Functional biodiversity & ecosystem services

Grasslands' functional diversity and management to improve ecosystem services and reduce negative environmental impacts

Grassland is an agricultural ecosystem that provides a cost-effective source of feed for ruminants, especially when grazed. Grassland ecosystems range from pasture, semi-natural and permanent grassland to temporarily sown grassland (grass-legume mixtures, pure stands). They cover most of the agricultural land in agriculturally unfavourable regions, while they represent a relatively small part of the landscape mosaic in agriculturally more favourable regions.

Agricultural management practices of grasslands can support many ecosystem services at field and landscape levels, such as carbon storage, soil protection against erosion, groundwater formation and habitat function, as well as being an essential component of various cultural landscapes, serving as a basis for nature-based recreation and tourism, and contributing to rural economy and development. However, they also influence the potential for negative environmental impacts, such as a decrease in habitat quality for biodiversity conservation, as well as nitrogen emissions, nutrient runoff and sediment inputs to water bodies.

Furthermore, the ecosystem services provided depend largely on the functional diversity of plants, i.e. the presence, abundance and divergence of specific functional groups or traits, rather than on species diversity alone. Plant functional diversity in turn depends on plant functional traits, i.e. biological characteristics that have been shown to be related to how a plant functions. Functional traits determine a plant's response to environmental and management factors (response trait) or its impact on ecosystem processes or services (effect trait).

In the last 10-15 years, the use of grassland for bioenergy production has increased significantly in Europe and North America. Grassland biomass is suitable for energy production in many respects and considerable biomass and energy potentials of grassland have been identified. It is currently used in practice as feedstock for biogas production and as solid biofuel for combustion.

However, each form of energy use requires specific properties of the (grassland) biomass, which are highly variable and mainly depend on the management. Thus, this research focus interacts strongly with the research focus "Resource Management" (Dr. Ing. Korbinian Kätzl).

The contact person for the research focus is Dr. habil. Kathrin Stenchly

Running projects: