Department of Biology
Institute of Plant Science and Microbiology


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Vegetation ecology and biodiversity

Biodiversity, the diversity of organisms from the genetic to the landscape level, is an essential element of the earth's ecosystems. It is endangered to an increasing extent by the spread of human population, their ever-growing demand for natural resources and the impact of climate change. A better knowledge of biodiversity and its interrelation with the environment is crucially important to understand the role of diversity and individual species for processes and ecosystem function. The vegetation ecology and biodiversity work group is particularly concerned with phytodiversity in arid regions.

Research areas

Restoration experiments

Following the principals of ecological restoration, restoration experiments are based on ecological processes in ecosystems which sustain rejuvenation and natural dynamics in pristine systems or hinder respective processes in degraded systems. Scientifically sound knowledge underlies such experiments, however, they are also designed to test hypotheses and deepen the understanding. Also, the experiments are developed in an integrated approach with the land users by building on their knowledge and experiences in that field. ( Ute Schmiedel, Norbert Jürgens, together with Dr. Nicky Allsopp / ARC South Africa).

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Vegetationmonitoring & modeling

The long-term dynamics of plant populations in semi-arid southern Africa and Morocco are monitored and analysed on permanent monitoring plots. New recruitment, size, annual growth, vitality, and reproduction state is monitored on individual level at sites of different levels of land use intensity (e.g. inside and outside of enclosures).

The studies contribute to basic research on natural population dynamics under current climatic conditions and give insight into how land-use controls natural rejuvenation in semi-arid plant populations. The results are fed into models on population / vegetation dynamics as well as experiments on climate change effects on plant populations in semi-arid southern Africa. ( Finckh, Hachfeld, Oldeland, Schmiedel ).

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Regeneration dynamics

The analysis of dispersal and germination strategies in plant communities of (semi-)arid African regions is of high importance for the understanding of long-term vegetation dynamics. Our research gives special attention to the investigation of soil seed banks and related regeneration patterns on plant population and community level. In this context specific questions regard the impact of land-use management on the soil seed bank, the extent to what seed banks contribute to the general regeneration potential of the vegetation after disturbance and the temporal dimension in which degradation and regeneration of rangelands take place after changes in management practices. ( Augustin, Dreber, Finckh ).

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Desertification and Rehabilitation

Ecological and socio-economic research on desertification in southern Africa and Sahel provides a basis for the development and implementation of rehabilitation programmes for degraded ecosystems. The work group cooperates, among others, with DesertNet DesertNet, European DesertNet and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification ( UNCCD )

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Pollination and biodiversity

Pollinating insects guarantee a fundamental service for plant reproduction, thus contributing to ecosystem functioning. As biodiversity in general, also the diversity of pollinators is under threat due to several factors such as habitat. Research interests are how anthropogenic use and climate change influence the species richness and abundance of pollinators and what the consequences for the reproductive success of plants and the resulting phytodiversity are. ( Carolin Mayer )

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Population studies with molecular markers

Spatial patterns, population dynamics and gene flow, are detected by using molecular markersystems such as AFLPs, ISSRs or sequencing. The results are combined and interpreted with information on vegetation and climate. The present studies focus on populations of the genus Gibbaeum (Aizoaceae) in the Republic South Africa. (Gisela Bertram, in cooperation with the group molecular Systematics , Barbara Rudolph, Jens Rohwer)

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Plant functional types

Impacts of humans and/or global climate change on biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems receives more and more attention in recent times. To understand, model and predict interactions between the changed environment and plant species, some form of simplification is needed. Plant functional types are recognised as a practical tool to simplify community complexity.
In the frame of the BIOTA project, plant functional traits will be recorded along a climatic gradient in southern Africa in order to quantify trait responses, their effects on ecosystem function and population dynamics and to develop plant functional types as user-orientated indicators of vegetation or successional stages. (Sabine Greiner, Dirk Wesuls)

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Pharmaceutical Plants

The wild harvesting and trade of pharmaceutical plants (e.g. Harpagophytum procumbens, Hoodia spp.) plays a major role in the income generation of many marginalised ethnic groups in southern Africa. At the same time a strong correlation between the international trade request of such plant products and the pressure on the plant resources in the wild is evident. The southern African Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) was used to investigate the influence of wild harvesting on the status and long-term regeneration potential of natural populations in Namibia, South Africa und partly also Botswana. (Berit Hachfeld)

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Capacity Development for land users

As part of the project BIOTA South, members of local land user communities are fulltime employed and trained as para-ecologists in the field of integrated biodiversity research and monitoring. The para- ecologists support the work of the scientists during their stay in the field but also take over tasks during their absence. Para-ecologists play an important role in facilitating the communication between academic researchers and land users. In course of time they shall take over large parts of the long-term biodiversity monitoring at the sites and also feed back the outcomes into the land-users community and help to translate it into user relevant information. ( Ute Schmiedel , in co-operation with Bettina Koelle / INDIGO - Development & Change)

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Imprint  /  last update: 2013-03-06  by: Norbert Jürgens DE