Biodiversity has the potential to buffer ecosystems against change and stabilise ecosystem functions and services. However, the suitable level of biodiversity to maximize ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes is not yet known and quantified. In the BASIL project, we aim at understanding the importance of diversity from the plot to the agricultural landscape scale evaluating intensively managed sites and adjacent natural habitats for abiotic and biotic characteristics, related functions and their contribution to ecosystem services.
My analyses focus on crop production, nutrient supply and pest control along transects from natural landscape elements (in-field ponds and hedgerows) into winter wheat fields in the Quillow catchment (Brandenburg). I established phytometer plots of a winter wheat variety at all transect points to compare for crop and vegetation traits, soil physical, chemical and biological traits as well as potential crop pests and their biological controllers.
I am working on agricultural weeds, soil mesofauna (Collembola, Acari), earthworms, ground-dwelling arthropods (beetles and spiders) and leaf and seed pathogens of winter wheat. The diversity and distribution of those communities will be evaluated in the context of measured rates, i.e. decomposition rates, predation rates of seeds, herbivory rates among others to gain more insights on the importance of landscape heterogeneity for the presented ecosystem services.
See also: BASIL Project
I have been fascinated by interdisciplinary research at the cutting edge of biology, mathematics and engineering for a long time. Specializing in ecological modelling and bird migration, my current interest focuses on understanding how bird migration is influenced by the environment and the individual’s state, and on how migratory movements affect the population dynamics of birds, their life histories and local biodiversity in turn. In this context, I am studying potential impacts of global change on migratory birds, existing carry-over effects and the evolutionary trade-offs in their decision-making by combining ecological modelling with animal movement analysis. In a second step of my PhD, I will then concentrate on how anthropogenic changes in migratory bird links may affect feedback loops to regional biodiversity.
Anthropogenic changes of climate and land use have a direct impact on regional biodiversity (Vitousek 1994 Ecology; Newbold et al. 2015 Nature). However, they also affect the population dynamics of migratory birds. Indeed, 19 % of extant bird species are estimated to be migratory (Kirby et al. 2008 Bird Conserv Int), providing a mobile link between different ecosystems and transporting energy, nutrients and parasites between vastly separated regions (Bauer and Hoye 2014 Science). Since local biodiversity as well as ecosystem functioning are seriously altered during their regular temporary presence or absence (Bauer and Hoye 2014 Science), human-caused landscape changes also have an important indirect impact on regional biodiversity. Anthropogenic changes in habitat quality may further lead to carry-over effects on survival and breeding success and influence the abundance and schedule of migratory birds. Carry-over effects occur when processes in one season influence the performance of an individual in subsequent seasons. Though they are suspected to be widespread and to be responsible for a large amount of variation in the fitness of individuals, their role in an animal’s life history is far from understood. One major reason for this knowledge gap is that the experimental study of carry-over effects between periods of the annual cycle has proven to be difficult, and new research approaches and tools for their investigation are needed (Harrison et al. 2011 J Animal Ecology; O’Connor et al. 2014 Ecosphere).
This PhD project focuses on the following key questions:
How do short-term changes in anthropogenic landscapes, a major cause of biodiversity decline, affect the population dynamics of
What carry-over effects can landscape changes induce in migratory birds?
How do the abundance of migrants and the timing of their migration affect local biodiversity at the breeding habitat?
To tackle these research questions, a set of different models will be employed over various spatial and temporal scales. These models will be adapted to the white stork (Ciconia ciconia) which will serve as a model species for a long-distance migrant breeding in Brandenburg, Germany, and wintering in Sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, state-based dynamic optimization will be used to calculate optimal life history strategies based on the potential state an individual bird could be in, integrating stochastic environmental conditions. The optimal strategy will then be applied to simulate population dynamics under different scenarios of altered land-use and to analyze resulting carry-over effects. Subsequently, the predicted variable phenologies will be used in supplementing small-scale, spatially explicit individual-based models (SEIBMs) to investigate the influence of a migrant population on local biodiversity at the breeding grounds and the consequences of changes in their abundance and in their timing of behavior. Here, the focus will lie on foraging pressure of seasonally abundant migrants on local food resources.
“We need a better understanding of the complexity of species interactions in multi-predator communities, how these may be influenced by bottom-up processes, and how they contribute to the maintenance of species diversity.”
Ritchie, E. G., & Johnson, C. N. (2009)
“Thus, both top-down and bottom-up processes need to be understood for effective preservation of biodiversity in anthropogenically transformed ecosystems.”
Elmhagen, B., & Rushton, S. P. (2007)
Overview and key questions:
The main aim of this project is to examine movement behaviour of mesopredators (e.g. foraging, daily activity, dispersal) as a key process of biodiversity dynamics in anthropogenic landscapes. Therefore, ecological processes, the land use dynamics and the landscape structure will be investigated with regard to their influence on movement patterns of mesopredators, especially the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), on a spatial and temporal scale.
Accordingly, the key questions are:
How do the structural diversity and dynamics of agricultural landscapes influence the space use and the movement behaviour of red foxes?
Are there hot spots of connectivity or temporally exclusive areas of habitat selection?
How is the spatio-temporal utilization of the landscape of predator and potential prey, e.g. the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus; see dissertation of Wiebke Ullmann) structured?
How does the landscape structure and resource availability of an anthropogenic landscape influence the distribution and genetic structure of the red fox population?
To understand the effects of land use changes on movement patterns and behaviour of red foxes, I will make use of GPS-ACC-collars. These will allow getting an insight into the specific behaviour of a tagged fox (e.g. resting, foraging, fleeing), its concrete position and following from this behavioural patterns with respect to the underlying landscape. Furthermore, this should improve our understanding of how changes in the environment or habitat affect the animal movement, behaviour, energy budget and adaption, which is relevant for living and surviving within a human transformed landscape where habitat change can occur rapidly.