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uni'wissen 02(4)-2011_ENG

One forest, many disciplines: Forest scientists, hydrologists, and biologists address the topic of biodiversity from various perspectives and compile their findings. The causes may differ – rain forest clearings, the use of pesticides, or the cultivation of monocultures – but the outcome is always the same: The intensive use of ecosystems leads to the extinction of countless species. However, the scientific community has completed a paradigm shift since the 1990s. Instead of limiting their perspective to the consequences human action has for biological diversity, biologists are now fo- cusing increasingly on how biodiversity makes the ecosystem more beneficial for humans, for instance in the face of global warming. It has long been an uncontested fact that humankind cannot survive without the services rendered by ecosystems. They provide building materials, food, medicines, and the very air we breathe – and they protect the ground against erosion and purify the water we drink into the bargain. How- ever, not nearly enough research has been con- ducted on this topic, particularly on the forest. It’s easy to cover up a meadow and make it into experimental green space, but conducting exper- iments on a forest is a more complicated affair. Several groups of scientists at the University of Freiburg are working hard to close this gap. FunDivEurope (Functional Significance of Forest Biodiversity in Europe) is a project launched with funding from the European Union in 2010 whose purpose is to investigate the effects of biodiver- sity on wood production and quality, carbon stor- age, water quality, and a host of other functions in six regions selected as being representative of various types of species-rich forest. In another project funded by the German Research Founda- tion (DFG), a European-Chinese research group is studying the influence of a diversity of trees and shrubs on ecosystem functions in the sub- tropical forests of China. The goal of both of these projects is to deliver concrete recommen- dations for action – on agriculture and forestry, among other things. Research is also being con- ducted at so-called biodiversity exploratoriums in the three areas in Germany: Schorfheide, the Swabian Alps, and Hainich. The DFG provided funding to establish the three extensive long- term study areas in order to promote German biodiversity research. Each exploratorium has three test areas containing forests with different levels of biological diversity – from high to me- dium to low. Dead but Useful Prof. Dr. Jürgen Bauhaus, Director of the In- stitute of Silviculture of the University of Freiburg, is studying dead wood and the species of fungus that grow on them in the test areas. Dead wood contains much of what the ecosystem will need again later – nutrients, for instance, or biomass. Most species of fungus that live on dead wood may be found in non-forested beech forests, much more than in coniferous forests. Plus, the wood decomposes faster in areas in which there are more species of fungus. However, Bauhus is not interested in studying “biodiversity for its own sake. We are just observing the processes and analyzing how friendly or harmful they are for the environment, including aspects like the forma- tion of greenhouse gases, which are generated during the entire decomposition process.” Hydrologists from the University of Freiburg are also conducting research at the exploratori- ums. They are collaborating with botanists from the University of Halle and plant physiologists from the Leibniz Center of Agricultural Land- scape Research in Müncheberg to determine whether forests with a high level of biodiversity are more resistant to the effects of climate change than those with a low level of biodiversity. “We are not asking whether biodiversity is neces- “We want to find out how society could react to climate change for its own protection” 33