rough terrains.

This project is funded by: DFG

The role of predator-prey naïveté for the invasion success of lady beetles – A compar-ison of species interactions across two continents

MarienkäferDespite the growing scientific literature on detrimental effects of invasive species, we often lack a mechanistic understanding why some species become invasive while others remain benign. Non-native predators bearing a unique set of cues might have the double advantage of naïve prey and naïve predators and thus outcompete native predators. Due to the strong trophic interdependence and the availability of similar and novel non-native lady beetle species, the ant-lady beetle-aphid system is particularly well suited to test for predator-prey naïveté.
Here, we will compare the aggression of ants towards lady beetles, the avoidance behavior of aphids, and the consumption of aphids by lady beetles currently occurring in Europe and in North America. This intercontinental approach is crucial to evaluate the importance of predator-prey naiveté for the invasion success of a non-native species. In addition, we will analyze lady beetle cues to quantify cue similarity between native and non-native species. The combination of behavioral experiments with chemical analyses will not only shed light on the semiochemicals that mediate these interactions but also improve our ability to explain and predict high-impact invasions of insect predators.

This project is funded by: DFG

Birds as biodiversity indicators - an assessment of species and functional diversity across four trophic levels

Meise, Spinne, etc.
Breeding birds are often used to assess changes in biodiversity and the effectiveness of agri-environmental schemes. However, recent studies provided contrasting results regarding correlations between bird diversity and the diversity of other taxa. The respective habitat type, trophic relationships and species traits such as habitat and food specialization might influence the strength of correlations between diversity patterns. Here, we will compare diversity at four trophic levels (birds, spiders, leafhoppers and plants) in three different habitat types of increasing complexity (crop, grassland and semi-natural habitats). Results of this study allow to compare the effectiveness of birds as biodiversity indicators in different habitat types of the agricultural landscape. The incorporation of functional diversity might further help to enhance the reliability of biodiversity assessments.

This project is funded by: Universitätsstiftung der Philipps-Universität Marburg


Avian monitoring program in Cajas National Park, Ecuador


All national parks of the Ecuadorian Andes harbour extremely high levels of biodiversity. At the same time they are highly threatened by human disturbance such as recreation activities or extraction of natural resources. Further, climatic changes are predicted for the Andean region with a reduction in rainfall and an increase in seasonality. It is therefore essential to know how species persistence varies among the remaining natural habitats. To achieve this, we will monitor the abundance, species composition and movement of birds as an important indicator group across their habitats. Thus, our approach will provide a broad array of information for park management that are urgently needed to develop better tools of conservation for the avifauna of the natural habitats in Cajas National Park.

This project was funded by: DFG


Ecological processes as driving forces for sustainable forest management

Forests disappear at an alarming rate leading to changes in species diversity and composition. It is therefore essential to study in which way modified forest conditions affect interactions among species and consequently ecosystem stability and function. Fundamental processes for ecosystem function are mutualistic and antagonistic interactions such as pollination, seed dispersal, seed predation and regeneration. This project aims at studying the regeneration potential of differently sized forest patches in the highly fragmented landscape of South Africa. Thereby, we will investigate the effects of forest type on biodiversity (insects, birds, small mammals, trees) and ecosystem processes (pollination, seed dispersal, seed predation and regeneration) in coastal scarp forests in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. These findings will help to develop sound management recommendations such as establishment of corridors and creation of forest patches and to foster the development of community-based natural management programmes improving people’s livelihood.                                                             

This project was funded by: Robert Bosch foundation

Robert Bosch Stiftung


Identification of reserach gaps for sustainable forest management


Tropical forests are being lost at an alarming rate. This overexploitation is partly accompanied by illegal logging activities. As tropical forest habour more 50% of the terrestrial biodiversity it is essentail to develop suitable indicators for the status of ecosystems. This holds not only for natural forest but also for commercially used forests. Thus, we aim to test suitable indicators to assess the status of differently managed forests.

This project was funded by: WWF Deutschland


Pollinator-plant interactions in agroecosystems 


Land-use intensification results in a decrease of pollinators in agro-ecosystems with potentail consequences for associated ecosystem services such as pollination. For this reason we study plant-pollinator interation networks in flowering strip that were planted within the agri-environmental scheme HIAP. We aim at sheding light into the structure and functionality of plant-pollinator interaction in these flowering strips in different landscape context. Our findings will likely contribute to concrete recommendations for sustainable land management.

This project was funded by:  https://www.uni-marburg.de/forschung/wissnachwuchs/promovierende/beraquali/unistiftung



Impact of human disturbance on mutualistic interaction networks in a forest ecosystem of eastern Poland

DBU Polen2Human disturbance changes species communities, structure and dynamics of forest ecosystems. It is therefore essential to understand the consequences for biodiversity, biotic interactions and ecological processes such as pollination and seed dispersal. Analysing networks of mutualistically interacting communities along a human disturbance gradient allows visualizing the complexity of such interactions in diverse communities. A major challenge of network analyses is to understand how the architecture and structural characteristics of pollinator and seed disperser networks can be related to ecological consequences for the system. Moreover, it is important to study such networks through time as species composition can show considerable variability among years. For this reason we are currently studying pollination and seed dispersal networks in differently modified forests areas of Białowieża Forest, Eastern Poland. This forest represents a unique study system for Europe providing the opportunity to compare ecological processes of differently disturbed areas to control sites. First results show a decrease of visitation rate, linkage density and interaction diversity with increasing modification. Further, interacting species and networks were more specialized in modified than in natural forests.

This project was funded by: DBU

Human impact on avian diversity, seed dispersal and regeneration processes of East African rainforests: management tools and recommendations


Human impact leads to considerable loss of global biodiversity, but its consequences for ecosystem processes such as seed dispersal are hardly understood. More than 90% of tropical plants rely on animals for the dispersal of their seeds. Thus, a loss of animal dispersers might lead to a break-down of seed dispersal processes with long-term consequences for forest regeneration. In the third phase of BIOTA the aim of E11 coordinated by Prof. Böhning-Gaese (University of Mainz) is to:

1. up-scale our studies on the relationship between human disturbance, species diversity and ecosystem processes from the local over the regional to the continental level and evaluate Ficus-diversity as predictor for high biodiversity and “healthy” functional relationships in ecosystems;

2. investigate the contribution of pollination and seed dispersal to gene flow in Prunus africana to provide management recommendations for sustaining high genetic diversity in remaining populations of this endangerd species;

3. use a multi-disciplinary analysis of all data in the BioDiversity Observatories (BDO) to identify indicator groups and particularly sensitive processes for long-term monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem function;

4. link biodiversity with socio-economy and land use in the farmland to provide tools and recommendations for land-use planning in highly utilized areas;

5. implement conservation education and outreach activities through further development of the community-based long-term bird monitoring program, production of information material, technical know-how and capacity building at the local as well as scientific level.

This project was funded by: www.bmbf.de

Zuletzt aktualisiert: 28.05.2018 · Sascha Rösner

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