Geobiodiversity and Climate

The Research Activity “Geobiodiversity and Climate” studies the interactions between climate, Earth surface processes and biodiversity on different time scales.

It further examines the impacts of climate and Earth surface processes on the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of species and communities. An important research topic are the effects of anthropogenic climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

The Research Activity integrates the Geobiodiversity research at Senckenberg and aims to understand the functional role of biodiversity in ecosystems. Core elements of research are the integration of empirical research and modelling (e.g., in dynamic vegetation models) and of approaches from geosciences and biosciences. This integrative approach enables us to learn from the geological past to better predict the future of biodiversity. The Research Activity runs two research infrastructures: the Joint Goethe University-Senckenberg BiK-F Stable Isotope Facility and the Senckenberg Data and Modelling Centre. The Senckenberg collections are used for measurements of functional species’ traits.

Selected research examples are the reconstruction of paleo-ecosystems and natural climate variability in key regions of the Earth (based on excavations, isotope analyses, dynamic vegetation models and integration of fossil and modern data sets); trait-based studies of biotic interactions and ecosystem functions in tropical mountains; the modeling of the effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem functions, and the feedbacks between climate change and ecosystems. This work is relevant for planning adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change and biodiversity loss.


PD Dr. Matthias Schleuning
Senior scientist, Head of Senior Scientist Group 'Functional Ecology and Global Change'

Fields of interest

I am fascinated by interactions between organisms, especially if they are mutually beneficial for both partners*. To disentangle webs of interacting organisms, I study species interactions in ecological communities along anthropogenic gradients and across large spatial scales. My research aims at the identification of the major ecological and evolutionary drivers of species interactions and at a better understanding of the functional importance of species interactions for entire ecosystems. I hope that this work will help to improve predictions of the consequences of species loss for ecosystem functioning. (*I usually become enthusiastic if one of the interaction partners has wings and a beak.)

– Mutualistic plant-animal networks
– Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
– Functional diversity of ecological communities
– Pollination and seed dispersal by animals
– Plant demography

– Observational and experimental field studies
– Meta-analyses across large spatial scales
– Trait-based network analysis
– Structural equation modeling

Study areas
– Tropical Andes
– Tropical and subtropical Africa
– Germany

Google Scholar Profile

Researcher ID H-2154-2015

ResearchGate Profile

Associate Editor of Functional Ecology

Press coverage:

Interaction Networks
Picky fruit-eating birds are more flexible [English] 
Science Daily, 11 May 2017
Domino-Effekt beim Artensterben [German]
Spiegel Online, 6 January 2017
The loss of plant species triggers the extinction of animals [English]
Science Daily, 4 January 2017
Flexible Tropen-Arten [German]
Neue Züricher Zeitung (CH) – Print und Online, 26 September 2012 
Tropische Artenvielfalt macht Vögel nicht zu Spezialisten [German]
Der Standard (A), 21 September 2012

Conservation biology
Warum tropische Wälder dringend große Vögel brauchen [German]
Der Standard (A), 24 December 2016
Loss of large fruit-eating birds threatens tropical forests [English]
Science Daily, 7 December 2016
Ants plant rainforests, one seed at a time [English], 14 April 2014
Biodiversity = More (and Better) Coffee [English]
The Scientist, 11 February 2014
Functional Fragments [English]
Conservation Magazine, 29 November 2011 
Überraschender Nutzen – Auch Regenwaldinseln erfüllen ökologische Funktionen [German]
Deutschlandfunk (D), 16 December 2011 
Nützlicher Flickenteppich [German]
Welt (D), 28 November 2011 
Selbst fragmentierter Wald behält seine ökologischen Funktionen [German]
Der Standard (A), 25 November 2011

Curriculum Vitae

Recent publications

Bender et al. 2019. Projected impacts of climate change on functional diversity of frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Scientific Reports,

Dehling et al. 2020. Similar composition of functional roles in Andean seed‐dispersal n etworks, despite high species and interaction turnover. Ecology,

Donoso et al. 2020. Downsizing of animal communities triggers stronger functional than structural decay in seed-dispersal networks. Nature Communications,

Nowak et al. 2019. Projecting consequences of global warming for the functional diversity of fleshy‐fruited plants and frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Diversity & Distributions,

Peters et al. 2019. Climate–land-use interactions shape tropical mountain biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Nature,

Sonne et al. 2020. Ecological mechanisms explaining interactions within plant–hummingbird networks: morphological matching increases towards lower latitudes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B,

Schleuning et al. 2020. Trait-Based Assessments of Climate-Change Impacts on Interacting Species. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 2020,

Prof. Dr. Thomas Hickler
Professor for Biogeography, Leader of Senckenberg 'Data and Modelling Centre', Head of Research Group 'Biogeography and Ecosystem Ecology', 'Quantitative Biogeography', Speaker of GRADE Sustain (Goethe Graduate Academy)

My main research interest is to understand the distribution of life on earth (e.g. species, biodiversity, vegetation types, ecosystems) through space and time. I am particularly interested in interactions between climate and the terrestrial biosphere. This includes potential impacts of climate change on species, ecosystems and associated ecosystem services, as well as the role of the biosphere in the earth climate system (e.g. carbon and water cycling). Methodologically, vegetation and ecosystem modelling at local to global scales has been at the core of my work.

Examples of current research projects:

– GEOEssential
– EarthShape: Earth Shaping by Biota 
– Ecosystem Management Support for Climate Change in Southern Africa (EMSAfrica)
– The open Climate Impacts Encyclopedia (ISIpedia)
– Developing dynamic regional to global vegetation models
–  Accounting for habitat characteristics and biotic interactions in biodiversity models
– Modelling the role of fire in the functioning of the terrestrial biosphere
– Effects of plant trait variability on ecosystem stability and resilience
– Assessing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem Services
– Causes and ecosystem impacts of megafauna extinctions
– Impacts of climate change and air pollution on mountain ecosystems in Scandinavia, France and Spain

Examples of environmental impact assessments:

– Intergovermental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), ongoing
Policy support tools and methodologies for scenario analysis and modelling of biodiversity and ecosystem services 
– North Sea Region Climate Change Assessment (NOSCCA, chapter Terrestrial Ecosystems)

BSc. and MSc. topics (‘Abschlussarbeiten’)