The alarming decline in animal and plant species stands more chance to be stopped by action on local and regional levels than through global conventions. Research and action programmes by German federal and state governments can help preserve biodiversity in Baden-Württemberg.
Biodiversity is essential for functioning, stable ecosystems and the wellbeing of the human race. Despite conventions, resolutions and action plans for the protection of biological diversity at all political levels, the decline of species diversity is increasing dramatically all over the world, including Germany. Targeted projects and funding measures have been put in place with the objective of stopping this deadly trend.
Migrating animals such as migratory birds are an integral part of ecosystems. However around 10 billion migratory birds die every year and their habitats are increasingly being threatened by humans. Prof. Dr. Martin Wikelski director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell and the Department of Ornithology at the University of Konstanz tracks animal migrations using a sophisticated transmission technology. The findings from his research will contribute to animal protection and thus also to biodiversity conservation.
American scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute JCVI have recently visited the Institute of Limnology at the University of Constance at Lake Constance. The visit was part of the Sorcerer II Expedition which is a unique global mission to sample and discover the diversity of microorganisms and their role in global substance flows.
Life can also be found in Arctic and Antarctic ice. Anique Stecher a biologist at Konstanz University is investigating the biodiversity in these areas using samples collected on board a research vessel and then analysing the data using special phylogenetic software. This provides her with a comprehensive inventory of Arctic and Antarctic organisms and with insights into their relationships with each other. The researchers findings make an important contribution to gaining an in-depth understanding of the studied ecosystems. She is also studying cold-adapted enzymes which have the potential to be used in foods and detergents amongst other things.
Prof. Dr. Mark van Kleunen a Dutch biologist at the University of Konstanz is investigating the impact of climate change on specific plant species including clonal plant species that produce an exact copy of their genetic code due to asexual reproduction. Mark van Kleunen is specifically focused on genetic variations of the dwarf willow Salix herbacea found in alpine environments.
Ecotoxicologists from Tübingen are calling for new interdisciplinary approaches in order to improve investigations into the effect of pesticides on the living environment. They expect that a more effective and more frequent combination of field work and laboratory analyses will provide them with a clearer picture of the overall situation. This knowledge will enable all stakeholders involved in solving environmental issues to draw the right conclusions and take action accordingly.
A Biodiversity Research Centre has been established in Heidelberg in order to explore the spatio-temporal development of biological diversity and its interaction with constantly changing environmental factors. The centre, in which the Botanic Garden of the University of Heidelberg with its plant inventory and collections also participates, involves scientists from a broad range of different disciplines. Projects range from basic research to nature and species conservation strategies and education programmes for the general public.
The Schwäbische Alb or Swabian Alb in southern Germany is one of three locations in Germany where, since 2008, huge numbers of scientists have been exploring the relationship between species diversity, land use and their role for ecosystems processes. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding these huge open-air laboratories, also known as biodiversity exploratories, from 2006 to 2017.
On the one hand, a bioeconomy relies on renewable resources to meet society’s need for food, energy and industrial products. On the other, it emphasises the role of biogenic material flows. The bioeconomy model is expected to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels in the long term. In order to implement the shift from a fossil-based economy to a biobased economy on the regional level, the Baden-Württemberg government launched the Bioeconomy Research Strategy in summer 2013.
More than 80 people came to the Bioeconomy Showcase held to mark the launch of the new Akteursplattform Bioökonomie Baden-Württemberg. Participants enthusiastically sketched out ideas for the BMBF’s idea contest “New products for the Bioeconomy”.
Trees do not just provide timber, they can also be harnessed for construction without the need to cut them down. The term Baubotanik, Living Plant Construction in English, refers to combining modern materials with tree shaping. It shows how a new kind of architecture allows trees to continue growing when joined to temporary steel structures. It uses new design techniques, is climate friendly and of practical use.
