SBiK-F Research Group

Geobiodiversity Research

Fundamental questions

How has the amazing diversity of life on Earth evolved, and what shapes diversity patterns through time and in space? The first question is at the centre of macroevolution, a discipline of biology and palaeontology that investigates speciation, extinction, and the evolution of species’ traits over long timescales (usually millions of years). The second question lies at the intersection of macroevolution with macroecology and biogeography, which study the (paleo-)ecology and the geographic distributions of species, higher taxa, and their traits on large spatial scales. Our research uses integrative approaches to address both questions and focuses on terrestrial vertebrates, in particular mammals and birds.

Integrative approaches

To understand the variation of diversity in species, higher taxa, and their traits across time and space, we investigate a broad range of topics, bringing together large-scale biogeographical, macroecological and macroevolutionary patterns to infer underlying mechanisms. We compile and synthesize large databases of the fossil record as well as on living taxa: data are gathered from preserved specimens in museum collections, public data resources, and literature mining, and data encompass species’ traits, geographic and stratigraphic occurrences, and phylogenetic relationships among organisms. Our research integrates methods across various disciplines, such as statistical and modelling tools commonly applied in paleontology and biology as well as macroecology and macroevolution.

Research goals

We are a diverse group of bio- and geoscientists and utilize interdisciplinary approaches to identify potential environmental drivers of biodiversity dynamics, such as climate change, mountain building, and increasing human impacts through the “Anthropocene”. Our goal is to learn from the past by studying the evolutionary history underlying present-day diversity patterns in relation to their abiotic, biotic, and anthropogenic drivers, in order to improve projections of future biodiversity in a world increasingly dominated by humans.

Further information

For more information on our research and highlighted publications, please see here. In the drop-down menus below, we provide a selection of links to articles about our research, press releases, externally funded projects, and to our teaching at Goethe University Frankfurt.

Our research contributes to the Senckenberg research fields Biodiversity and Climate and Biodiversity, Systematics and Evolution, in particular the research activities Geobiodiversity and Climate and Biogeography.


Selected press releases

Externally funded projects

Externally funded projects

2021 – 2026 Leibniz professorship for Dr. Susanne Fritz as cooperation professorship at Goethe University Frankfurt, granted to Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung in the Competition of the Leibniz Association 2018: “Geobiodiversity: assessing the impacts of mountain building and climate change on evolution and ecology of mammals and birds“

2020 – 2024 LOEWE Schwerpunkt (cooperative project grant by Hesse’s Ministry for Higher Education, Research and the Arts) „VeWA – past hothouse climates as natural analogues of our high-CO2 future”, granted to Goethe University Frankfurt & Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Dr. Susanne Fritz as Co-PI)

2019 – 2022 DFG (German Research Foundation) postdoctoral position granted to Dr. Shan Huang: „Late Cenozoic climatic impact on body size evolution in large mammals“

2014 – 2021 DFG (German Research Foundation) Emmy Noether research group granted to Dr. Susanne Fritz: “Macroevolution of climatic niches in birds”

2015 – 2019 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral fellowship granted to Dr. Shan Huang: “Biodiversity-environment association in space and time: How Cenozoic climate influenced large mammals in the Northern Hemisphere”

Our top ten selected research results

List of publications sorted by first author and year; publications involve at least one current or former group member (indicated in bold), and can originate from before joining our team.

We review how geology and climate shape biodiversity in mountains, and demonstrate the effects of climate, topographic relief, heterogeneity of soil types, and erosion rates on the number of terrestrial vertebrate species occurring in mountain ranges across the world.
Antonelli, A., W. D. Kissling, S. G. A. Flantua, M. A. Bermúdez, A. Mulch, A. N. Muellner-Riehl, H. Kreft, H. P. Linder, C. Badgley, J. Fjeldså, S. A. Fritz, C. Rahbek, F. Herman, H. Hooghiemstra, C. Hoorn (2018) Geological and climatic influences on mountain biodiversity. Nature Geoscience
11: 718-725. doi:

We show that climatic niches of migratory and sedentary bird species differ substantially from each other across a global dataset of ca. 500 species, indicating that the difference between the climatic niche in the breeding season and the climatic niche in the non-breeding season is typically larger for a migratory species than it is for a closely related sedentary species.
Eyres, A., K. Böhning-Gaese, C. D. L. Orme, C. Rahbek, S. A. Fritz (2020) A tale of two seasons: the link between seasonal migration and climatic niches in passerine birds. Ecology and Evolution 10: 11983-11997. doi:

