Sydney’s saltmarshes and mangroves

Sydney’s harbour and rivers are habitats for many wetland species, especially for mangrove and saltmarsh communities. These two plant communities are an important habitat for fishes, birds and invertebrates (Alongi, 2002). They also provide important ecosystem services to us such as coastal stabilization and filtering of pollutants (Corvalán et al., 2005). Due to rising sea level and ongoing coastal development, saltmarshes and mangroves are confronted with habitat fragmentation, destruction and pollution (Valiela, 2006). To guarantee that these important wetlands will continue to provide us with their benefits it is important to understand the threats they are facing in their urbanized habitat. This project focuses on how urban wastewater impacts saltmarsh and mangrove communities.


Mangrove forest in Sydney metropolitan area.

Alongi, D.M. (2002). Present state and future of the world’s mangrove forests. Environ. Conserv. 29.

Corvalán, C., Hales, S., McMichael, A.J., (Program), M.E.A., and Organization, W.H. (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Health Synthesis (World Health Organization).

Valiela, I. (2006). Global coastal change (Malden, USA: Blackwell Publishing).


Heathlands in Lüneburger Heide, Germany

Today, heathlands in Germany are almost exclusively found in nature reserve parks and require permanent management to ensure its existence. Thus, heathlands are in particular valuable in conservation matters. The largest heathland in northwest Germany, also known by the name Lüneburger Heide, is an anthropogenic landscape formed by agriculture and grazing of livestock for hundreds of years. The NGO Verein Naturschutzpark (VNP) manages the heathlands using traditional and optimized methods (Keienburg & Prüter, 2006). The present maintenance of vital heathland is mimicking the effect of traditional heathland agriculture and aims at nutrient discharge from soil (Hanstein, Kaiser, & Koopmann, 1997; Lütkepohl & Kaiser, 1997). In this study I was particularly interested how the different management histories to maintain heathlands affect their biodiversity. I looked at diversity in terms of species richness but also in terms of their genetics which is called phylogenetic diversity.


The lichen Cladonia digitata on dead wood. Heathlands offer a great habitat for a wide range of different organisms and different management histories might impact plant and lichen communities.


Lütkepohl, M., & Kaiser, T. (1997). Die Heidelandschaft. In Naturschutzgebiet Lüneburger Heide: Geschichte, Ökologie, Naturschutz (pp. 87–100). Bremen: Verlag H.M. Hausschild GmbH.

Keienburg, T., & Prüter, J. (2006). Naturschutzgebiet Lüneburger Heide: Erhaltung und Entwicklung einer alten Kulturlandschaft. Mitteilungen aus der NNA, 17, Sonderheft 1(Sonderheft 1), 65.

Hanstein, U., Kaiser, T., & Koopmann, A. (1997). Historische Nutzung. In Naturschutzgebiet Lüneburger Heide: Geschichte, Ökologie, Naturschutz (pp. 63–72). Bremen: Verlag H.M. Hausschild GmbH.


Saltmarshes of the North Sea, Germany

The 9000 km² landscape of the Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world. The Dutch, German and Danish parts of the Wadden Sea are inscribed on the UNESCO World heritage list and large parts are declared as national parks. The Wadden Sea can be divided into three zones: sublittoral, eulittoral and supralittoral zone. The sublittoral zone is constantly under water, while the eulittoral zone is influenced by the daily tide and forms large mudflats and mussel beds. The supralittoral zone lies above the mean high tide level and is only submerged by the tide during spring tide and storm tides. In this area saltmarshes in its specialized flora and fauna are found.

The fieldwork was part of the Master of Science module “Seed Ecology” offered by the University of Hamburg. Together with Prof. Dr. Kai Jensen we investigated how saltmarshes are formed and how the seeds are influenced by various salt conditions and environmental parameters.


Alluvial forests in Northern Germany

The UNESCO biosphere reserve “Elbe river landscape” is a unique natural and cultural landscape with several world heritage sites, sand dunes, flooded grasslands and the largest contiguous alluvial forests of Central Europe. To prevent flooding of cities in the region, dyke close to the town Lenzen was opened to restore the once abundant water meadows. Now, the area around Lenzen offers a vast habitat for birds, invertebrates and also for the endangered beaver. Every two years the working group of Prof Dr Kai Jensen of the University of Hamburg monitors the restoration process by sending a group of higher degree research students into the field. The monitoring includes bird watching, plant and invertebrate community assessment and evaluation of the ongoing restoration projects.


The white stork (Ciconia ciconia) flying over the alluvial forest at the river Elbe in Northern Germany.



Many thanks to Prof. Norbert Jürgens of the University of Hamburg and his working group for offering this once in a lifetime experience.

For three weeks in February and March 2013, we were exploring the vast biological diversity and geomorphological conditions of Namibia. Our trip started and ended in Windhoek. We drove into the Namib desert, along streets entirely made out of salt, vast lichen fields and then up the coast towards the border of Angola where the climate is much moister and the landscape is suddenly bursting with green. On our way we collected data about the mystical fairy circle, a phenomenon occurring only in the Namibia desert, characterized by round bare patches in the desert. Just a month after our fieldtrip, Norbert Jürgens published in Science explaining the biological underpinnings of fairy circles. Have a look here!


The vast Savannah grasslands of Namibia