Converting rainforest to plantation impacts food webs and biodiversity (20.02.2024)
Researchers led by Universities of Göttingen and Bogor study effects of land use change
Every day, new areas of rainforests are converted into plantations, drastically changing tropical biodiversity and the way the ecosystem functions. Yet, the current understanding of the consequences is fragmentary: previous studies tended to examine either biodiversity or the ecosystem. An international research team led by the universities of Göttingen in Germany and Bogor in Indonesia brings these threads together in this study. They analysed organisms ranging from microscopic mites and earthworms in the soil, to beetles and birds in tree canopies, comparing tropical rainforest with rubber and oil palm plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia. Their findings provide the first insights into the processing of energy across soil and canopy animal communities in mega-biodiverse tropical ecosystems. The researchers demonstrate that the conversion of rainforest into plantations erodes and restructures food webs and fundamentally changes the way they function. The results were published in Nature.
Urbanization increases seasonal differences in plant-pollinator networks (06.12.2023)
Research team led by Göttingen University investigates importance of season and environment in tropical megacity
Increasing urbanization worldwide is a growing threat to biodiversity. At the same time, flowering plants are often more diverse in cities than in the countryside. This is due to flowering plants and agricultural crops, which are increasingly being grown in cities. A recent study shows that the interactions between plants and pollinators, which are important for agricultural production, are surprisingly dynamic. For example, the plant and bee species involved in pollination vary greatly between the seasons. This was shown by an international research team led by the University of Göttingen. The scientists studied farms that produce vegetables in the southern Indian metropolis of Bengaluru – a classic example of a rapidly growing city in the tropics. Urbanization intensifies the seasonal differences in plant-pollinator networks, as a comparison of urban and rural cultivation areas revealed. The results were published in the journal Ecology Letters.
Understanding greenhouse gases in oil palm plantations (29.09.2023)
Research team led by Göttingen University investigates nitrous oxide emissions in Jambi
The rapid spread of oil palm plantations and associated high use of fertilizer raises concerns about the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful greenhouse gas. A new study by an international research team led by the University of Göttingen shows that oil palms’ photosynthesis and their response to meteorological and soil conditions play an important but still widely unexplored role in the amount of N2O produced by oil palm plantations. The results are important for strategies to reduce the negative impact of N2O emissions from oil palm cultivation by selecting appropriate locations and improving plantation management. The study was published in the journal Global Change Biology – Bioenergy.
A plea from experts: stop personifying plants (20.09.2023)
Research team including Göttingen University reviews popular books on forests and criticises lack of scientific evidence
Popular science books are all the rage. Their aim is to convey scientific topics to interested members of the general public as clearly and entertainingly as possible. To succeed, authors describe the science using accessible language and concepts that will be interesting to their audience. For example, human attributes have been assigned to plants. Trees are said to experience feelings and care for their offspring like mothers do for their children. An international research team led by the Universities of Heidelberg, Göttingen and Umeå (Sweden) has now tested such descriptions against scientific evidence. The 32 researchers from eleven countries analysed statements from two popular books on the subject of forests. They conclude that metaphoric descriptions are often held as literally true, and warn against portraying plants as if they were like human beings. The results have been published in the journal Trends in Plant Science.
Patterns of biodiversity unveiled (24.07.2023)
Research team uncovers global centers of evolutionarily unique and endemic plants
(pug) Understanding the origins and preservation of biodiversity is crucial as human impact continues to threaten our planet’s rich variety of life. Often overlooked, narrow-ranged and evolutionary unique species play a vital role in shaping biodiversity. Their concentrated presence, quantified as phylogenetic endemism, reveals important centers of biogeographic and evolutionary history. A new study led by a team of international researchers at the University of Göttingen has now uncovered global patterns and factors influencing phylogenetic endemism in seed plants, providing invaluable insights for conservation efforts worldwide. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Tree islands bring biodiversity to oil palm plantations (25.05.2023)
Islands of trees in oil palm plantations can significantly increase biodiversity within five years without reducing productivity. This has been shown by an experiment, which has been running for over ten years in Indonesia as part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) "EFForTS" at the University of Göttingen. An international team of researchers led by Göttingen planted experimental islands of trees in plantations on the island of Sumatra to counteract the species loss caused by the intensive cultivation of oil palms. The results have been published in the journal Nature.
