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Blog: People • Nature • Landscapes


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Current research projects

The following is an overview on the research projects we are currently part of. Individual PhD and other projects are not listed here.



Investigating the contribution of geographical indications (GIs) to sustainable development and optimizing support for newly established schemes

The main objective of the project is to enhance the design and implementation of the GI system to support sustainable agriculture, healthy and sustainable food, and sustainable food systems, in line with the objectives of the Farm to Fork strategy.

In the project, the role of the University of Kassel will be to cluster the main groups of GIs agri-food systems across Europe, and mapping of good sustainability practices. This will lead to a set of transition pathways for stakeholders of geographical indications who want to achieve greater sustainability and better value and valorisation of the sustainable outcome. Further, University Kassel will be responsible for developing and carrying out case studies in Germany and Austria.

The GI Smart consortium is made up of 17 public and private partners from 8 European Member States (France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain), from UK and Switzerland. It will be coordinated by INRAE – National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (France).

Contact: Dr. Lukas Flinzberger (flinzberger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de) & Prof. Dr. Tobias Plieninger (plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de)

Nature’s Contributions to People in Rwanda

Nature’s Contributions to People in Restoration Landscapes in Western Rwanda

Subproject six (SP6), "Nature's contributions to people in restored landscapes in western Rwanda," aims to capture the multiple tangible and intangible values that people attribute to ecosystems in restored landscapes. We will also explore the extent to which different kinds of knowledge and the plural values and rules of local and distant (inter)national actors shape and guide nature's contributions to people. To capture nature's contributions to people, we will develop valuation approaches from three different perspectives: an ecosystem perspective, a landscape perspective, and a cross-scale perspective. To this end, we will combine socio-cultural assessment methods (e.g., photovoice, photo elicitation, and narrative assessment) and participatory, spatial survey methods.

Contact: Dr. Laura Kmoch ( & Prof. Dr. Tobias Plieninger(plieninger[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de)


RECONNECT – Reconciling fragmented and contested landscapes

RECONNECT is a three-year project funded through the European Biodiversity Partnership “BiodivERsA+”. To help stopping the ongoing biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation the recent agreement on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework as well as the European Biodiversity Strategy have set, among others, a clear target of 30% of protected terrestrial areas to be achieved by 2030. While this target has been welcomed by many, fragmentation, contestation, and disconnection between biodiversity conservation and other aspects of contemporary landscapes and societies still mostly prevail, leading to tensions between conservation, equity, and production goals, and to clashing governance priorities and land use practices.

In RECONNECT we interrogate social and ecological fragmentations of protected areas in multifunctional landscapes with the aim to identify key points for reconnection interventions. Our group combines governance and institutional analysis, biodiversity and ecosystem service modelling, participatory value mapping and geo-design stakeholder processes in protected areas in France, Germany, South Africa and Sweden. We work with an interdisciplinary team of research centres and universities such as the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the French CNRS lab of alpine ecology, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and local stakeholders.


Biodiversity Exploratories

Biodiversity Exploratories as Biocultural Landscapes: Past, Present and Future

Biocultural landscapes have rich cultural and biological diversity, and are threatened by agricultural intensification. The aim of this project is to build a comprehensive picture of past, present and future biocultural diversity across three regions in Germany: Schorfheide-Chorin, Hainich-Dün, and the Swabian Alb. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, including oral history interviews, photo-elicitation and scenario workshops, we will investigate local people’s perceptions of land-use change and expectations for the future of nature in their region. This project is led by Prof. Tobias Plieninger and Dr. Emmeline Topp and comes under the umbrella of the Biodiversity Exploratories, a flagship long-term biodiversity research program funded by the DFG.




Wood Pastures

Distribution, Biodiversity and Strategies to Re-Establish Agroforestry Use

Agroforestry systems in forests, especially wood pastures, have once been widespread in Central Europe. Today the remaining areas of this use still exist, and show a high degree of biodiversity that is worth protecting.

