• SENSE Research Cluster VI: Landscape ecology, restoration ecology and nature conservation

    Increasing human influence on natural systems has led to a severe decline of biological diversity worldwide over the last century. Awareness of the intrinsic, societal and economic value of biological diversity has fueled a multitude of policies and societal initiatives to safeguard this diversity. Research in the domains of landscape ecology, restoration ecology and nature conservation aims to underpin strategies to halt, and where possible, reverse the current trend of species loss. Thereto, it is concerned with identifying key processes underlying both the decline, conservation and restoration of biological diversity. These processes are studied on a multitude of spatial and temporal scales, ranging from chemical and physiological reactions within organisms to the global scale. These processes and scales are highly interconnected, giving rise to complex system behaviour, such as the occurrence of multiple stable states, threshold behaviour and catastrophic events.

    While this research field is characterized by a high scientific complexity, on the one hand, it continues to have a high societal relevance at the same time. Since humans play a significant role in both the cause and the solution for the loss of biological diversity, the research cluster explicitly involves social sciences as well as natural sciences, adding to its interdisciplinary approach. To ensure dissemination of generated knowledge to the relevant stakeholders, there is a strong involvement of policymakers and conservationists in the design and implementation of research projects. Participants in this SENSE Research Cluster strive for scientific excellence, combined with clear societal communication.

    Featuring subjects, mechanisms and methods that are being developed and applied in this SENSE Research Cluster are, for example:

    • The impact of global change on ecosystems, species and community interactions and the consequences for conservation and restoration strategies
    • Ecosystem properties that determine threshold behaviour and catastrophic shifts
    • Interactions of ecological processes at different temporal and spatial scales
    • The role of species interactions in the success of ecosystem restoration
    • Metapopulation genetics in fragmented landscapes
    • The design of decision support systems based on state-of-the-art ecological knowledge and models

    We welcome experts in the field of landscape ecology, restoration ecology and nature conservation to participate in this research cluster to exchange knowledge and stimulate new innovative developments (if you are not a member of the SENSE Research School but involved with this subject, then you are still welcome to enroll and participate in this research cluster).

    To read more about the SENSE research clusters in general, click HERE.

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    Coordinators and experts


    SENSE key experts:

    • Prof.dr. David Kleijn (NCP-WU)
    • Prof. Martin Wassen (UU-COP)
    • Prof. Geert de Snoo (LU-CML)
    • Prof. F. (Frank) Berendse (WU-NCP)
    • Prof. dr. A.K. (Andrew) Skidmore (UT-ITC)
    • Dr. Rob Leuven (RU-ES)

    Contact information:

    For more information about this research cluster, please contact Dr. Monique Gulickx (

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      To illustrate the urgency and relevance of new developments in this field, below we present some of the emerging research questions that are currently challenging both science and society in the research domain of SENSE Research Cluster VI:

