Applied Ecology and Palaeoecology


Our group is concerned primarily with the Quaternary and especially Holocene historical development of ecosystems, focusing on aspects of the plant world such as flora and vegetation dynamics. How do vegetation compositions reflect the influences of climate, propagation and migration processes, soil developments, animals and man? What conclusions can be drawn about palaeoclimates, or about human activities? What is the story of biodiversity, in the past until today? Todays’ ecosystems and their developments are better evaluated and understood when their historical geneses can be identified and referenced. Formulations of goals for nature protection and management rely on knowledge of previous landscape conditions and dynamics. To provide answers to these questions, we work in interdisciplinary cooperation with ecologists, archaeologists, geoscientists, physicists and historians.

Currently, projects are being conducted in Ireland, Schleswig-Holstein/Northern Germany, Sachsen-Anhalt and Brandenburg/Central Germany, Austria, Bosnia, Italy and Turkey.



Methods employed by the department include pollen analysis, wood analysis, charcoal analysis (anthracology), botanical macro remain analysis especially from peat and lake sediments, and the analysis of tree rings (dendroecology). For mire and lake coring, we have expertise with the “Usinger corer”, which is a high precision rod-operated corer to retrieve soft sediments, developed at the University of Kiel by Hartmut Usinger.

Palaeoecological aspects are presented in lectures and practical courses for students of Biology, Agriculture, Geography and Pre- and Protohistory, as well as in the MSc curriculum Environmental Management. Themes for Bachelor and Master theses are offered upon request.

Man has changed his environment more since the Industrial Revolution than he had in the previous one thousand years. How can he manage his environment in the future so that long term productivity rather than short term exploitation is the result? The term "sustainability" originated with this question at the 1992 United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro. Such is the focus of our department's research: Sustainable use of landscapes coupled to simultaneous preservation of their natural potentials.

picture The Applied Ecolology applies ecological sustainability research to cultural landscapes. In particular, it addresses the restoration of degenerated ecosystems such as intensively grazed meadowlands, fields and forests. Our research is concerned with developing more true-to-nature systems, such as moors, heaths, wet meadows, and dry grass, that lend themselves to long term ecological stabilisation. Vegetational ecology (Prof. Schrautzer), animal ecology (Prof. Irmler), and ecosystem analysis are aspects taken into consideration. In the foreground, therefore, stand questions concerning the interactions of site factors with their biocenosis, and concerning material degradation in ecosystems. The department is bound also to biodiversity research in productive and natural systems on both national and international levels.

Research projects relate mainly to the lowlands of northern Germany, however, intensive biodiversity research in South America is also being conducted.

Projects Palaeoecology

project area: Holocene vegetation dynamics and land use history of selected regions in Europe

Holocene vegetation dynamics are investigated using pollen and macroremain (wood, charcoal, seeds, fruits, etc.) analysis in selected regions, attempting to answer regionally specific research questions. Changes of vegetation are caused by a bundle of factors including climate, soil development, plant migrations, animals and human activities. We especially focus on the attempt to reconstruct the composition of vegetation on fine spatial scales, which we address by the combination of pollen and macrofossil analysis.

High-resolution temporal and spatial reconstruction of the vegetation history and environmental changes in western Ireland: The Neolithic landnam event during the mid-Holocene

The study of proxy records from lake and bog sediments provides a powerful tool to reconstruct past vegetational changes, which can often be linked to patterns of human activity in the landscape. In Ireland, the first significant human impact occurred during the Neolithic landnam period, which broadly coincides with the ‘elm decline’ at c. 5800 cal. BP. The more or less complete clearance of the postglacial woodland by these first settlers resulted in long-term changes in the Irish vegetation. Previous palaeoecological investigations in the vicinity of archaeological sites suggests that the Neolithic populations and the impact of their largely pastoral-based farming economies on the environment were substantial, but ceased quite abruptly at c. 5100 cal. BP. more

Vegetation history of Eastern Bavaria

A long-term project deals with the vegetation history of Eastern Bavaria, with a focal point on the Bavarian Forest. Plant remains from archaeological excavations and own prospections are used to reconstruct vegetation dynamics and human impact during the Holocene especially in a comparison of old settlement areas like the Danube plain and young settlement areas like the Bavarian Forest. more

Woodland history of Schleswig-Holstein

Woodland history in the forest-poor german federal state of Schleswig-Hostein is still poorly understood. To gain detailed information of former woodland composition and woodland continuity, especially in the Late Holocene, we perform palynological, anthracological, and archaeological (including experimental archaeology) research.

project area: Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes”

The research group is currently involved with six palaeoecological dissertation projects in the international Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes. The Graduate School is financed in the framework of the excellence initiative of the federal state and the Bundesländer.

