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Biodiversity at the University of Bayreuth

The biological diversity of plants, animals, and microorganisms forms the basis of life for humans. But biodiversity is endangered by human intervention. Dr Stephanie Thomas, an expert at the University of Bayreuth, is seeking to raise public awareness of this as part of the World Biodiversity Council.

Land use change for food production, timber use, fishing, hunting, the introduction of alien species, and climate change are all major contributors to the decline in biodiversity. The figures are certainly worrying. Since the beginning of the 20th century, for example, the biomass of wild mammals has declined by 82 percent, while in 62 nature reserves in Germany, the biomass of flying insects has decreased by 75-80 percent in only 27 years.

Definition

Biodiversity is - in short - the variety of living organisms and the ecosystems they form.

Scientists have determined that the current extinction rate of animal and plant species is several 10 to several 100 times higher than the extinction rate of the past 10 million years. They therefore speak of a man-made sixth mass extinction after the five mass extinctions in the history of the earth.

What does loss of biodiversity mean for humanity?

For humans, biodiversity loss has considerable consequences. The most serious are probably the reduction or even loss of ecosystem services. These include

  • clean water
  • food
  • health
  • good air quality
  • clothing
  • construction material and fuel

Recreation can also be affected, as people feel connected to nature in a cultural, traditional, and religious sense.

The IPBES World Biodiversity Council

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) plays a central role in the conservation of biodiversity. It is the global interface between science and government. It was founded in 2012 by the United Nations (UN) to effectively counter the ongoing loss of biological diversity and the destruction of habitats. The aim is to provide political decision-makers with information on the status quo and future development of biological diversity. To achieve this, IPBES aims to remain scientifically independent, to ensure transparent working methods and to be policy-relevant.

To this end, government representatives from 139 countries take part in annual plenary meetings to keep up-to-date on the current state of knowledge on selected topics such as alien species, pollination, and the use of wild animal species, and to discuss possible measures.

In advance, experts from the scientific community prepare expert reports. It takes three years to collect the relevant data, assess the facts, and draw up a final document. This document is then discussed with government representatives in the plenary assembly, adopted, and made available to the general public. Ten German scientists are involved in the process, which started in 2022, including Bayreuth expert Dr Stephanie Thomas.

IPBES and the Rettet die Bienen (“Save the Bees”) petition

The assessment report on pollinators, pollination, and food production, published in 2016, triggered a response in Bavaria with the "Biodiversity and Natural Beauty in Bavaria - Save the Bees" petition. It was the most successful petition in the history of the Free State of Bavaria. More than 1.7 million eligible voters contributed their signatures at their town halls from 31 January to 13 February 2019.

Expertise made in Bayreuth: Dr. Stephanie Thomas

The University of Bayreuth is represented in the IPBES. Dr Stephanie Thomas, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Biogeography, is acting as lead author for Chapter 3 of the upcoming "Nexus Assessment", the report assessing the links between biodiversity, water, food, and health.

About our expert

Profilbild Stephanie Thomas

Dr Stephanie Thomas has been a postdoc in the Department of Biogeography at the University of Bayreuth since 2014. Previously, she studied geoecology there, with a focus on biogeography. As an ecologist, her goal is to better understand the connections between biodiversity, climate change, and human and animal health.

Her current research interest focuses on disease vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks, so-called vectors, and the pathogens they transmit, such as West Nile fever, which has recently appeared in Germany. She and her colleagues at the research group have developed a prototype for an early warning system for mosquito-borne diseases for Bavaria, based on various modelling approaches and a variety of environmental data. This expertise, together with the courage to think outside the box of her own discipline, are the basis for her involvement in IPBES.

Dr Stephanie Thomas leads and participates in several interdisciplinary projects with partners from various European countries.

As lead author, her task is to summarise and evaluate the current state of knowledge in close exchange with other experts, to formulate complex interrelationships in a generally understandable way, and to point out gaps in knowledge. The teams of author working on a chapter meet regularly both virtually and in person. All authors of the entire Nexus Assessment - which can be 100 to 200 researchers - meet once a year in person.

The IPBES sets out a very structured schedule for the preparation of the report. After a first draft, two further drafts are prepared. This is followed by a preliminary final document, which is then discussed with the government representatives, amended, and then published. It is important to ensure transparency. The drafts are regularly released to the public for revision and all comments are incorporated or answered in a structured form. In this way, all scientists and the interested public worldwide can participate in the preparation of the report.