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Biodiversity – the diversity of habitats, species and genes – is the diversity of life. We develop the scientific basis required for monitoring and promoting biodiversity in Switzerland, and model how the biodiversity could change in the future.


Biodiversity – genetic diversity, species diversity, habitat diversity and the interrelationships within and between these three levels – is the basis of our existence. By ratifying the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, Switzerland has undertaken to monitor, preserve and promote biodiversity. After all, it is only thanks to high biodiversity that ecosystems can render vital services, like clean water and stable soil. Biodiversity also contributes to our quality of life and to the recreational value of our environment. It is our responsibility for ethical and moral reasons to maintain species diversity as a part of biodiversity.

However, biodiversity is under threat, both in Switzerland and worldwide. Changes in land use, environmental pollution, invasive species and climate change all have a negative impact on biodiversity. To ensure that it is maintained and promoted in Switzerland in the long term, the Federal Council adopted the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy in 2012 and the Action Plan Swiss Biodiversity Strategy in 2017.

Research and monitoring

As a government research institute, we conduct both fundamental research and applied biodiversity research, for instance in the areas of biodiversity monitoring and analysis, mountain ecology, forest biodiversity, urban ecology and conservation biology. With the aim of monitoring and promoting biodiversity in Switzerland, we develop methods with which biodiversity and its changes can be recorded. For example, we run the national data centres for fungi and lichens, document the population development of different groups of organisms and compile the corresponding Red Lists. We also support the national data centre for vascular plants. In the project "Monitoring the Effectiveness of Habitat Conservation in Switzerland" on behalf of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), we are examining whether habitats of national importance are developing in line with their conservation aims and whether they are maintaining the same surface area and quality.

Measures to protect biodiversity are often costly. For that reason, it is important to monitor how successful they are. We develop methods for success monitoring and help to optimise implementation.

Looking back and to the future

Biodiversity is constantly changing. By drawing comparisons with historical data, we can show how, on the one hand, changes in biodiversity affected ecosystems. On the other hand, modelling habitat changes allows us to make statements about the future development of biodiversity. For our models, we use biodiversity data measured in the field and in experiments, geographical data and data from remote sensing.



Artenvielfalt. Bild: Peter Longatti, WSL

Species diversity

We research the diversity of plants and animals, especially in the forests and mountains, and examine the factors that affect species composition.

Naturschutzgenetik. Bild: Martina Peters, WSL

Genetic diversity

We examine ecological processes in plant and animal populations using molecular-genetic methods, and complement these with experiments.

Ökologische Wechselwirkungen. Bild: Beat Wermelinger, WSL

Ecological interactions

All creatures interrelate with one another and with their environment. We study the ecological interactions of a wide variety of organisms.

Ökosystemfunktionen. Bild: Markus Bolliger

Ecosystem functions

We examine how biodiversity and the interactions between organisms affect the functions and services of ecosystems.

Lebensraumveränderung. Bild: Markus Bolliger

Habitat change and connectivity

We examine why habitats in Switzerland are changing, and determine the effects of climate change on habitats.

Naturschutzbiologie. Bild: Ariel Bergamini, WSL

Conservation biology and nature reserves

We provide the scientific basis for the protection of biodiversity and examine public acceptance of conservation measures.

Invasive Arten. Bild: Reinhard Lässig, WSL

Invasive species

Large numbers of plants, animals and fungi migrate to Switzerland, with damaging consequences. We study these species and help to prevent them from...

Anpassung und Evolution. Bild: Sabine Brodbeck, WSL

Adaptation and evolution

We examine how animals, plants and fungi react to climate change and how biodiversity patterns are changing as a result.



The soils around lead and zinc mines, as here in Olkusz-Boleslaw in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland, are severely contaminated with heavy metals. (Foto: Pierre Vollenweider, WSL)

A cress species thrives on soils contaminated with heavy metals – because it has adapted genetically in the course of evolution, a new study shows.

Tree ferns  in Papua Neuguinea

The first global vegetation database contains over 1.1 million vegetation records.

The new issue of WSL’s magazine Diagonal focuses on networks – both in nature and in science.

Common cranes. (Photo: Sepp Senn, WSL)

A new study shows that migrations and wintering areas of migratory birds are not sufficiently taken into account in species conservation.




