Aletta Bonn

Chair of Ecosystem Services, Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ | Friedrich Schiller University Jena | German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Germany

Aletta Bonn studied Biology at the Freie Universität Berlin, Bangor University (Wales) and the Technical University of Braunschweig, where she also conducted her PhD on community ecology of carabid beetles and spiders in floodplains. She then spent 12 years working at the science-society interface with experience in conservation research and management at the University of Sheffield, the Peak District National Park and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK. After return to Germany in 2012 and a research stay at the FU Berlin and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, she was appointed Chair and Head of Ecosystem Services at UFZ and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in the frame of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Germany, in 2014. Her research focuses on understanding the linkages between biodiversity and people in transdisciplinary joint working, especially with respect to biodiversity and ecosystem service change, biodiversity and health, as well as citizen science. Aletta is currently leading the development of the Citizen Science Strategy 2030 for Germany with a large consortium of university and non-university partners.


Citizen Science – Innovationspotenzial für Biodiversitätsforschung
Citizen Science - Innovation potential for biodiversity research Citizen Science, the involvement of volunteers in research, has a long tradition in ecology. In many cases, ecosystem research would not be possible without community expertise, and an estimated 80-90% of all species data are collected by volunteers. The prominent Krefeld Insect Survey has highlighted the importance of the engagement of taxonomic experts from natural history societies, environment NGOs, and single citizens in biodiversity science and policy. How can we foster this innovation potential of Citizen Science to collectively collate not only large-scale spatio-temporal datasets, but also ask exciting new questions? Or is citizen participation more of a media attention generator and nice-to-have? How can we develop quality controls and data infrastructures to encourage and support collaborative research? What added value can Citizen Science bring to lifelong learning for a deeper understanding of science and scientific literacy in a democratic society? To what extent does Citizen Science also provide a transformative contribution to self-efficacy and to counteracting the 'extinction of experience' of nature, both important pillars for nature conservation? And how can the shared fascination with nature of volunteers and academic scientists bring biodiversity research, policy and practice forward and feed into the process of developing the Citizen Science Strategy 2030 for Germany?

Gerlinde B. De Deyn

Wageningen University, Netherlands

I obtained my MSc in bio-engineering at Gent University (Belgium), and investigated biocontrol of root-feeding nematodes by soil-borne fungi. I discovered my passion for research and obtained a PhD degree at Utrecht University, focusing on the role of soil fauna in the restoration of grassland biodiversity. Thereafter I performed research in Canada, the UK and The Netherlands, with the goal to better understand the coupling between plant traits, plant diversity, soil biodiversity and soil functioning. My ultimate aim is to be able to predict from (remotely sensed) plant traits how nutrient cycling can be steered to achieve higher nutrient use efficiency and produce more nutritious crops, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from soil and suppress the build-up of pests and diseases. In 2011 I joined Wageningen University & Research to develop this research line further; in 2016 I was promoted to Professor in Soil Ecology.


Soil Ecology: Cornerstone Science for Transition
Soils are the fundament of terrestrial ecosystems, yet for a long time soil life and all the functions it performs remained largely hidden. During the last decades novel technologies enabled the discovery of the vast biodiversity that soils harbor as well as the processes they drive. The prediction of ecosystem functioning based on the taxonomic composition of soil life remains challenging. However, we do know that the interactions and feedbacks between soil life, plants and soil chemistry and physics are essential for soil and habitat formation, maintenance and restoration. Moreover, soil biota underpin the cycles of carbon and nutrients, thereby supporting the production of food, feed and fibre, and being key players in greenhouse gas balances. The current status of our soils globally is worrisome as due to a multitude of stressors soils are lost much more rapidly than that they are formed. Nevertheless, the recognition of the importance of healthy soils for enabling to achieve multiple sustainable development goals has put soil and soil ecology on the political agenda and triggered interest from many non-academic stakeholders. Clearly, soil ecology can contribute greatly to solving large societal issues, yet will require concerted action to bend the curve and create win-wins of soil and habitat conservation, regeneration and sustainable development.

