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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.



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 and conservation genetics

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.



Eine grosse Windmühle steht unter einer Hochspannungsleitung, im Hintergrund eine oberseits schneebedeckte Bergkette.

Das Forum für Wissen 2019 greift Fragen zu den Auswirkungen der Energiewende auf und fasst den Stand des Wissens dazu zusammen.

The Summer School Old-Growth Forest Research will take place from 2 - 8 September in Nyzhnje Selyshche, Ukraine.

 As a formerly extinct species, the Alpine ibex is closely monitored in the Alpine region. (Photo: Reto Barblan, Bergün)

Within an age group, hunters tend to shoot ibex with longer-than-average horns.

Catherine Graham (front) during field work in a cloud forest on the northwestern slope of the Andes in Ecuador at about 2000 m. (Photo: Michael Eynon)

Catherine Graham of the WSL receives one of the prestigious ERC grants. She studies the interactions of hummingbirds and plants.




Csilléry, K.; Rodríguez-Verdugo, A.; Rellstab, C.; Guillaume, F., 2018: Detecting the genomic signal of polygenic adaptation and the role of epistasis in evolution. Molecular Ecology, 27, 3: 606-612. doi: 10.1111/mec.14499

Rogivue, A.; Graf, R.; Parisod, C.; Holderegger, R.; Gugerli, F., 2018: The phylogeographic structure of Arabis alpina in the Alps shows consistent patterns across different types of molecular markers and geographic scales. Alpine Botany, 128, 1: 35-45. doi: 10.1007/s00035-017-0196-8

Hautier, Y.; Isbell, F.; Borer, E.T.; Seabloom, E.W.; Harpole, W.S.; Lind, E.M.; MacDougall, A.S.; Stevens, C.J.; Adler, P.B.; Alberti, J.; Bakker, J.D.; Brudvig, L.A.; Buckley, Y.M.; Cadotte, M.; Caldeira, M.C.; Chaneton, E.J.; Chu, C.; Daleo, P.; Dickman, C.R.; ... Hector, A., 2018: Local loss and spatial homogenization of plant diversity reduce ecosystem multifunctionality. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2: 50-56. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0395-0

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

Biebach, I.; Keller, L., 2017: Inzucht und ihre Bedeutung für den Naturschutz. In: Csencsics, D.; Gugerli, F. (eds), 2017: Naturschutzgenetik. Forum für Wissen 2017, WSL Birmensdorf. 15-22.

Trapiello, E.; Schoebel, C.N.; Rigling, D., 2017: Fungal community in symptomatic ash leaves in Spain. Baltic Forestry, 23, 1: 68-73.

Tsykun, T.; Rellstab, C.; Dutech, C.; Sipos, G.; Prospero, S., 2017: Comparative assessment of SSR and SNP markers for inferring the population genetic structure of the common fungus Armillaria cepistipes. Heredity, 119, 5: 371-380. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2017.48

Von Arx, G.; Arzac, A.; Fonti, P.; Frank, D.; Zweifel, R.; Rigling, A.; Galiano, L.; Gessler, A.; Olano, J.M., 2017: Responses of sapwood ray parenchyma and non-structural carbohydrates of Pinus sylvestris to drought and long-term irrigation. Functional Ecology, 31, 7: 1371-1382. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12860

Rixen, C.; Wipf, S., 2017: Non-equilibrium in alpine plant assemblages: shifts in Europe’s summit floras. In: Catalan, J.; Ninot, J.M.; Aniz, M.M. (eds), 2017: High mountain conservation in a changing world. Cham, Springer. 285-303. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-55982-7_12

Rellstab, C.; Fischer, M.C.; Csencsics, D.; Gugerli, F.; Holderegger, R., 2017: Bedeutung der lokalen Anpassung in der Naturschutzgenetik. In: Gugerli, F. (eds), 2017: Naturschutzgenetik. Forum für Wissen 2017, WSL Birmensdorf. 31-37.