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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 contributes to our quality of life and to the recreational value of our environment. It is also 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.

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 genetics. 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 are affecting 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.



Species diversity

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

Genetic diversity and conservation genetics

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

Ecological interactions

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

Ecosystem functions

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

Habitat change and connectivity

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

Conservation biology and nature reserves

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

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...

Adaptation and evolution

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



WSL scientists have found that peat bogs can effectively withstand both moderate and glacial climates.

More than 500 species of mosses and lichens grow on pastures with sycamore trees, discovered botanist Thomas Kiebacher from the WSL. Many of them are...

Zwingen steigende Temperaturen Pflanzen- und Tierarten in die Höhe? Nicht nur, wir das Beispiel der Arve in einer WSL-Studie zeigt.

Climate change has prompted three of the most common ungulate species in the Alps - chamois, ibex and red deer - to move to higher elevations in the...




Zellweger, F., & Bollmann, K., (2017). Der Schweizer Wald und seine Biodiversität: LiDAR ermöglicht neue Waldstrukturanalysen. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen, 168 (3), 142-150. doi: 10.3188/szf.2017.0142

Holderegger, R., Bollmann, K., Brang, P., & Wohlgemuth, T., (2017). Auswirkungen des Douglasienanbaus auf die Biodiversität: wichtige Forschungsfragen (Essay). Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen, 168 (1), 21-25. doi: 10.3188/szf.2017.0021

Frank, A., Sperisen, C., Howe, G.T., Brang, P., Walthert, L., St.Clair, J.B., & Heiri, C., (2017). Distinct genecological patterns in seedlings of Norway spruce and silver fir from a mountainous landscape. Ecology, 98 (1), 211-227. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1632

Milanesi, P., Holderegger, R., Bollmann, K., Gugerli, F., & Zellweger, F., (2017). Three-dimensional habitat structure and landscape genetics: a step forward in estimating functional connectivity. Ecology, 98 (2), 393-402. doi: 10.1002/ecy.1645

Descombes, P., Vittoz, P., Guisan, A., & Pellissier, L., (2017). Uneven rate of plant turnover along elevation in grasslands. Alpine Botany, 127 (1), 53-63. doi: 10.1007/s00035-016-0173-7

Blattert, C., Lemm, R., Thees, O., Lexer, M.J., & Hanewinkel, M., (2017). Management of ecosystem services in mountain forests: review of indicators and value functions for model based multi-criteria decision analysis. Ecological Indicators, 79, 391-409. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.04.025

Rellstab, C., Pluess, A.R., & Gugerli, F., (2016). Lokale Anpassung bei Waldbaumarten: genetische Prozesse und Bedeutung im Klimawandel. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen, 167 (6), 333-340. doi: 10.3188/szf.2016.0333

Stöcklin, J., & Holderegger, R., (2016). Celebrating 125 years of Alpine Botany. Alpine Botany, 126 (2), 87. doi: 10.1007/s00035-016-0175-5

Sedlacek, J., Cortés, A.J., Wheeler, J.A., Bossdorf, O., Hoch, G., Klápště, J., Lexer, C., Rixen, C., Wipf, S., Karrenberg, S., & Van Kleunen, M., (2016). Evolutionary potential in the Alpine: trait heritabilities and performance variation of the dwarf willow Salix herbacea from different elevations and microhabitats. Ecology and Evolution, 6 (12), 3940-3952. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2171

Rellstab, C., Bühler, A., Graf, R., Folly, C., & Gugerli, F., (2016). Using joint multivariate analyses of leaf morphology and molecular-genetic markers for taxon identification in three hybridizing European white oak species (Quercus spp.). Annals of Forest Science, 73 (3), 669-679. doi: 10.1007/s13595-016-0552-7