However, these areas, too, are decreasing, and agroforestry systems are only sporadially re-established. Together with the Department of Forest Conservation of the North-West German Forest Research Institut (NW-FVA), we aim to integrate scientific and practical knowledge on wood pasture management and create the foundations for an evidence-based revival of wood pastures in an adequate model region - especially through a mapping former and current wood pastures, as well as through building a 'community of practice'. The project focuses on North-West Germany.

Website: Hutewälder [German]

Contact: plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- andreas.moelder[at]nw-fva[dot]de


Perception and appreciation of cultural ecosystem services from peatlands

Peatlands have been used throughout history, and they are closely related to traditional and cultural management techniques. In addition, peatlands are of high value for climate change mitigation, water supply and quality, and conservation.

Against the background of ongoing disturbances such as land-use changes and biodiversity declines, many peatlands have been degraded, and their ecosystem services have been threatened. Based on the example of Lower Saxony, our project will shed light on the cultural value dimension of peatlands. Particularly, we are interested in understanding societies’ views as well as values and knowledge of local land managers. In this way, we intend to find ways for sustainable protection as well as use of peatlands and their cultural ecosystem services.

This three-year project is funded by the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture.

Contact: claudia.heindorf[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de -stefan.schueler[at]agr.uni-goettingen[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de



Promoting biodiversity at the landscape level

Against the background of agricultural intensification and biodiversity losses, the KOOPERATIV project aims to develop and test a participatory and integrative approach for the landscape-scale implementation of Agri-environmental measures.

Based on the example of perennial flower strips, ideal area proportions as well as spatial configurations will be analyzed, and biodiversity and ecosystem services will be improved in the most cost-efficient way. KOOPERATIV aims to support collaboration of actors in the context of agricultural management and protection. Within the socio-ecological part of the project, supervised by Prof. Tobias Plieninger and Dr. Stefan Schüler, PhD student Jule Huber will analyze relevant framework conditions that could support or hamper the joint implementation of perennial flower strips at landscape level.

This project is funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN).


Contact: jule.huber[at] -- stefan.schueler[at] -- plieninger[at]



Cultural ecosystem services of post-mining sites: socio-economic rehabilitation after quarrying

CESMINE is a two-year project funded through the EUROPEAN Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

It addresses the issues of quarries and their post-mining benefits for residents. From 2020 to 2022, the project will be conducted in three European countries: Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic. CESMINE works in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen and HeidelbergCement, a world leading quarrying company. The project will combine quantitative and qualitative methods, using novel techniques such as social networks analyses, public participation, geographical information system (GIS), and spatially explicit indicators of cultural ecosystem services. This will be framed by the real socio-economic conditions revealed directly in the mining regions, analysing the real use of the sites by residents and by external visitors. The project is designed as a response to the EU Raw Materials Initiative’s goal of sustainable quarry restoration and post-mining management.

Website: CESMINE

Contact: k.svobodova[at][dot]au -- plieninger[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de


Sustainable Food Systems

The Research Training Group (RTG) "Sustainable Food Systems" at University of Göttingen combines excellent interdisciplinary research and graduate training related to the sustainability of global and local food systems. Within this framework, our team member Sukanya Basu conducts research on "Urban Food Systems and the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030".

She thus examines the socio-ecological landscapes of South Asian cities with regards to the consideration of sustainable food systems in urban planning discourses.

Website: Sustainable Food Systems

Contact: plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- sukanya.basu[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de



The aim of ConServeTerra is to put into practice Conservation Agriculture's findings that less ploughed agriculture and other measures increase the productivity and resilience of agricultural systems in the Mediterranean region. Conservation agriculture, while good for the land and the farmer, is not highly regarded in the region and is therefore little used.

The central hypothesis is that cultural attitudes and social aspects in dealing with land prevent a change in cultivation. New ways of working the land would be tantamount to a break with traditions and heritage, especially since people's identities are closely linked to their landscape. ConServeTerra will examine the social and cultural values and determining factors and obstacles to the use of new methods of cultivation in order to develop new strategies to increase the acceptance and use of conservation agriculture in the Mediterranean region.

Website: ConServeTerra

Contact: topp[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de


Landscape Chains

Linking places and processes for sustainability: Social-ecological dynamics and value chains of Mediterranean landscape products

The objective of this DFG-funded project is to identify leverage points in the value chains of quality landscape products (cork and edible tree crops) that support a transition to sustainable landscape management, accounting for social and ecological trade-offs across scales and users. The starting point of the multi-scale analyses will be four distinct producer landscapes: Alentejo, Portugal, and Maamora, Morocco (cork agroforestry) and Gata-Hurdes, Spain, and High Atlas, Morocco, (mixed farming and pastoralism). The overarching hypothesis to be explored is that landscape products empower consumers to connect to producer landscapes and to valorise social-ecological landscape characteristics through multiple flows of goods, investment, and information along value chains.

Website: Landscape Chains

Contact: mario.torralba[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- ihsorensen[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de


FOR2432/2: Bangalore

Social-ecological dynamics, ecosystem services uses, and governance of green and blue infrastructure in urbanizing environments

In the face of the rapid urbanization, green infrastructure has become an important component of both urban and rural ecosystems that underpins multiple aspects of human well-being.

By Pramila Thapa

This research project, funded by the German Research Foundation DFG, aimed to provide social-ecological knowledge on the dynamics, values, development options, and governance of green infrastructure along the rural-urban interface in Bangalore, India. Firstly, it identified social-ecological impacts of urbanization on agricultural systems based on a systematic literature review. Secondly, it elicited the ecological, demographic, and socio-economic drivers shaping green infrastructures along rural-urban settings. Thirdly, it mapped and quantified the ecosystem services uses and subjective well-being around green infrastructures. Finally, it established a social-ecological framework relating social and ecological characteristics to the outcomes in the governance and management of green infrastructures under urbanization.

Website: FOR2432/2

Contact: pramila.thapa[at]uni-kassel[dot]de --


Completed Projects



An inclusive approach to assessing integrative scenarios and visions for protected area management

ENVISION is a three-year project funded through the Belmont Forum - BiodivERsA. Protected areas (PA) in the EU and the U.S. face challenges that require of inclusive and collaborative management strategies that accommodate different visions.

This project develops, tests, and validates a novel, inclusive scenario approach for engaging multiple stakeholders in PA management and biodiversity decision-making at multiple scales. Our group combines systematic reviews, social-ecological inventories and oral history methods carried out in protected areas in Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the US, aiming to develop an inclusive conservation approach. We work with an international interdisciplinary team of research centres and universities such as the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), foundations and private companies.


Contact: cebrian[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de



Small private forests: conservation through resource use
This project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, aims to identify nature conservation values in small private forests against the background of an increased and further growing demand for raw wood and to secure these values within the framework of profitable forest management.


by A. Moelder

In north-western Germany, those forest structures and characteristics of small private forests, which are valued by forest nature conservation, are to be identified on the levels of major natural regions and, in particular, model regions. Social-ecological studies analyse the targets and concrete management practices of small private forest owners as well as their views on problems and perspectives regarding nature conservation measures. For forestry practice, nature conservational-silvicultural decision aids are to be developed, which integrate measures that maintain the structures and habitats valued by nature conservation into profitable forest management. Innovative forestry policy instruments and mechanisms that aim at the promotion of forest nature conservation measures by the society are taken into account.

Contact: malin.tiebel[at]uni-goettingen[dot]de --

Website: KLEIBER


Rural-urban transformation processes in arid and semi-arid areas of the Mediterranean

The go-PRIMA project analysed rural-urban transition processes under arid and semi-arid conditions in the Mediterranean region. Despite differences in geophysical and climatic conditions, this region today forms a boundary between very different lifestyles (South European vs. North African and Middle Eastern) in terms of wealth, beliefs and system of governance. Furthermore, it has also become a S-N and O-W migration hub.

The project combined the topics of agricultural systems, water management and value chains in the agri-food sector with questions of urbanisation in the Mediterranean countries. Our main focus was on the comparison of ecosystem functions and services at the northern and southern edges of the Mediterranean Sea. Activities developed in this research area have materialized in the DFG Landscape Chains.

Contact: kmoch[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de



Spurring Innovations for Forest Ecosystems Services in Europe

SINCERE was a four-year project funded through the EUROPEAN Commission's Horizon 2020 programme. From 2018 to 2022, SINCERE has developed novel policies and new business models by connecting knowledge and expertise from practice, science and policy, across Europe and beyond.

Within the project, we were coordinating the working package "Creating a knowledge map" which aimed to provide a robust evidece base of innovative mechanisms that support the provision of forest ecosystem services. We were also participating in on case study exploring the design and implementation of management models mainly focused in the promotion of cultural, spiritual and biodiversity values.

Website: SINCERE

Contact: mario.torralba[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de


Sacred Groves

A complementary conservation strategy to formal protected areas: A social-ecological approach

This project funded by Humboldt foundation, aims to perform a social-ecological assessment of the Biodiversity, dynamics, values, and future perspectives of sacred groves in Kurdistan, Iran.

Sacred groves are an informal, complementary type of protected areas common in many biodiversity hotspots of the world. In the Zagros mountains of Iran, sacred groves are the only remaining old growth forests, hosting valuable structural and ecological information and numerous endangered taxa. The project will draw on methods from vegetation ecology and the environmental social sciences. It will be explicitly interdisciplinary, focusing on the inter-linkages of social and ecological aspects of sacred groves, and apply participatory approaches as a basis for development of a conservation strategy.

Contact: plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de



Enhancing Ecosystem Services Mapping for Policy and Decision Making

ESMERALDA was four-year project funded through the EUROPEAN Commission's Horizon 2020 programme.

Mapping and assessment of ecosystem and their services are core to the EU Biodiversity Strategy. ESMERALDA's main aim was to deliver a flexible methodology to provide the building blocks for pan-European and regional assessments. Our main role in the project was to support the synthesis and assessment of current socio-cultural approaches for mapping and assessment of ecosystem services.

Main results:

  • Report of Social Mapping and Assessment methods


Contact: mario.torralba[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de



Agroforestry that will Advance Rural Development
AGFORWARD is a four-year research project funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). It started in January 2014 and ended in December 2017.

The overall aim of the project was to promote agroforestry practices in Europe that will advance rural development. Our main role within this project was the coordination of WP7, which aimed to evaluate possible agroforestry interventions at a landscape scale.
Main results:

  • A synthesis report on European agroforestry performance in terms of biodiversity, ecosystem services and profitability.
  • A report on ecosystem services and profitability of selected European agroforestry practices.
  • A report on profitability and provision of biodiversty and ecosystem services through agroforestry systems at a landscape scale.


Contact: mario.torralba[at]uni-kassel[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de



Harnessing the potential of trees-on-farms for meeting national and global biodiversity targets

The world’s forests have historically been harbours of massive biodiversity, but it is well known that they have been extensively cleared and remain under imminent threat. Most of the forests that we have lost were cleared for agriculture, and the pressure to create more and more agricultural land grows as the world gears up to feed a population expected to rise to at least 9 billion people by 2050.
The Trees on Farms for Biodiversity project is funded by the International Climate Initiative of the Federal Government of Germany. It will increase our knowledge of the links between trees, agriculture and biodiversity and will assess a range of policy and funding options for increasing incentives and support for trees in agriculture.


Contact: yves.zinngrebe[at]agr.uni-goettingen[dot]de -- plieninger[at]uni-kassel[dot]de