Fallow land promotes bird diversity (26.04.2023)
Research team including Göttingen University study effect of fallow land and complexity of landscapes on bird populations
In recent decades, many of Germany’s animal populations in agricultural landscapes have experienced sharp declines, both in terms of the number of species and the number of individuals. Fallow land is considered an effective measure to slow this decline. Researchers from the University of Göttingen, Thünen Institute of Biodiversity, and the Dachverband Deutscher Avifaunisten (DDA) have investigated the correlation between the proportion of fallow land and the number and abundance of farmland birds over a nine-year study period. The research shows that areas of fallow land can contribute to an increase in the populations of these birds and that the benefits of fallow land depend significantly on the complexity of the surrounding landscape. Their findings were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Plant roots fuel tropical soil animal communities (07.03.2023)
Research team led by Göttingen University reveals that living roots are as important as dead leaves to sustain tropical soil biodiversity
A research team led by the University of Göttingen has shed new light on the importance of plant roots for belowground life, particularly in the tropics. Millions of small creatures toiling in a single hectare of soil including earthworms, springtails, mites, insects, and other arthropods are crucial for decomposition and soil health. For a long time, it was believed that leaf litter is the primary resource for these animals. However, this recent study is the first to provide proof that resources derived from plant roots drive soil animal communities in the tropics. The results were published in the journal Ecology Letters.
Mechanical weeding promotes ecosystem functions and profit in industrial oil palm (02.03.2023)
Research led by Göttingen University compares reduced fertilizer and mechanical weeding with conventional management
Oil palm trees are the most productive oil crop and global demand is increasing. However, their productivity is due to conventional management practices including high fertilizer usage and herbicide application, resulting in severe environmental damage. A new study by an international, multidisciplinary research team led by the University of Göttingen, shows that shifting to mechanical weeding and reducing fertilizer usage lead to significant increases in both ecosystem multifunctionality and profit. The scientists compared different environmental measures and economic indicators in mechanical weeding, herbicide application, and combinations of these with high and reduced fertilizer usage. Their study was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
Press release: A world map of plant diversity (15.11.2022)
International research team led by Göttingen University use advanced machine learning to model biodiversity
Why are there more plant species in some places than in others? Why is diversity highest in the tropics? What is the connection between biodiversity and environmental conditions? To help answer these questions, an international team led by researchers at the University of Göttingen has reconstructed the distribution of plant diversity around the world and made high-resolution predictions of where and how many plant species there are. This will support conservation efforts, help to protect plant diversity and assess changes in the light of the ongoing biodiversity and climate crises. Their research was published in New Phytologist.
Original publication: Cai, L et al, ”Global models and predictions of plant diversity based on advanced machine learning techniques”. New Phytologist 2022, Doi: 10.1111/nph.18533
The new model to predict plant diversity (based on the Global Inventory of Floras and Traits – GIFT database) is available here:
Press release: Organic farming or flower strips – which is better for bees? (18.05.2022)
Research team including Göttingen University assess the efficiency of agri-environmental measures from different perspectives
How effective environmental measures in agriculture are for biodiversity and wild bee populations depends on various factors and your perspective. This is shown by agroecologists from the University of Göttingen, Germany and the Centre for Ecological Research in Vácrátót, Hungary. The research team found that when assessing the effectiveness of different measures, whether in the field (organic farming) or next to the field (flower strips in conventional farming), biodiversity benefits should be evaluated differently. Like-for-like comparisons of environmental measures could easily be misleading, according to the scientists. The research was published in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology.
Original publication: Péter Batáry & Teja Tscharntke: Scale-dependent effectiveness of on-field vs. off-field agri-environmental measures for wild bees. 2022, Basic and Applied Ecology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2022.05.001
Press release: Research and art connect for sustainability (08.03.2022)
Festival in Indonesia and exhibition in Forum Wissen Göttingen
Keeping the environment unspoilt, promoting social equality and strengthening sustainability – this is what connects researchers from the University of Göttingen and the university in Jambi on Sumatra with artists from Indonesia and documenta fifteen. Together, they are organising a festival in Permatang Kabau, a village on the island of Sumatra, as part of a collaboration for the contemporary art exhibition documenta, which will be held this year for the fifteenth time. The festival of Semah Bumi (balancing, serving, seeding) will feature concerts, art exhibitions and theatre performances from 12 to 13 March 2022. Starting with the question "What do we want our village to look like in twenty years?", the participants will formulate their wishes for the future and develop common goals from the perspective of sustainability in the region.
The results will be on display at an exhibition at the Forum Wissen Göttingen from June 2022. In parallel to documenta fifteen, visitors will be able to experience the social and ecological dimensions of research in Indonesia from different perspectives.
For further information, see the festival's Instagram account www.instagram.com/semahbumi/, or find out more about the Collaborative Research Centre EFForTS: https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/310995.html
Press release: How robust are ecosystems? Three key indicators hold the clues (23.09.2021)
Göttingen University research team involved in global study on conditions and capacity to adapt
Ecosystems provide a wide range of services to people. These services depend on basic ecosystem functions, which are shaped by natural conditions like climate, the mix of species and by human intervention. A research team including the University of Göttingen has identified three key indicators that describe the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems: the capacity to maximise primary productivity; the efficiency of using water; and the efficiency of using carbon. Monitoring these three indicators will make it possible to assess how adaptable an ecosystem is to climate and environmental changes and how it can evolve under certain conditions. The research was published in Nature.
