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Ecosystem functions

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Ecosystems fulfil important functions which are also beneficial to humans. We examine how biodiversity affects the functions and services of ecosystems and what consequences changes in biodiversity have.

 

Ecosystems, or in other words, natural habitats and the creatures living in them, fulfil a range of important functions. These include all physical, chemical and biological processes and interactions which take place in the different ecosystems. Ecosystems produce biomass, they filter and store water, ensure the pollination of plants and therefore their survival (including in agriculture), and convert and break down organic and inorganic substances, thereby maintaining the fertility of the soil.

Many of these processes are also directly beneficial to humans. We benefit, for example, from drinking water filtered by the forest soil, we can harvest fruit and vegetables thanks to pollination by insects, and enjoy fresh air and relaxation in the forest. The forest also protects us from floods and natural hazards, such as rockfall and avalanches. These services, which an ecosystem provides "for humans", are called ecosystem services.

People shape ecosystems

Humans not only benefit, they also influence: land use and climate change have profound effects on ecosystem functions and services, as species diversity is an important parameter for the stability of an ecosystem. Intensive use reduces biodiversity, for example, and can therefore have a negative impact on important ecosystem services, such as crop pollination or the natural control of pests.

We examine how individual species, species characteristics, species groups, the diversity of species and their interactions affect the functions and services of ecosystems. In our work, we consider changes in land use, natural disturbances and climatic changes. Using historical comparisons and statistical models, we can predict future developments of ecosystems, for instance how biodiversity will change, how this change will affect ecosystem services, and at what point changes in biodiversity will no longer be able to guarantee the stability of ecosystems.

 

Topics

Soil stability

The vegetation can prevent erosion and landslides. We investigate how plants and mycorrhizal fungi stabilise soil.

Protection forest

In the mountains, protection from natural hazards such as avalanches is the forests’ foremost function. We investigate what it takes to maintain it.

Soil and cycles

We monitor and measure how environmental influences alter the living conditions in the forest soil and study the processes that occur in root areas.

Forest management and forest functions

How does forest develop, and how can we use it without affecting its essential processes and services?

Landscapes for health and recreation

Landscapes with high recreational values contribute to human health and well-being. We study the features of these types of landscapes.

 

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