Soil Zoology

Topics for student projects

Urban soil ecology: Collembola in allotment gardens of different cultivation style in Görlitz

Supervisor: N. Scheunemann

Type: This topic might be investigated in a smaller or larger version for an internship or master’s thesis, respectively.

In urban areas, gardens can act as stepstone habitat for biodiversity. However, cultivation by the responsible gardener might strongly influence the community, in particular of soil-living fauna. In this project, we will take soil samples in small allotment gardens of different treatment (natural garden vs. highly structured) in Görlitz to assess biodiversity and biomass of springtails (Collembola). Methods will include field work, lab work (extraction of animals, soil analyses) and microscopic work (identification).


Database work: Density and biomass of Collembola across regions and habitats

Supervisor: N. Scheunemann

Type: Internship focusing on one specific habitat each (e.g., forest, grassland, agricultural fields)

The strong decline of biodiversity and biomass of insects during the last 30 years has been an eye-opener in Germany (e.g. Hallmann et al. 2017, PLoS ONE). However, for taxa in hidden habitats like soil, there is a substantial lack in knowledge about the extent and direction of such dynamics. In this project, we will use the soil fauna data warehouse Edaphobase to establish baseline data of biodiversity, biomass and community structure of Collembola in different habitats across Germany. The methods will only include database work and statistics, so motivation and ability to handle big data tables and apply (basic) statistics will be needed.


DiGraSo: Causes for decline of grassland diversity in protected areas of Czech-Saxony border region

Supervisors: J. Escher, N. Scheunemann

Type: Internship

Despite conservation efforts, biodiversity is declining on protected grasslands in Europe. To determine how communities of soil organisms contribute to plant diversity in species-poor and species-rich grasslands, the project DiGraSo will study the plant and soil communities of protected managed grasslands in the Czech-Saxony border region. Work in the project will include taking samples in the field, conducting analyses on abiotic parameters such as pH and particle size, sorting mesofauna samples and identifying earthworms. DiGraSo is a joint EU project between TU Liberec, the Senckenberg Museum for Natural History in Görlitz, the Czech University of life sciences in Prague and the IHI Zittau of TU Dresden.


Training computer vision for soil invertebrate identification (part of Soil BON)

Supervisors: Clement Schneider, Anton Potapov

Type: Internship/Thesis

Soil invertebrates are diverse, and their identification is time consuming. Among the promising tools that can facilitate soil biodiversity assessment is computer vision (AI-based image analysis algorithms). This project intends to support development of the method using materials of the first global soil biodiversity monitoring network – Soil BON Foodweb Team that joins soil zoologists and ecologists from 33+ countries ( Project is for students interested in digital biodiversity tools and having programming skills.


Laboratory experiment: How environmental structure supports biodiversity?

Supervisor: Anton Potapov

Type: Internship+Thesis

What drives biodiversity in ecosystems? This is one of the most fundamental questions in ecology. However, there is still a lot to learn. In this innovative project, we would like to run experiment(s) to understand how ecosystem structure (distribution of resources and habitats in space and time) affects biodiversity of organisms at different scales (micro/macro). During the project, the student will construct different mini-ecosystems in the laboratory and populate them with organisms to see responses in soil biodiversity. The project is suitable for students who are interested to develop and test new bold ideas in the field of general ecology.


Field experiment: How soil detritivores support litter carbon sequestration in soil organic matter

Supervisor: Anton Potapov

Type: Internship+Thesis (not earlier than autumn 2024)

Did you know that soil invertebrates can consume >90% of fallen leaves in the forest? In fact, top layers of the soil are often consisting mainly of invertebrate faeces. This facilitates microbial growth in soil, but can it also facilitate productions and stabilisation of soil organic matter? To address this question, we participate in a cross-European pilot experiment with isotopically labelled invertebrate faeces. The student would prepare and implement a subset of the experiment near of Görlitz as a part of international team. The project is suitable for students who are interested in experimentation with soil functions and carbon cycling.