Climate change and land use by human beings have a decisive impact on the earth's ecosystems. Thus, the species composition in a particular habitat will change when new living conditions predominate or if there is a geographical shift in climatic conditions. The original endemic species can only adapt to these changes to a limited degree. Consequently, changes in the diversity and geographic range of organisms will occur. Professor Katrin Böhning-Gaese studies these complex processes in both temperate latitudes and in the tropics. Her objective is to be able to predict how ecosystems will be altered by land-use and climate change over the next several decades. Her focus lies in bird communities and their functions in ecosystems.
Bird communities make a major contribution to seed dispersal and tree regeneration. Over 90 per cent of trees in the tropics are propagated by birds that eat their fleshy fruits. In South Africa for instance, this role is played by the trumpeter hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator). It is the largest fruit-eating bird in the region, and Böhning-Gaese considers it to be a model organism for studying the ecological importance of birds. She collects on-site data about the movement patterns and the potential seed dispersal distances of these birds by tagging them with GPS loggers.
Her work is part of a collaborative project in which scientists have been quantifying bird communities in South Africa as well as at various altitudes on Mount Kilimanjaro over the course of several years, studying both the different habitats and diversity of species, and comparing agricultural areas with those that have been left untouched. Böhning-Gaese is the Director of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiKF). As she formulates it, her research motivation lies in "the immensely rewarding and fascinating challenge" that she derives from "studying the numerous factors that determine and change the ecosystem and therefore also, human life". Under her supervision, students taking a Master's Degree in "Ecology and Evolution" can learn both how to perform practical field work as well as how to evaluate data with statistical methods to interpret this information with regard to more general questions.
Katrin Böhning-Gaese studied Biology at the University of Tübingen and subsequently completed her doctorate on the causes of long-term population developments in songbirds. With a scholarship from the German Research Foundation (DFG) she conducted research at the ornithological station in Radolfzell at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology and at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule in Aachen (RWTH). In 1999, she completed her habilitation on "Mikro- und makroökologische Ansätze zum Verständnis von Artengemeinschaften (Micro- and macroecological approaches towards the understanding of communities)" at the University of Tübingen and then continued her work as a DFG Heisenberg Scholar in Aachen. She was appointed professor for ecology at the University of Mainz in 2001. Since 2010, Katrin Böhning-Gaese has been a professor at the Goethe University Frankfurt and Executive Director of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiKF).
Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhning-Gaese
Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity/Biodiversity
and Climate Research Centre
60325 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 7542 1821