Meet an Ecology PhD-student: Marina Kohler

Marina Kohler concentrates on future ecosystem service provision of grassland

Marina KohlerMarina Kohler is PhD-candidate and a member of the group Ecosystem and Landscape Ecology headed by Ulrike Tappeiner, which focuses on the analysis of ecosystem functions and services across spatial and temporal scales by integrating several ecological disciplines ( Within this framework, Marina concentrates on the resilience of ecosystem service provision of grassland in future. Her work includes ecological approaches on plot scale up to an interdisciplinary framework at landscape scale.

The evolvement of various mountain grassland types is the result of natural heterogeneity, biophysical constraints and long-term agricultural use. Different grassland ecosystems show specific plant community compositions and thus provide different amounts of ecosystem services (e.g. carbon storage, forage quality, aesthetic value). However, current land use is vulnerable to climate and land use change, which in turn might influence ecosystem service provision. So far, indicators to determine the resilience of ecosystem services to disturbances are missing, as well as detailed evaluations of ecosystem service provision in future.

For a resilient socio-ecosystem, ecosystem service provision is expected to remain within a stable range when facing disturbances. Based on this hypothesis, indicators were developed that target this stable range (i.e. range of resilience) of each ecosystem service separately. It is assumed that a grassland type provides a certain (“normal”) range of ecosystem service provision under current conditions. However, due to disturbances (e.g. drought) the ecosystem service can operate outside its normal range and ecosystem service provision is altered. As long as the service can return to its normal operating range, the service is considered as resilient. The conceptual approach was applied to grassland in the French Alps.

Besides the ecological mechanisms on ecosystem scale, land use is influenced by several (e.g. social, economic, political) external drivers. In cooperation with the Department of Sociology (University of Innsbruck), key drivers that influence farmer’s decisions to manage their grassland sites were identified for the study area “Stubai Valley”. Three scenarios were developed: a positive interpretation of key drivers with regard to farming conditions, a negative interpretation, as well as a continuation of the current trend. Farmers mapped induced land use changes. For each scenario future ecosystem service provision as well as the resilience of ecosystem services was evaluated.

Results can help to elaborate practical solutions and recommendations for community development or policy design to guide land use and consequently ecosystem service provision in future. The work was funded by BiodivERsA project REGARDS, with support from the FWF Austrian Science Fund, and by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy with the HRSM – cooperation project KLIMAGRO.

Marina Kohler

Ecosystem and Landscape Ecology Research Group

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