We find that paleoclimatic change did not drive the speed of change in climatic niches in a group of Old-World flycatchers (65 species of the bird family Muscicapidae) over the last 17 million years; however, cooler temperatures caused faster changes in temperature niche in the birds, but only when using one of two datasets of reconstructed paleoclimate.
Eyres, A., J. T. Eronen, O. Hagen, K. Böhning-Gaese, S. A. Fritz (2021) Climatic effects on niche evolution in a passerine bird clade depend on paleoclimate reconstruction method. Evolution 75: 1046-1060. doi:

Our study reveals a significant relationship of mammalian fossil diversity with primary production of biomass from plants. This relationship existed through the Neogene (23 to 1.8
million years ago), but fundamentally changed until the present day because many large mammals went extinct during or since the ice ages, and because humans remove a large proportion of primary production from natural systems today.
Fritz, S. A., J. T. Eronen, J. Schnitzler, C. Hof, C. M. Janis, A. Mulch, K. Böhning-Gaese, C. H. Graham (2016) Twenty-million-year relationship between mammalian diversity and primary productivity.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113: 10908-10913. doi:

We reveal that combined effects of future climate and land-use change on the global species richness of vertebrates could be most severe when global warming is limited to 1.5 or 2 °C (Paris agreement), due to the massive expansion of bioenergy cropland for climate change mitigation.
Hof, C., A. Voskamp, M. F. Biber, K. Böhning-Gaese, E. K. Engelhardt, A. Niamir, S. G. Willis, T. Hickler (2018) Bioenergy cropland expansion may offset positive effects of climate change mitigation for global vertebrate diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115: 13294-13299. doi:

We identify 11 terrestrial zoogeographic realms across the globe, which contrasts to the classic six realms defined by A. R. Wallace in the 19th century and used extensively since then. This contrast arises because our analyses combine data on not only species’ geographic distributions but also on their phylogenetic relationships (>21,000 species of non-marine amphibians, birds, and mammals).
Holt, B. G., J.-P. Lessard, M. K. Borregaard, S. A. Fritz, M. B. Araújo, D. Dimitrov, P.-H. Fabre, C. H. Graham, G. R. Graves, K. A. Jønsson, D. Nogués-Bravo, Z. Wang, R. J. Whittaker, J. Fjeldså, C. Rahbek (2013) An update of Wallace’s zoogeographic regions of the world. Science 339: 74-78. doi:

We show that different ecological niche dimensions shape range size at individual vs. species level in terrestrial, non-flying mammals: while individual home range size is mainly shaped by diet niche breadth and body mass, species geographical range size is primarily related to habitat niche breadth.
Huang, S., M. A. Tucker, A. G. Hertel, A. Eyres, J. Albrecht (2021) Scale-dependent effects of niche specialisation: The disconnect between individual and species ranges. Ecology Letters 24: 1408-1419. doi:

We provide a conceptual framework for future interdisciplinary studies to test the effects of mountain building and climate change on biodiversity over long evolutionary timescales, and present a case study where we find that onset of surface uplift of the Central Anatolian Plateau ca. 11 million years ago coincided with a period of increased mammalian species turnover in the region.
Huang, S., M. J. M. Meijers, A. Eyres, A. Mulch, S. A. Fritz (2019) Unravelling the history of biodiversity in mountain ranges through integrating geology and biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 46: 1777-1791. doi:

We show that morphological traits can evolve differently in migratory vs. sedentary bird species, supporting different evolutionary selection regimes even in quite closely related species; e.g., migratory species across multiple lineages in five of eight tested groups consistently evolved more pointed wings than sedentary species, presumably because pointed wings cause a low energy consumption during long-distance flight.
Phillips, A. G., T. Töpfer, K. Böhning-Gaese, S. A. Fritz (2018) Evidence for distinct evolutionary optima in the morphology of migratory and resident birds. Journal of Avian Biology 49: e01807. doi:

Our conceptual framework for predicting the consequences of climate change on ecological interactions among species in communities argues that we need to combine climatic niche quantifications and projections with knowledge of ecological and morphological traits that govern species’ interactions as well as dispersal ability.
Schleuning, M., E. L. Neuschulz, J. Albrecht, I. M.A. Bender, D. E. Bowler, D. M. Dehling, S. A. Fritz, C. Hof, T. Mueller, L. Nowak, M. C. Sorensen, K. Böhning-Gaese, W. D. Kissling (2020) Trait-based assessments of climate-change impacts on interacting species. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 35: 319-328. doi: