Grasslands: Research against species extinction

2021-11-16 Lüneburg. The proportion of species-rich grassland areas has been declining for years. Dr Vicky Temperton, Professor of Ecosystem Functioning & Services at Leuphana University Lüneburg, and a team of researchers and practitioners are engaged in a collaborative project to determine how this ecologically particularly valuable landscape can be restored. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is now funding the study of 90 selected renaturation areas from an ecological, socio-economic and socio-ecological perspective for a period of 3 years with over 3 million euros, around 1.2 million of which are allocated to the Leuphana team.

Globally, grasslands are among the most species-rich ecosystems. Some grassland types can even rival the biodiversity of tropical rainforests on a small scale. They are the main source of food for many insects, including pollinators, which disappear at the same time as the grassland. Grasslands are also particularly resilient to extreme weather events and store carbon safely in the soil for long periods of time.

In view of the climate and biodiversity crisis, grassland conservation and restoration should be given high priority as particularly promising measures. However, this has not been the case so far, because in recent decades most ecologically valuable grassland areas have been converted into building land, arable land or forest, and the remaining meadows and pastures have become increasingly uniform and species-poor due to intensive use. In Lower Saxony, for example, almost half of the grassland areas have disappeared.

Against this background, the Grassworks project examines which factors lead to success in the renaturation of grasslands in Germany. Ecological as well as socio-ecological and economic facets are highlighted in an overall analysis. "With our results we want to significantly contribute to the question of how meadows and pastures can be managed in such a way that ecologically high-quality ecosystems are created and maintained and at the same time farmers are fairly rewarded for these services to the common good," Vicky Temperton describes the goal of the project.

Three model regions in northern, central and southern Germany were selected for the project. In each project region, in addition to the exploration of 30 already renatured areas, so-called real-labs will be set up, in which concrete renaturation measures will be implemented in cooperation with local actors such as farmers or biosphere reserve administrations. As lighthouse projects, the real-labs are intended to promote a change in awareness to prevent even more grasslands from being destroyed, but rather to enhance existing grasslands extensively and more successfully than before.

The BMBF-funded project Grassworks, led by Vicky Temperton and Prof. Anita Kirmer from Anhalt University of Applied Sciences-Bernburg, is located at Leuphana in cooperation with Anhalt University of Applied Sciences-Bernburg, the Technical University of Munich, the Thünen Institute for Biodiversity Braunschweig, the University of Greifswald, and with the German Association for Landscape Management (DVL) as an important practice partner.

Please find more information about the project here.