Forest dynamics and fire history in northern Germany as documented by anthracological and dendroecological approaches

PhD project Vincent Robin
The research project aims to reconstruct the history of the forest vegetation and the fire history, at complementary spatial and temporal resolution, since the last glaciation, in selected woodlands in Northern Germany, by using anthracological and dendroecological methods. more

Reconstruction of the Forest and Land Use History from Neolithic to the Present in Westensee moraine region, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

PhD project Mykola Sadovnik
In this project we investigate the long-term dynamics of vegetation in the Westensee moraine region in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, since the Neolithic. more

Prehistoric wooded Environment and wood economy in Northern Central Europe, investigated by archaeo- and geoanthracological methods

PhD projekt Dipl. Biol. Doris Jansen
In this project, (1) wood usage, (2) woodland-management and (3) the wooded environment is investigated for the Mesolithic up to the Bronze Age for selected archaeological sites in Northern Germany, by using wood charcoals. more

Wood in the Roman Age: cultural landscapes, forest exploitation and timber circulation

PhD project Daniela Moser MA
The project aims to analyse the relationship between Roman civilization, forests and wood resources. more

The tell in the woods? Woodland-management and social differentiation of wood use at tell-sites in SE Europe and in Turkey

PhD project Tim Schroedter
The project aims at reconstructing the strategies of woodland management developed by tell-inhabiting societies. more

Further PhD projects of the Graduate School with cosupervision by Oliver Nelle

  • Hannes Knapp: Habitat Harz: The Environmental History of a Mountain Area and its Foothills
  • Daniel Zwick: Maritime Logistics in the Age of the Northern Crusades
  • Annegret Larsen: Landscape reconstruction near medieval castles in Kirschgraben, Spessart
  • Silvia Balatti: Mountain people in the Ancient Near East: the Case of the Zagros
  • Sara Boysen: Roman villa landscapes in ancient Italy. Literary perception, development, utilization

project area: Holocene Fire History in Schleswig-Holstein (HolFiSH)

Micro- as well as macrocharcoal quantification from peat and lake sediment profiles is done aiming towards the reconstruction of Holocene fire history on a local and regional scale, in Schleswig-Holstein. This "sedimentary anthracology"-approach is combined with charcoal analysis incl. taxonomic identification from soil and soil sediment profiles ("pedoanthracology" or "geoanthracology"). Interpretation of identified fire events in the past is done in the context of landscape history of selected areas.

Holocene fire history in Northern Germany, inferred from peat and sediment charcoal records with various spatial resolution in selected areas of Schleswig-Holstein

DFG-project NE970/9-1 more

Projects Applied Ecology


Earthworms in the Haseldorfer Marsch

The decline of the pewit brood number is referred to the decline of their food in the area. To find the causes for the decline, the earthworm density will be investigated in relationship to the backwater regime. more

Experimental farming, riparian wetland carbon storage and bioindicators

The subproject (SP 06) is part of the larger project Carbiocial that cooperates with several German universities and research institutes. Moreover, Carbiocial cooperates with the Brazilian project Carbioma. Both projects aim to study sustainable land-use and agricultural practices in the southern border of the Brazilian tropical Amazon region. more

Biodiversity of key-taxa in the Pantanal: Database and Optimization of methods

The project aims to establish a feasible database for main taxa of the Pantanal area (western Central-Brazil). more

Development of a concept for sustainable preservation of beaches at the Baltic Sea coast

The project aims to compile a concept for an integrative management of beaches at the Baltic Sea coast together with local communes and cooperations, e.g. Ra:dOst. more

Ecological Farming at Hof Ritzerau

Nature protection and agriculture at Hof Ritzerau farm.
Component projects:


  • Earthworms
    Space and time dynamics of earthworms during transitions to ecologolical farming methods. more
  • Biodiversity
    Spatial and time-related distribution of ground and rove beetles. more
  • Hydrology and functions of Lake Duven Creek bottomlands
    Investigations of the hydrology of a creek valley, using time-related high-resolution measurements. more (only available in german)

Effects of green belts in ecological farming

Probing of the question of whether green belts in ecologically oriented farming support the migrations and functions of ground beetles. more

Strategies to minimise nutrient leaching from drained agricultural land

This is a DBU supported proposal for competent management strategies minimizing the environmental impacts of agricultural land use. more

Hydrological studies to accompany rewetting measures in the Upper Eider Valley

Influences of cessation of river mowing on water table dynamics of adjacent low moor areas

Neotropical Osoriinae

Taxonomy, ecology and zoogeography of a neotropical rove beetle subfamily within the context of international assessment of biodiversity. more (only available in german)

Mid-European flies

Checklists, red lists and preferred habitats of long-leg, dagger, and robber flies of central Europe

Zertifizierung ökologischer Co-Benefits von CO2-Offsets für Moor-Wiedervernässung

Im Projekt werden die Auswirkungen einer Moorvernässung, die im Rahmen der moorfutures in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern umgesetzt wird, auf die Nährstoffe Stickstoff und Phosphor bewertet. more (only available in german)

Phosphor in der Landwirtschaft – Management eines begrenzten Nährstoffs

Im Rahmen des Projektes werden praxistaugliche Strategien zum effektiven Einsatz von Phosphor in der Landwirtschaft zusammengestellt. more (only available in german)