Britta Tietjen

Chair of Theoretical Ecology, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Britta Tietjen studied Applied System Science at the University of Osnabrück and went for her diploma thesis to the Environmental Research Centre (UFZ). She did her PhD on dryland vegetation ecology at the University of Potsdam and subsequently started a postdoctoral position on climate change impacts on ecosystems at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (PIK). Soon after, she accepted a Juniorprofessorship on Biodiversity/Ecological Modelling at Freie Universität (FU) Berlin, Germany, and is now full professor of Theoretical Ecology at FU Berlin. Throughout her career, she has focussed on how small-scale processes and biotic and abiotic interactions impact the properties and dynamics at the ecosystem level, using a variety of simulation-based modelling approaches. Her main interests are mechanisms and feedbacks that stabilize or destabilize the functioning of ecosystems under global change, and the role of biodiversity in this context. Here, a particular focus lies on water-stressed ecosystems, where she assesses, for example, the implications of land use transitions on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, or the question of how particular species traits facilitate the long-term supply of different ecosystem services in restoration projects.

Link to personal webpage: https://www.bcp.fu-berlin.de/en/biologie/arbeitsgruppen/botanik/ag_tietjen/People/professoren/tietjen


From small-scale processes to ecosystem transitions - a call for integrating simulation models into the ecologist’s toolbox
Worldwide, climate change and maladapted land use cause degradation of ecosystems. This degradation has drastic consequences for species diversity, ecosystem functioning and the supply of services with strong implications for human well-being. Often, the transition towards a degraded state is not caused by a single factor. It rather emerges as a result of the complex interplay of several interacting factors and positive feedbacks within the ecosystem, leading to cascading effects. Examples can be found across ecosystems, such as soil erosion in drylands leading to further loss in vegetation cover, eutrophication of lakes or interactive effects of climate warming and pathogens in forests.
Embracing this complexity requires a toolbox of methods that builds bridges between the understanding of local processes and emerging properties at larger scales. In my talk I will use examples from dryland ecosystems to underpin that simulation models should be an integral part of this toolbox. They can guide our way of thinking about complex systems, enhance our understanding of how small-scale interactions between biotic and abiotic parts of ecosystems shape whole-ecosystem dynamics, and help to determine how changes in climate, land use or other drivers might trigger the transition to an undesired state. As part of an ecologist’s toolbox, simulation models can therefore contribute to anticipating, preventing and even reversing undesired ecosystem transitions.

Carsten Dormann

Professor for Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, University of Freiburg, Germany

Carsten Dormann studied Biology at the University of Kiel, Germany, and did his PhD in Plant Ecology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, on Climate Change effects in the Arctic. After a short PostDoc on invasive species in the Mediterranean, he held a PostDoc-position at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ, where he also got tenured after leading a research group on Biotic Ecosystem Services together with the Agroecology group in Göttingen. In 2011 he was appointed to a chair at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Having started as an experimental field botanist, he interests moved more and more into the statistical realm and most work over the last decades has covered methodological development and reviews, with a focus on species distribution analysis and interaction networks. Alongside, he harbours an interest in methods to bridge the gap between process models and observational data to advance ecological synthesis, and in questioning research findings with political implications.


The tail of application wagging the dog of knowledge: is ecological science fit for policy?
Ecological topics feature more and more at the science-policy interface. Biodiversity decline, loss of ecosystem functions, overexploitation of biological resources and alike lead to a demand for ecological statements. But is the advice that ecologists give sound, useful, correct? I suggest, and elaborate in this talk, that a lack of coherence in the science of Ecology leads to different ecologists giving different answers; to a dominance of advocacy over knowledge; to arguments from anecdotes rather than fundamental understanding. Taking a leaf from the book of other disciplines, particularly those involved in policy advice, such as law and economics, I suggest that there we need to take four concrete steps to make Ecology ripe for policy advise, and alongside use the hodgepodge of applied case studies to make applied ecology credible. To find out which four steps I have in mind, you will have to listen to the talk.

