Senckenberg Research

Biodiversity and Environment


Satellite image of Baja California,famous for whale watching.
Satellite image of Baja California, famous for whale watching. Copyright: NASA.



Biodiversity and ecosystem functions are of the utmost importance to humans: They provide us - free of charge, so to speak - with clean water, food and raw materials, and they have a stabilizing effect on the climate. Global change has had serious effects on them, and hence also on the so-called 'ecosystem services'. The challenge today is to find ways of counteracting these encroachments.

New methods for new strategies 

Sustainable adaptation and management strategies must be developed, and these must be accompanied by national and international agreements and legislation. Senckenberg is taking an active part in the implementation of such provisions: We are developing innovative methods for detecting the more 'elusive' species listed in the Habitats Directive (genetic monitoring, environmental DNA). We are also elaborating new standard methods for registering soil organisms that are to be used in the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, as well as hydro-acoustic techniques for monitoring species communities on the sea bed (EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive).

Long-term data for ecosystem research

Generally, ecosystems change only very slowly. It is a challenging task to distinguish between short-term fluctuations and long-term trends. Reliable findings and forecasts can only be established on the basis of observation covering a sufficiently long time. Senckenberg can avail itself of a unique stock of long-term data for a range of different marine, limnic and terrestrial ecosystems. One of our most important aims is to connect these long-term data series into a useful network. To this end, we are participating in various international projects such as BIOTA, FONA and Edaphobase, EnvEurope or EU BON. Senckenberg is also involved in the international LTER network (Long-Term Ecosystem Research).   


Detailed studies as supplements

In addition to the long-term studies, detailed investigations on the way ecosystems function and how species interact are essential. They help us to interpret the long-term studies, and also deepen our understanding of fundamental biotic processes generally. Two examples of such studies carried out by the Senckenberg research facilities may be mentioned here: an investigation of mutual interaction networks between seeding plants and seed-disseminating birds and the comparative analysis of food webs in various areas of the Wadden Sea.

GELNHAUSEN River Ecology and Conservation WILHELMSHAVEN DZMB Marine Research GÖRLITZ Botany Zoology Soil Zoology WEIMAR Palaeontology Quarternary and Taxonomy of Insects Phylogenetic Systematics Information Center Entomology MÜNCHEBERG DRESDEN Museum of Zoology and Geology Museum of Mineralogy BIK-F Biodiversity Dynamics and Climate Adaptation and Climate Evolution and Climate Knowledge Transfer Data and Modelling Centre Laboratory Centre FRANKFURT AM MAIN Marine Zoology Palaeoanthropology and Messel Research Botany and Molecular Evolution Terrestrial Zoology Palaeontology and Historical Geology
Core Area Participation no Participation

The diagram above displays the degree of participation of the Senckenberg research departments in the research field "Biodiversity and Ecosystems". Click on the department name to view its webpages.


Research activity highlights


Huge — and yet still largely unknown: cold water reefs

Lophelia colonies

Coral reefs exist not only in the shallow, warm waters of the South Seas, but also in the deep, cold waters of Norway's fjords. And elsewhere, too. In recent years, researchers have been able to show that many parts of the sea bed, previously shown only as blank areas on the charts, are made up of so-called cold water reefs. A unique cold water reef database is being built up at the 'Senckenberg  am Meer' facility in Wilhelmshaven. more

Genetic monitoring of wild animals: At the interface between science and species protection


Genetic wild animal monitoring is a method that enables us to keep track of rare species such as wolves, wild cats or beavers that prefer to keep themselves to themselves. Senckenberg scientists carry out genetic analyses on samples from hair, droppings or other traces left behind by the animals concerned. This provides an important basis for effective species protection.  more

  Whales and parasites

Diving Minke whale

Anisakis is a parasitic marine genus of nematodes that can infect humans through the consumption of fish. The primary hosts of this species are whales. Scientists are now engaged in research on the distribution of the Anisakis species. This will enable them not only to draw conclusions about regional infection risks, but also about the migratory behaviour and nutritional ecology of the whales. more