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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.



Every year approximately 1.5 million gnus and 200,000 zebras travel through the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya and have an enormous impact on these grassland ecosystems. (Photo: Anita Risch, WSL)

A global experimental study conducted by WSL revealed for the first time how much nitrogen is available in grasslands.

Particularly meadows in the vicinity of intensively used agricultural areas suffer from species loss. Photo: Dr. Ulrike Garbe / Landesamt für Umwelt, Brandenburg

The number of insect species has shrunk dramatically in the last decade, according to an international study involving the WSL.

Help shape the future of biodiversity - at the World Biodiversity Forum in Davos in February 2020. Submit abstracts now and register!

WSL researchers are reporting an ongoing decrease of habitat quality in species-rich dry grasslands, despite them being protected.




Boch, S.; Bedolla, A.; Ecker, K.T.; Ginzler, C.; Graf, U.; Küchler, H.; Küchler, M.; Nobis, M.P.; Holderegger, R.; Bergamini, A., 2019: Threatened and specialist species suffer from increased wood cover and productivity in Swiss steppes. Flora, 258: 151444 (9 pp.). doi: 10.1016/j.flora.2019.151444

Boch, S.; Martins, A.; Ruas, S.; Fontinha, S.; Carvalho, P.; Reis, F.; Bergamini, A.; Sim‐Sim, M., 2019: Bryophyte and macrolichen diversity show contrasting elevation relationships and are negatively affected by disturbances in laurel forests of Madeira island. Journal of Vegetation Science, 30, 6: 1122-1133. doi: 10.1111/jvs.12802

Adamczyk, M.; Hagedorn, F.; Wipf, S.; Donhauser, J.; Vittoz, P.; Rixen, C.; Frossard, A.; Theurillat, J.; Frey, B., 2019: The soil microbiome of GLORIA mountain summits in the Swiss Alps. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10: 1080 (21 pp.). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01080

Boch, S.; Bedolla, A.; Ecker, K.T.; Graf, U.; Küchler, H.; Küchler, M.; Holderegger, R.; Bergamini, A., 2019: Mean indicator values suggest decreasing habitat quality in Swiss dry grasslands and are robust to relocation error. Tuexenia, 39: 315-334.

Duelli, P.; Wermelinger, B.; Moretti, M.; Obrist, M.К., 2019: Fire and windthrow in forests: Winners and losers in Neuropterida and Mecoptera. Alpine Entomology, 3: 39-50. doi: 10.3897/alpento.3.30868

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., 2019: Warming shortens flowering seasons of tundra plant communities. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3: 45-52. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0745-6

Busch, V.; Klaus, V.H.; Schäfer, D.; Prati, D.; Boch, S.; Müller, J.; Chisté, M.; Mody, K.; Blüthgen, N.; Fischer, M.; Hölzel, N.; Kleinebecker, T., 2019: Will I stay or will I go? Plant species‐specific response and tolerance to high land‐use intensity in temperate grassland ecosystems. Journal of Vegetation Science, 30, 4: 674-686. doi: 10.1111/jvs.12749

Awad, A.; Majcherczyk, A.; Schall, P.; Schröter, K.; Schöning, I.; Schrumpf, M.; Ehbrecht, M.; Boch, S.; Kahl, T.; Bauhus, J.; Seidel, D.; Ammer, C.; Fischer, M.; Kües, U.; Pena, R., 2019: Ectomycorrhizal and saprotrophic soil fungal biomass are driven by different factors and vary among broadleaf and coniferous temperate forests. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 131: 9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.12.014

Semančíková, E.; Grădinaru, S.R.; Aubrechtová, T.; Hersperger, A.M., 2019: Framing fragmentation in strategic policy documents in spatial planning and environmental domains: differences and similarities. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 1-18. doi: 10.1080/09640568.2019.1589433

Boeddinghaus, R.S.; Marhan, S.; Berner, D.; Boch, S.; Fischer, M.; Hölzel, N.; Kattge, J.; Klaus, V.H.; Kleinebecker, T.; Oelmann, Y.; Prati, D.; Schäfer, D.; Schöning, I.; Schrumpf, M.; Sorkau, E.; Kandeler, E.; Manning, P., 2019: Plant functional trait shifts explain concurrent changes in the structure and function of grassland soil microbial communities. Journal of Ecology, 107, 5: 2197-2210. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.13182