Teja Tscharnke

Professor for Agroecology, Dept. of Crop Sciences, University of Göttingen, Germany

Teja Tscharntke has been Professor of Agroecology at the University of Göttingen since 1993. He studied sociology and biology in Marburg and Gießen, did his doctorate in Hamburg and habilitated in Karlsruhe. His research focuses on landscape perspectives on biodiversity patterns and associated ecosystem services of temperate and tropical regions, especially herbivory, biological pest control, pollination and quantitative food webs. There is also a strong interest in multidisciplinary studies integrating socio-economic and ecological analyses. He is editor of Basic and Applied Ecology (since 2000), "Highly Cited Researcher" on the Web of Science (since 2015) with an h-index of 137 (google scholar, 24.6.21) and has been honoured (2020) by the Royal Entomological Society (Award for Insect Conservation) and the British Ecological Society (Marsh Award for Ecology).


Beyond organic farming – harnessing biodiversity-friendly landscapes
We challenge the widespread appraisal that organic farming is the fundamental alternative to conventional farming for harnessing biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Certification of organic production is largely restricted to banning synthetic agrochemicals, resulting in very limited benefits for biodiversity but high yield losses despite on-going intensification and specialization. In contrast, successful agricultural measures to enhance biodiversity include diversifying cropland and reducing field size, which can multiply biodiversity while sustaining high yields in both conventional and organic systems. Achieving a landscape-level mosaic of natural habitat patches and fine-grained cropland diversification in both conventional and organic agriculture is key for promoting large-scale biodiversity. This needs to be urgently acknowledged by policy makers for an agricultural paradigm shift.
The talk is based on a publication by Teja Tscharntke, Ingo Grass, Thomas C. Wanger, Catrin Westphal and Péter Batáry (2021) in: Trends in Ecology and Evolution (in press)

Bernhard Schmid

Professor University of Zurich, Switzerland

Bernhard Schmid started his ecological career working on the life history of Carex flava for his PhD at the University of Zurich. He then moved on to post-doctoral research with two of the leading plant population ecologists of the time, John Harper in Bangor, Wales and then Fakhri Bazzaz at Harvard. He returned to Switzerland as Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Basel before being appointed Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Zurich. He is also an adjunct Professor at Peking University, China. Bernhard has conducted groundbreaking research in several areas of plant ecology, most notably on the population ecology of clonal plants, mechanisms of competition, community assembly, and more recently on biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships.
Research pioneered by Bernhard Schmid has proved that ecosystems with higher genetic or species diversity are more productive, more efficient and more stable in the face of environmental changes. This discovery countenances for movement away from the dominant use of less diverse systems and monocultures in agriculture, and towards management for high combining ability among genotypes and species. Specific research outcomes include: species-rich grasslands have increased productivity and soil fertility if species with high combining ability are used, breeding and genetic engineering for high combining ability among genotypes can break yield stagnation in major crop plants, planting mixed-species forests instead of monocultures can double the amount of fixed carbon per area, managing for biodiversity provides spatial and temporal insurance for agro- and forest ecosystems, diverse ecosystems reduce human disease risk via pathogen dilution and increased food diversity.


My journey into biodiversity research
The universal principles of life such as DNA allowed biology to become an exact science. However, one of the universal principles of life is diversity, variation among living things made possible by writing different texts with the DNA-alphabet. Ecologists are fascinated by this variation, which they try to describe, order and explain. My own journey into biodiversity research began with a vegetation analysis in a wetland and the question, if plant communities could be more than the random assemblages of different species occurring in the same place postulated by Gleason. During postdocs in the UK and USA, I became a firm believer of the “Gleasonian” view. With the increasing concern about biodiversity loss from local to global scale I joined research programs where we asked what would happen if species would be removed from well-functioning plant communities. Indeed, simulated extinctions from such communities lowered ecosystem functioning and stability in most cases, indicating that even if they were random assemblages, communities could benefit from the diversity of species within them. The likely reason for this was that no species could by itself be so variable to take up all resources available in a locality. Thus, different species, which by chance differ in their abilities to take up resources, could complement each other in the task. However, when we compared this division of labor among species, we found that it was higher for species with a history of co-occurrence than in newly assembled communities. My view on the nature of plant communities is now switching back to a more “Clementsian” view, holding that they are more than random assemblages of species occurring in the same place. Rather it seems that multiple interactions among plants and with other trophic groups can be enhanced by evolutionary processes at the community level.