Müller, J.; Boch, S.; Prati, D.; Socher, S.A.; Pommer, U.; Hessenmöller, D.; Schall, P.; Schulze, E.D.; Fischer, M., 2019: Effects of forest management on bryophyte species richness in Central European forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 432: 850-859. doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.10.019

Visconti, P.; Elias, V.; Sousa Pinto, I.; Fischer, M.; Ali-Zade, V.; Báldi, A.; Brucet, S.; Bukvareva, E.; Byrne, K.; Caplat, P.; Feest, A.; Gozlan, R.; Jelić, D.; Kikvidze, Z.; Lavrillier, A.; Le Roux, X.; Lipka, O.; ... Petřík, P.; Schatz, B., 2018: Status, trends and future dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems underpinning nature's contributions to people. In: Fischer, M.; Mader, A. (eds), 2018: The IPBES regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia. Bonn, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). 187-383.

Prevéy, J.S.; Rixen, C.; Rüger, N.; Høye, T.T.; Bjorkman, A.D.; Myers-Smith, I.H.; Elmendorf, S.C.; Ashton, I.W.; Cannone, N.; Chisholm, C.L.; Clark, K.; Cooper, E.J.; Elberling, B.; Fosaa, A.M.; Henry, G.H.R.; Hollister, R.D.; Jónsdóttir, I.S.; Klanderud, K.; Kopp, C.W.; ... Wipf, S., 2018: Warming shortens flowering seasons of tundra plant communities. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3: 45-52. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0745-6

Penone, C.; Allan, E.; Soliveres, S.; Felipe-Lucia, M.R.; Gossner, M.M.; Seibold, S.; Simons, N.K.; Schall, P.; Van der Plas, F.; Manning, P.; Manzanedo, R.D.; Boch, S.; Prati, D.; Ammer, C.; Bauhus, J.; Buscot, F.; Ehbrecht, M.; Goldmann, K.; Jung, K.; ... Lawler, J. (Ed.), 2018: Specialisation and diversity of multiple trophic groups are promoted by different forest features. Ecology Letters, 170-180. doi: 10.1111/ele.13182

Bjorkman, A.D.; Myers-Smith, I.H.; Elmendorf, S.C.; Normand, S.; Thomas, H.J.D.; Alatalo, J.M.; Alexander, H.; Anadon-Rosell, A.; Angers-Blondin, S.; Bai, Y.; Baruah, G.; Te Beest, M.; Berner, L.; Björk, R.G.; Blok, D.; Bruelheide, H.; Buchwal, A.; Buras, A.; Carbognani, M.; ... Zamin, T., 2018: Tundra Trait Team: a database of plant traits spanning the tundra biome. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 27, 12: 1402-1411. doi: 10.1111/geb.12821

Milanesi, P.; Caniglia, R.; Fabbri, E.; Puopolo, F.; Galaverni, M.; Holderegger, R., 2018: Combining Bayesian genetic clustering and ecological niche modeling: insights into wolf intraspecific genetic structure. Ecology and Evolution, 8, 22: 11224-11234. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4594

Heer, N.; Klimmek, F.; Zwahlen, C.; Fischer, M.; Hölzel, N.; Klaus, V.H.; Kleinebecker, T.; Prati, D.; Boch, S., 2018: Hemiparasite-density effects on grassland plant diversity, composition and biomass. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 32: 22-29. doi: 10.1016/j.ppees.2018.01.004

Djukic, I.; Kepfer-Rojas, S.; Schmidt, I.K.; Larsen, K.S.; Beier, C.; Berg, B.; Verheyen, K.; Caliman, A.; Paquette, A.; Gutiérrez-Girón, A.; Humber, A.; Valdecantos, A.; Petraglia, A.; Alexander, H.; Augustaitis, A.; Saillard, A.; Fernández, A.C.R.; Sousa, A.I.; Lillebø, A.I.; ... Tóth, Z., 2018: Early stage litter decomposition across biomes. Science of the Total Environment, 628-629: 1369-1394. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.012

Felipe-Lucia, M.R.; Soliveres, S.; Penone, C.; Manning, P.; Van der Plas, F.; Boch, S.; Prati, D.; Ammer, C.; Schall, P.; Gossner, M.M.; Bauhus, J.; Buscot, F.; Blaser, S.; Blüthgen, N.; De Frutos, A.; Ehbrecht, M.; Frank, K.; Goldmann, K.; Hänsel, F.; ... Allan, E., 2018: Multiple forest attributes underpin the supply of multiple ecosystem services. Nature Communications, 9: 4839 (11 pp.). doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-07082-4

Boch, S.; Müller, J.; Prati, D.; Fischer, M., 2018: Low-intensity management promotes bryophyte diversity in grasslands. Tuexenia, 38: 311-328.