Original publication: Mirco Migliavacca et al. The three major axes of terrestrial ecosystem function (2021) Nature DOI 10.1038/s41586-021-03939-9: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03939-9
Press release: Bird communities threatened by urbanization (24.08.2021)
Urbanization is one of the most drastic forms of land-use change, and its negative consequences on biodiversity have been studied extensively in temperate countries such as Germany. However, less research has been conducted in tropical regions from the Global South, where most of the ongoing and future urbanization hotspots are located, and little is known about its effects on agricultural biodiversity and associated ecosystems. A research team from the University of Göttingen and the University of Hohenheim, in collaboration with the University of Agricultural Sciences of Bangalore in India, investigated the effects of urbanization on farmland bird communities in and around Bangalore, a city of over 10 million inhabitants in South India. They found that urbanization homogenizes farmland bird communities, filtering out species with certain functional traits, such as insect-eating birds, which are important for pest control. The results were published in Global Change Biology.
Press release: Promoting biodiversity-friendly landscapes - beyond organic farming (04.08.2021)
Is organic farming the only alternative to conventional agriculture to promote biodiversity in agricultural landscapes? An international research team led by the University of Göttingen questions this. According to the authors, a landscape mosaic of natural habitats and small-scale and diverse cultivated areas is the key to promoting biodiversity on a large scale in both conventional and organic agriculture. They state that political decision-makers will have to recognise this in order to achieve a corresponding paradigm shift in agriculture. The statement was published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Press release: Good food in a nice setting: wild bees need diverse agricultural landscapes (29.06.2021)
Mass-flowering crops such as oilseed rape or faba bean (also known as broad bean) provide valuable sources of food for bees, which, in turn, contribute to the pollination of both the crops and nearby wild plants when they visit. But not every arable crop that produces flowers is visited by the same bees. A team from the University of Göttingen and the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) in Braunschweig has investigated how the habitat diversity of the agricultural landscape and the cultivation of different mass-flowering crops affect wild bees. The research shows that diverse agricultural landscapes increase the species richness of wild bees. Flowering arable crops with different flower shapes support different wild bee species. The results of the study have been published in Landscape Ecology.
Press release: Sacred natural sites protect biodiversity in Iran (15.06.2021)
How much do traditional practices contribute to the protection of local biodiversity? Why and how are sacred groves locally valued and protected, and how can this be promoted and harnessed for environmental protection? Working together with the University of Kurdistan, researchers of the University of Göttingen and the University of Kassel have examined the backgrounds of this form of local environmental protection in Baneh County, Iran.
“Around the world, local communities are voluntarily protecting certain parts of their surroundings due to religious reasons – be it in Ethiopia, Morocco, Italy, China or India”, reports Professor Tobias Plieninger, head of the section Social-ecological Interactions in Agricultural Systems at the universities of Kassel and Göttingen. Sacred natural sites are places where traditional myths and stories meet local ecological knowledge and environmental protection. Beyond state-based protection programs, these form a network of informal nature reserves.
Press release: Reduced plant species richness means insects at risk (17.05.2021)
Joint project including Göttingen University observes reduced plant species richness and declining diversity of associated insects
Where plant species diversity decreases, insect diversity decreases too and with it biodiversity as a whole. From the intensively managed meadows and pastures to dense and dark beech forests, insects that specialise in just a few plant species are disappearing: the plants that provide their food no longer grow there. This is shown by an international study with the participation of the University of Göttingen. The results were published in the journal Science Advances.
Press release: Revealing the secret cocoa pollinators (03.05.2021)
The importance of pollinators to ensure successful harvests and thus global food security is widely acknowledged. However, the specific pollinators for even major crops – such as cocoa – haven’t yet been identified and there remain many questions about sustainability, conservation and plantation management to enhance their populations and, thereby, pollination services. Now an international research team based in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia and led by the University of Göttingen has found that in fact ants and flies – but not ceratopogonid midges as was previously thought – appear to have a crucial role to play. In addition, they found that promoting biodiversity friendly landscapes, leaf-litter and trees providing shade in agroforestry systems were important to enhance tiny cocoa pollinators. The research was published in Biological Conservation.
Press release: Forests of the world in 3D (04.02.2021)
Primeval forests are of great importance for biodiversity and global carbon and water cycling. The three-dimensional structure of forests plays an important role here because it influences processes of gas and energy exchange with the atmosphere, whilst also providing habitats for numerous species. An international research team led by the University of Göttingen has investigated the variety of different complex structures that can be found in the world's forests, as well as the factors that explain this diversity. The results have been published in Nature Communications.