Regional mismatches between above- and below-ground biodiversity

idw – Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Nachrichten, Termine, Experten

Grafik: idw-Logo

Share on: 
03/14/2019 15:39

Regional mismatches between above- and below-ground biodiversity

Susann Huster Stabsstelle Universitätskommunikation/Medienredaktion
Universität Leipzig

    After conducting comprehensive studies, an international team of researchers led by Leipzig University and the iDiv research centre has gained important new insights into biodiversity above and below the earth’s surface: they discovered that, on about 30 per cent of our planet’s terrestrial surface, there is great diversity of flora and fauna in the soil compared to considerably fewer species above the ground, or vice versa, biodiversity is much greater above than below ground. These differences in biodiversity were not detectable in the remaining 70 per cent of the earth’s terrestrial surface.

    Here there were hot and cold spots that displayed either high or low overall levels of biodiversity. The researchers have published the results of their study in the journal Conservation Biology.

    “We were surprised that such large parts of the earth are affected by this contrasting biodiversity,” remarks Professor Nico Eisenhauer of Leipzig University, who is also a researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. He explains that examples of these areas include boreal and tundra regions in Canada and Siberia, where there is little above-ground biodiversity but soils tend to be rich in species. Conversely, soils in places like temperate forests often contain fewer species, while there is a lot of plant and animal life above ground.

    The research team evaluated data from numerous existing scientific studies on plant, animal and microbial life in soils and above the ground in a wide variety of regions of the world. “Each data set was unique,” explains Eisenhauer. The aim of the research was to obtain a uniform picture of global biodiversity above but also below the earth’s surface; the latter having been largely neglected by researchers in the past. The team believes that one potential use of this global knowledge is to estimate much more precisely which areas of the earth should be declared nature reserves in order to protect biodiversity. In addition, it is argued that areas with permafrost and other types of soil in northern regions such as Siberia, which are very species-rich below but not above ground, will be particularly badly affected by climate change. “If frozen soils suddenly thaw, this triggers dramatic changes. These soils store a lot of carbon, which is released during thawing,” explains Eisenhauer.

    The project involved researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, the University of Bremen and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) Leipzig as well as experts from Finland, France, Sweden and several other countries.

    Original title of the publication in Conservation Biology:
    “Global mismatches in aboveground and belowground biodiversity.”; DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13311

    Contact for scientific information:

    Professor Nico Eisenhauer
    Chair of Experimental Interaction Ecology at Leipzig University
    German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
    Phone: +49 341 97-33167

    Original publication:

    Criteria of this press release:
    Journalists, Scientists and scholars, all interested persons
    Biology, Environment / ecology, Geosciences, Oceanology / climate
    transregional, national
    Research results, Scientific Publications

    The global distribution of the overlap of biodiversity above the ground (mammals, birds, amphibians and plants) and below (soil invertebrates, fungi and bacteria).

    For download



    Search / advanced search of the idw archives
    Combination of search terms

    You can combine search terms with and, or and/or not, e.g. Philo not logy.


    You can use brackets to separate combinations from each other, e.g. (Philo not logy) or (Psycho and logy).


    Coherent groups of words will be located as complete phrases if you put them into quotation marks, e.g. “Federal Republic of Germany”.

    Selection criteria

    You can also use the advanced search without entering search terms. It will then follow the criteria you have selected (e.g. country or subject area).

    If you have not selected any criteria in a given category, the entire category will be searched (e.g. all subject areas or all countries).

    Cookies optimize the use of our services. By surfing on you agree to the use of cookies. Data Confidentiality Statement