Wood from local forests is an important resource for the bioeconomy. However at present, a large amount of wood is used as fuel for energy production. Greater forest diversity and new wood-based materials have the potential to make the timber industry more sustainable. The bioeconomy can contribute to this by promoting the utilisation of deciduous trees.
When an oil spill occurs, chemical dispersants are routinely applied to the surface of the oil-contaminated seawater or into deeper water regions. Dr. Sara Kleindienst, a molecular ecologist from the Centre for Applied Geoscience at the University of Tübingen, has now shown that chemical dispersants do not stimulate oil biodegradation. In cooperation with an international team of researchers, Kleindienst simulated the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico and obtained unexpected results on the degradation of harmful substances following oil spills.
Agroforestry systems can provide effective protection against soil erosion caused by wind and water. They can also contribute to stabilising and improving the yield of annual plants. In addition, strips in fields planted with shrubs and trees form living spaces and areas to which plants and animals can retreat. In the AUFWERTEN innovation group, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO is working with other German research institutions and organisations to set up agroforestry systems in Germany.
One billion people worldwide rely on forests as living spaces. Illegal and legal deforestation endangers people’s livelihoods as well as social and economic structures. It also has a detrimental effect on the global climate. Prof. Dr. Daniela Kleinschmit, Professor for Forest and Environmental Policy at the University of Freiburg, discusses the causes and consequences of deforestation. She is co-editor of an international report on illegal logging and timber trading which was written on the initiative of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).
A recent study on the disappearance of insects is making headlines: it found that the insect biomass has declined by more than 75% in certain areas in Germany that were monitored by the study over a period of 27 years. The authors believe that the dramatic decline in insect biomass is down to industrial agriculture, which is therefore in conflict with certain bioeconomic principles: the sustainable cultivation of biomass and the safeguarding of food supply.
Trees of the genus Symplocos in the Indonesian mountain rainforest store so much aluminium in their leaves that it can be used for dyeing textiles. A research project at the University of Ulm aims to preserve the traditional dyeing methods of Indonesian weavers, protect these rare trees and increase our knowledge of aluminium-accumulating plants.
Grapevines are treated with pesticides more frequently than any other crop. Peter Nick from the Botanical Institute at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is pursuing an ambitious goal: sustainable viticulture rather than toxins. Sustainable viticulture takes into account plants’ natural capacities of resistance. Nick uses the European Wild Grape, the ancestor of cultivated grapevine varieties, for his research as the plant is able to successfully fight off many pathogens.
Action plans prove all the more resilient for being well supported by facts and figures and based on thorough ethical thinking. This equally applies to the utilisation of biomass. Researchers involved in an interdisciplinary research project at the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen have therefore developed indicators to help improve the utilisation of biomass in the future. The findings are based on investigations of the utilisation pathways from agricultural raw material to the end of the life of products produced from the raw material.
Using renewable and recycled raw materials, minimising the use of water and energy during construction works and subsequent operation of a building, conserving resources and protecting the environment while maintaining biodiversity are all important components of sustainable building construction.
On 1st December 2008 Prof. Dr. Karl Schmid the first person to hold the F.W. Schnell Foundations endowed professorship for crop biodiversity and breeding informatics started the ball rolling on a unique European-wide project. Schmid and his colleagues are searching gigantic databases in which genetic analyses and plant descriptions are stored for hidden treasures.
Prof. Dr. Michael Wink is coordinating the Molecular Evolution research project at the University of Heidelberg which deals with topics such as evolutionary research biodiversity and systematics as well as molecular ecology. Modern DNA analysis methods have shed new light on the relationships between birds of prey.
Agricultural land on Earth is limited. However, the increased need for food and feed coupled with the increasing use of biomass feedstocks leads to areas of conflict such as intensive farming, biodiversity loss, land grabbing and indirect land use change. Governments are faced with the major challenge of having to deal with and shape the bioeconomy while taking equally into account the ecological, economic and ethical concerns and integrating them in sustainable solutions.