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Understanding the Functions of Diversity

Biodiversity is fundamental to human life. It meets our material and cultural needs and ensures the stability of ecosystems. Worldwide, however, there is evidence of a dramatic demise in species diversity which is primarily attributed to the way humans use the land and to climate change.

In order to understand the interactions between environmental change, climate change and species loss better, it is necessary to study the role of biodiversity in ecosystems more closely. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) is therefore not only funding projects on functional biodiversity, but is also endeavouring to bolster research involved in the debate on biodiversity – for example at the UN biodiversity conference, which started in Bonn on 19 May.

At the exhibition “Millions of Ways of Life – Research for Biological Diversity”, where German biodiversity research will present itself alongside the UN conference, some DFG-funded projects will be among those presenting the goals of this research: to measure, conserve and promote sustainable use of species diversity. The “Biodiversity Exploratories” for example, are studying near-natural ecosystems – forests, fields and meadows – at three sites in Germany and are combining experimental and observational studies. The “Jena Experiment” project, on the other hand, is studying the function of biodiversity on the basis of artificially created grassland systems in which individual factors can be changed deliberately. A project based in Bayreuth, on the other hand, is looking at the distribution of species in various elevation zones of a mountainous region, focussing on the biodiversity on Mount Kilimanjaro.

The fact that maintaining the species diversity always needs to be achieved in harmony with a region’s economic needs is a particular challenge in developing countries, and is also one of the topics of the exhibition. The “Ecuador” Research Unit has been making a significant contribution towards this issue since 2001. This Research Unit is studying both natural mountain forests and mountain forest regions that have been disturbed by human use and aims to use the findings of this comparative study to develop proposals for sustainable land use and ways of improving the living situation of the mountain people in the Andes. The Collaborative Research Centre “STORMA” based in Göttingen is also looking at the topic of sustainability. Its focus is on the tropical rain forests of Indonesia, which have almost halved in size over the past 50 years, primarily due to forest clearing. In cooperation with local partners, the German researchers and scientists are studying the consequences of deforestation and seeking sustainable economic strategies for the future.

The exhibition is a joint project being conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the DFG, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association, the Helmholtz Association, Deutsche Naturwissenschaftliche Forschung e.V. (German Scientific Research Association) and Diversitas Germany.

The topic of biodiversity research is intimately connected to the “Convention on Biological Diversity” (CBD), an international treaty signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which Germany became a party to in 1994. The goals of the treaty are to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources. These goals also apply to research and are taken very seriously by the DFG when making its funding decisions. The DFG has published guidelines to assist researchers and scientists in planning research projects and funding proposals for projects relevant to the CBD.

To mark the occasion of the UN conference the DFG has also published a booklet entitled “Biodiversity Research”, which sums up the main tasks and approaches of biodiversity research from the DFG’s point of view and presents a selection of relevant DFG-funded projects.

If you have questions about funding for biodiversity research by the DFG, please contact Dr. Roswitha Schönwitz, Tel. +49 228 885-2362,

Jutta Hoehn | alfa
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