Research Focus of the Section Mesofauna

MediAN – Mechanisms of ecosystem services in hardwood floodplain forests:
Scientific analysis and optimization of conservation management

Pristine hardwood forests belong to the most species-rich ecosystems in Central Europe. Besides their ability to provide diverse habitats, they offer valuable ecosystem services for water retention, climate protection and human recreation. The overall research aim of the project MediAN is, firstly, to better understand the mechanisms underlying the ecosystem services of hardwood floodplain forests and, secondly, to quantify the spatio-temporal variability of biodiversity and their role in these services during hardwood forest establishment.

In the study area along the Middle Elbe River, we investigate the diversity of Collembola (springtails) and earthworms in differently aged hardwood forests of the active floodplain, as well as in comparative forests in the seepage zone in the former floodplains and along tributaries of the Elbe River. These biodiversity analyses contribute to designation of Collembolan and earthworm indicator species and communities for different floodplain forest development stages. Further, we describe the functional importance of soil fauna for biotic processes in soil (e.g. C sequestration).

Estimation of biodiversity takes place every year in spring in summer from 2018 to 2021. Collembola are extracted from soil cores using MacFadyen devices, while earthworms are extracted and determined directly in the field using the Octett method. Collembola and earthworm communities are analysed in close cooperation with project partners determining vegetation communities and soil characteristics in order to determine characteristic species and species groups and their drivers. Litter decomposition experiments including presence and absence of soil fauna and feeding activity tests (Bait Laminae) evaluate the activity of soil fauna in the study sites and contribute to understanding soil fauna’s role in ecosystem services in relation to forest development and hydrological characteristics.

The Project is carried out in cooperation with the University of Hamburg, Helmholz Institute for Environmental Research (UFZ), Humboldt University in Berlin, BUND Floodplain Centre Burg Lenzen and the Loki Schmidt Foundation. It is financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), project manager German Aerospace Center (DLR), under the project number (FKZ) 01LC1601C.

Warum wir mehr Auwald brauchen: Erkenntnisse und Empfehlungen des MediAN-Projektes im UNESCO-Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe (pdf)

Edaphobase – open access Data Warehouse for Soil Biodiversity

Edaphobase is a non-commercial data infrastructure developed and hosted by the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz in Germany, combining data from heterogeneous sources on soil animals, their distribution and habitat parameters of their sites of occurrence and making this data available to the public in open access. The Section Mesofauna currently chairs the conceptual development of Edaphobase.

For further information see

as well as on the project page of the  Soil Zoology Division

COST Action EUdaphobase – European Soil-Biology Data Warehouse for Soil Protection

The Section Mesofauna currently chairs the EU COST Action “EUdaphobase”, a European consortium of presently more than 80 participants from 30 countries, including the European Commission as well as European agencies. The EUdaphobase Action is expanding the Edaphobase soil-biodiversity data platform, creating the structures and procedures necessary for developing an open-access Europe-wide data infrastructure for soil invertebrate, fungi, bacteria and archaea to help understand, protect and sustainably manage soil biodiversity and its functions.

The Action is financed by the Horizon 2020 Program of the EU under the Action number CA18237.

For further information see

as well as on the project page of the  Soil Zoology Division


Floodplain forests in climate change (Forest Climate Fund)

The goal of this project is the “Formulation of recommendations, tested for practical suitability, for sustainable floodplain forest management to optimise the forest functions biodiversity, income and climate protection in light of climate change and the Ash dieback”.

Currently, future-oriented and practicable concepts for sustainable floodplain forest management are required due to Ash dieback, changing tree-species vitality resulting from climate change, the expensive establishment of oak stands and finally also due to nature conservation issues (abandonment of Poplar monoculture). At the same time, the importance of floodplain forests for flood and climate protection as well as for the preservation of biodiversity must be taken into account. In this project, forest development types for alluvial forests will be defined and put into practice, which will be able to withstand the challenges mentioned above.

Ecological, economic and climate protection data are being collected, analysed and evaluated on survey plots with different forest stand types (i.e., Ash-, Oak- and Poplar-dominated stands). The interrelationships between these 3 sectors will be presented and sustainable forest development types will be formulated taking into account the effects of climate change.

