Biodiversity Research and Conservation Biology

Biodiversity is globally declining through anthropogenic alteration of habitats. To counteract the erosion of species richness, it is necessary to understand where species coexist, and why this is so. We study patterns and dynamics of species diversity along environmental gradients to uncover determinants of diversity. Such gradients range from natural (elevation) to anthropogenic ones (disturbance), and from small (stratification within forests or elevation along mountain slopes) to large spatial scales (latitude, continents). Research areas include Central Europe (cultivated landscapes and nature reserves in Austria) as well as tropical zones, where biodiversity is particularly large – and threatened (e.g. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Indonesia). Focal groups to assess diversity are herbivorous insects, especially moths and butterflies, but also dung beetles, ants, and birds.

Evolutionary Ecology

Variation between individuals and populations with regard to ecologically relevant traits is an essential prerequisite for organisms to respond to fluctuating environments. Such variation can be the result of plastic responses to environmental conditions that an organism experiences (‘phenotypic plasticity’), or it may be due to genetic differences between individuals, populations or species. We aim at elucidating the mechanisms that generate such variation and assessing the adaptive significance of the resulting trait variants. This research is tightly linked with fields like life-history theory, co-evolution, biodiversity and comparative biology.


Animal Diversity at the Species Level and Above

Genetic data can be used to reconstruct the phylogenetic history within species (i.e. phylogeography) and across species boundaries (molecular systematics and phylogenetics). These approaches allow ever deeper insights into the processes that generate diversity at all systematic levels. We use insects (such as the European butterfly genus Maniola, the tropical moth genus Eois, or beetles of the enormously diverse weevil family) to better understand factors that have facilitated, or constrained, radiation and speciation.