A biotope for every MPI

A network of biotopes in the entire country

The idea for the BioDiversum at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen is born in October 2018. Peter Berthold is a guest speaker at the Göttinger Literaturherbst science series. Berthold, director emeritus at the MPI for Ornithology and former head of the ornithological station in Radolfzell, has spent many decades researching birds, their living conditions, and population development and was one of the first to sound the alarm. At the Literaturherbst, he gives a rousing talk on species extinction and passionately promotes his vision of how we can overcome the biodiversity crisis. 

Peter Berthold (left) and Herbert Jäckle at the Göttingen Literature Festival.

Going with the slogan A biotope for every community, he promotes targeted renaturation measures: Throughout Germany, small and large biotopes are to be created on sites unattractive for agriculture. His goal is to ensure that the individual biotopes –around 3000 should suffice in his opinion – are separated by no more than ten kilometers so that species can spread from one biotope to the next. “Renaturation measures can raise biodiversity back to the 1950 level in just a few decades,” Berthold is convinced. Since 2004, together with the Heinz Sielmann Foundation, he has already established a network of biotopes as a pilot project near Lake Constance. The success of the Lake Constance biotope network exceeded all expectations: Breeding populations of numerous endangered bird species recovered remarkably quickly, and even severely impaired areas developed back into species-rich habitats.

A biotope for every MPI

Immediately after the Literaturherbst talk, director emeritus Herbert Jäckle stated: ”At our institute we can do the same! We have space and could make excellent use of it. We will be the first institute of the Max Planck Society to set up a biotope. There is enormous potential on our species-poor lawns!" Freely adapted from Berthold: A biotope for every MPI!

On-site inspection of the institute premises with Peter Berthold (middle) in March 2019.

The idea falls on fertile ground that evening and later at the institute and is unanimously supported by the Board of Directors. It is also clear that Berthold's experience will be indispensable. He is happy to accept another invitation to Göttingen and comes to the institute in the late winter 2019.

Initially, the plan focuses on the approximately two hectares of fallow land at the north-eastern end of the institute's premises: This site should be well suited to improving the conditions for insects, birds, and other animals by targeted landscaping measures. Berthold immediately agrees and suggests a large pond, a meadow orchard, a compost heap, and a bird feeding area. He moreover sees great potential for an ecological upgrading of the other open areas of the institute – and with every new idea that Berthold is expressing, it is becoming clearer that the biotope project should not be limited to the fallow land but must extend over the entire institute site up to the entrance area.

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