The Section Mesofauna is studying the functional soil biodiversity in these survey plots, analysing macrofaunal invertebrate groups responsible for primary decomposition processes (Diplopoda, Isopoda, Lumbricidae). Faunal activities in these decomposition processes are also being studied via feeding activity tests (bait lamina) and direct decomposition measurements (mini-container tests).

The results will be translated into an implementation guide, and information material for forest owners and managers will be produced. An indication system and monitoring concept for the future assessment of the condition of a floodplain forest with regard to the sectors mentioned above will be developed.


This project was financed by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMLE), project manager Agency of Renewable Resources (FNR), under the project number (FKZ) 22WC411003.


Mapping Soil Biodiversity

In order to assess the function of soil organisms in soil ecosystems as well as changes in species composition, it is necessary to determine the current status of soil-organism occurrences. The establishment of biodiversity reference values (“baselines”, “normal operating ranges”) is an essential requirement for an assessment of the status of, or changes in, natural and anthropogenic impacts on soil biodiversity. So far, however, there is a lack of such knowledge at broad spatial scales.

Instruments for mapping biodiversity baselines must be based on existing data that relate taxa to their sites of occurrence as well as to the environmental conditions of these sites. As the spatial coverage of soil biodiversity data is currently very patchy, baselines must be based on site-specific potential values derived from existing soil biodiversity data and their environmental metadata.

For a regionalisation of soil zoological parameters, predictors for their (potential) overall distribution will be established from statistical relationships between known animal distribution and site-specific ecological conditions (habitat types and use, climate, soil, etc.). Soil zoological data will be taken from the Data Warehouse Edaphobase. General soil properties will be extracted from the soil overview map 1:200.000 (BÜK200). The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) will provide harmonised data on soils and their properties via the BÜK200. To identify the relationship between soil animals and environmental parameters, e.g. general dissimilarity models (GDMs) and various species distribution models (SDMs) will be used. A projection of the potential distribution of soil animal communities will then be presented on maps for Germany. Distribution predictions will be developed primarily for Lumbricidae and, if possible, other animal groups will be included.

The project was carried out in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources and was financed by the German Federal Environment Agency (project number (FKZ) 3719 71 206 0).


Metacommunity dynamics in floodplain habitats

In various research projects the Section Mesofauna has been studying since the mid-1990s the dynamics of soil-faunal communities induced by inundation in floodplain habitats as well as the mechanisms with which these communities maintain stability despite regular flooding. Ecologically intact floodplains are characterized by the regular but natural disturbance of inundation as well as high habitat heterogeneity. Soil animals must cope with both aspects in order to maintain stabile communities. Our research could indentify a number of different species groups showing different ecological tolerances in floodplains. Although the species constituting these groups differ from area to area, the ecological groups themselves remain remarkably constant between regions. Through the interactions of constant species sorting of these groups due to the regularly changing environmental conditions and strong metacommunity dynamics within the heterogeneous habitat, different species complexes become dominant depending on the predominant hydrological conditions, which thereby renders the entire community stability over longer time periods.


Anthropogenic effects on Antarctic soil communities

Antarctic soil habitats are characterized by their simplicity as well as their fragility. Furthermore, very many different microhabitats exist at small special scales especially in the Antarctic summer, which offer very diverse habitats for soil organisms and thus afford the possibility of relatively high species diversity at the landscape scale. Antarctic soil organisms have been well studied and their ecological adaptations to the extreme Antarctic conditions are known to have developed through evolutionary time. Especially the Antarctic Peninsula, however, is visited yearly by many thousands of tourists, which can easily disturb these sensitive soil communities. In research financed by the German Federal Environmental Agency, the danger of foreign species being introduced into Antarctic habitats as well as the potential disturbance of the existing soil communities by the activities of tourists is being studied. Especially the danger of inadvertent transport of species between Antarctic sites or between microhabitats within individual sites, both of which could lead to a reduction of biodiversity at the landscape scale, is a focus of the current studies.