      1. What is the most appropriate and ecologically sustainable way of dealing with excess nutrients during terrestrial and freshwater habitat restoration?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Nutrient loading (eutrophication) of ecosystems remains one of the most significant threats to species diversity and is especially problematic in restoration projects on former agricultural lands. Removing excess nutrients is costly and is either time consuming (at the scale of decades) or has a severe environmental impact (removal of the top soil). Additionally, the nutrients which are removed, especially phosphate, are becoming a scarce resource that can be readily used for agricultural production. Excess nutrient removal can hence be considered very unsustainable, but is still being widely applied because of a lack of a sustainable alternative.
      2. How should we manage landscape mosaics for the conservation of diverse species that operate on different spatial scales?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Different species utilize habitats of different sizes and move through landscapes in completely different ways over distances ranging from several meters in a lifetime to thousands of kilometers in one season. Conservation of these species thus requires measures at a variety of scales and should accommodate the various behaviours in a single landscape. Designing optimal conservation strategies therefore needs to combine in depth knowledge of species habitat requirements and behaviour, with that of landscape structure and functioning.
      3. For species where the concept is applicable, how can source and sink populations be identified and how should their status affect conservation management?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Population ecology distinguishes between source populations, in which reproductive success is larger than mortality rate, and sink populations, where the reverse is the case and which can not survive without regular inflow of individuals from surrounding areas. Additionally, sink populations are prone to genetic erosion, further reducing population viability. Sink populations occur especially in fragmented landscapes, Currently, it is only possible to determine whether a population serves as a source or a sink with long term monitoring of population dynamics. Such monitoring schemes are expensive and can be detrimental to survival of individuals, when intrusive methods are necessary (e.g. mark and recapture). Developing new, quick and non-intrusive methods is therefore necessary to better and more timely underpin conservation strategies, as well as to reduce societal costs and unwanted effects on the organisms studied.
      4. What are the critical thresholds for nitrogen and phosphorus availabilities for preservation of characteristic species in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Classic ecological theory dictates that ecosystem productivity can be reduced by reducing the availability of a single, growth limiting nutrient, thereby increasing biodiversity. However, more and more evidence is accumulating that nutrient stoichiometry (i.e. the relative ratio between nutrients) is as important as availability of the limiting nutrient. This implies that species which have traits that enable them to effectively exploit multiple resources can become competitive dominant species and reduce species diversity in eutrophied conditions. It is currently unknown which species have such traits and which traits are involved. Additionally, it is unknown how stoichiometric effects of nutrients determine critical thresholds in communities and hence when critical transitions in species composition and diversity can be expected in response to eutrophication. It is therefore unclear whether current critical loads defined for various ecosystems still hold and how conservation and restoration strategies should be adjusted accordingly.
      5. How can (national) biodiversity conservation politics be made more adaptive under ongoing temperature rise and more frequent occurrence of weather extremes?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Nature conservation programmes are currently focusing on specific species, ignoring the dynamic nature of ecosystems. However, species distribution is changing due to climate change. Because of increasing temperatures, southern species which have their northern distribution boundary determined by temperature are now able to move their territories in northern direction. Climate change also results in the increased occurrence of extreme events, specifically increased periods of severe drought or severe precipitation. These events also affect the persistence and distribution of species. Because national and international conservation policy is largely based on the preservation of current sets of species, it is unable to accommodate the effects of climate change.
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        Here you will be able to find interesting articles, links to books that are worth reading, presentations that caught your attention, etc. To suggest items that should be placed here, please follow the instructions mentioned below or send an email to the (technical) coordinators.

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          Add a document to the Library

          Do you have any interesting articles, reports or other documents that you want to share within this research cluster? You can add the by clicking on Upload Documents below. Please note that your document will not be visible in the library immediately, because it first has to be approved by the coordinator. You can also contact him if you would like your suggested document to be brought under our attention in a different way or if you would like the document to appear differently in the library (there are some options available for that).

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            Discussion forum

            In this forum topics related to cluster I can be discussed, varying from scientific issues to organizational matters. The forum is very easy to use.

            To enter the forum, click on Forum RC VI below. You will go to the overview page of the forum, where you can see all existing discussions. If you click on a discussion title, you will enter the discussion. You can read all posts and you can also respond to them, by clicking Reply.

            To add a new discussion topic, you can click on Add a new discussion topic on top of the overview page. Please make sure that your new discussion is really new and does not overlap with existing discussions, otherwise the forum will get messy.

            The forum is maintained by the technical coordinator of the research cluster, who will remove any inappropriate contributions to the discussions.

            Please note the following!

            Everyone who enrolls in this course, is automatically subscribed to this forum and will receive e-mail notifications of every post on the forum. If you do not wish to be subscribed to the forum, you can click Unsubscribe from this forum in the top right corner of the forum overview page.

            If you do not want to receive too many notifications, you can adapt the forum settings for your account. To do so, follow these steps:
            a. Click on your username, which is always visible in blue in the bottom left corner of the page. You will go to your personal profile.
            b. Click Edit profile.
            c. Click Show advanced.
            d. In the field E-mail digest type you can now choose one of the three options: standard - notification of every post; daily an e-mail of all posts in full text; daily one e-mail with the titles of all posts. If there are no posts at all, you won’t get a summary e-mail either.
            e. You can also adapt other settings if you like.
            f. Scroll down and choose Update profile to activate your new settings.

            If you want to give feedback on the functioning of the forum or group page in general, then you are most welcome to leave a post in the discussion Technical feedback. The SENSE team will keep an eye on this discussion and will try to process your feedback as good as possible.