Core project 10 - Biodiversity synthesis


Scientific investors:

Prof. Dr. Markus Fischer

Prof. Dr. Eric Allan

Dr. Caterina Penone

Dr. Hugo Saiz

Abiel Rindisbacher

Noëlle Schenk

(Uni Bern)

Dr. Peter Manning

Dr. Margot Neyret

(Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, Frankfurt)


Dr. Fons van der Plas

(Uni Leipzig)

Dr. Santiago Soliveres

(Uni Alicante)

Dr. Malte Jochum

(iDiv Halle-Jena-Leipzig)

Scientific background

A truly general understanding of ecological systems requires a broad perspective and thus the synthesis of knowledge across taxa, ecological processes, as well as spatial and temporal scales. This multi-disciplinary approach to ecosystems is at the very core of the Biodiversity Exploratories. The project was set up to coordinate research efforts so that multiple data are collected in a common study design and can therefore be directly linked and compared. The aim of the synthesis core project is to ensure that these ecological syntheses are realized.


Question / Goals

In the next phase, the Synthesis Core Group will contribute to the functioning of the Biodiversity Exploratories according to the following goals:

  1. To answer general questions about the connections between land use intensification, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Particularly, considering ecosystem responses at multiple temporal and spatial scales, including complementary dimensions of biodiversity (i.e. functional, phylogenetic) and focusing on the social component of agricultural landscapes.  
  2. To catalyze synthesis efforts of other groups by creating synthesis datasets and by spreading the concepts and statistical methods for synthesis across the entire Biodiversity Exploratories. The synthesis project will create synergies and true added value across projects, in accordance with the main guiding questions of the Biodiversity Exploratories.
  3. To foster the outreach and to disseminate the results and culture of Biodiversity Exploratories through the organization of special workshops and thematic sessions within and outside of the project, and through the collaboration with other biodiversity projects worldwide.



The Synthesis Core Group work follows four main lines of action:

  1. Dataset management in close collaboration with BEXIS. Specifically, the creation of Biodiversity Exploratories Synthesis datasets, which are made available to all participants. These datasets include information about different biodiversity components and ecosystem functions and services across all plots. We also develop scripts and methods to ease the management and analysis of this information.
  2. Comprehensive and exemplary synthesis. The analysis of multiple ecosystem variables requires the application of state-of-the-art analytical tools including Structural Equation Modelling, complex Generalized Mixed Effects models, Non-linear regressions and Network approaches. These methodologies are in constant update with specific courses following the necessities of the participants in the project.
  3. Synthesis help desk. To support synthesis in other core and contributing projects, we provide personalized synthesis advice to explorers. Most of the many contributing synthesis activities request advice, usually in the form of support on how to use the synthesis datasets, in the form of refining their research questions or in the form of in-depth recommendations for statistical analysis.
  4. Methods development. In some cases, the tools for synthesis may not yet exist and in this case the Core Synthesis project is active in developing new methods that can be used to facilitate synthesis activities in the Biodiversity Exploratories (and outside) (e.g. Manning et al. 2018, Schneider et al 2019, van der Plas et al. 2019).

Hypotheses / results / conclusions

In the next phase we will conduct a series of comprehensive ecological syntheses that address the central questions of the Biodiversity Exploratories based on the findings from the previous phases:

  1. Land use intensification affects ecosystem biodiversity, particularly reducing above-ground species richness and leading to the multitrophic community homogenization (e.g. Allan et al. 2014, Gossner et al 2016, Penone et al. 2019). In the next phase we aim to expand these findings to other biodiversity dimensions (i.e. functional traits, phylogeny) and biotic interactions.
  2. Land-use intensity affects ecosystem functioning and services both directly and indirectly through its effect on multitrophic biodiversity (e.g. Allan et al. 2015, Soliveres et al 2016, van der Plas et al. 2016, Felipe-Lucia et al. 2018). In the next phase we will focus on the effect of temporal and spatial scales on the land use-biodiversity-ecosystem functioning and the contribution of the social dimension in the agricultural landscapes.  
  3. The Biodiversity Exploratories provide a unique set of relevant ecological findings, but it is necessary to move beyond the project to develop a general ecological theory and apply the results to the real world. In the next phase previous findings will be compared with those from other biodiversity experiments, and will be used to foster scientifically based tools (i.e. indicator species) to help agricultural landscape management.


Allan E. et al. 2014. Interannual variation in land-use intensity enhances grassland multidiversity. PNAS, 111:308–313. 

Allan E. et al. 2015. Land use intensification alters ecosystem multifunctionality via loss of biodiversity and changes to functional composition. Ecol Lett 18:834–843.

Felipe-Lucia et al. 2018. Multiple forest attributes underpin the supply of multiple ecosystem services. Nature Communications 9:4839.

Gossner et al. 2016. Land-use intensification causes multitrophic homogenization of grassland communities. Nature 540:266–269.

Manning et al. 2018. Redefining ecosystem multifunctionality. Nat Ecol Evol 2:427–436.

Penone et al. 2019. Specialisation and diversity of multiple trophic groups are promoted by different forest features. Ecol Lett 22:170–180.

Schneider et al. 2019. Towards an ecological trait‐data standard. Methods Ecol Evol. 10: 2006– 2019.

Soliveres S. et al.  2016. Locally rare species influence grassland ecosystem multifunctionality. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B 371: 20150269.

Soliveres S. et al. 2016. Biodiversity at multiple trophic levels is needed for ecosystem multifunctionality. Nature 536, 456–459.

van der Plas et al. (2016): Biotic homogenization can decrease landscape-scale forest multifunctionality. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113, S. 3557–3562.

van der Plas et al. 2019. Towards the development of general rules describing landscape heterogeneity–multifunctionality relationships. J Appl Ecol 56.

Further project contribution of Prof. Dr. Markus Fischer: Project speaker, BEO, Botany, SADE

Further project contribution of Dr. Peter Manning, Dr. Fons van der Plas: BEF-Up


Project in previous phases

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