What is modern research on species diversity?
Species diversity and biodiversity
To begin with, the initial question has to be stated more precisely: Scientists are mainly interested in biodiversity and not in species diversity. However, the term biodiversity is only little known beyond the scientific community. Biodiversity includes, most obviously, species diversity as well as the diversity of ecosystems and the diversity of genetic material.
Why biodiversity research?
The findings from biodiversity research provide cues for future action that aims at stabilising ecosystems. Here, stability does not refer to certain species being present in the same proportions in a certain area. Further information can be found here.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is more to this field of research than recording, counting and describing species. Moreover, biodiversity research is gaining in importance because there is increasing evidence for the dramatically accelerating extinction of species worldwide. For example, the ‘Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’, a summary report of the multi-year work of more than 1300 international researchers published by the United Nations, estimated a thousand-fold increase of the current extinction rate compared to the rate deduced from the fossil record. This significantly affects habitats worldwide and, not least humans.
Biodiversity research at the ICBM
At the ICBM, the research group Planktology, headed by Prof. Dr. Helmut Hillebrand, is particularly tied to issues of biodiversity research. The group members investigate experimentally the relationship among organisms and between organisms and their environment. Communities of tiny organisms occurring in the water and at the sea floor serve as models. The researchers study, for example, the impact of changing environmental conditions or changing species composition on microscopic algae and crustaceans.
Microalgae, floating freely in the open ocean and in shallow waters, are the main primary producers in the sea. With the help of sunlight, they produce sugar or other substances they utilise from water and carbon dioxide. They are at the base of the food web whose variability in turn is also addressed by the planktologists at the ICBM.
How does humankind affect the environment, such as by altering the climate and the biochemical cycles given the geological conditions? What are the effects of native species becoming extinct and alien species migrating in – often caused by humans – on habitats? Questions like these primarily drive the work of the biologists at the ICBM.