Biological-ecological basic research J 3.1 373 J 3.1.2 Population biology and population genetics Alongside research in the area of taxonomy and systematics, a second focus should be placed on population biology. Processes that lead to the evolution, genesis, maintenance and endangering of species begin in individuals or populations (cf core programme element 2 of Diversitas, 1998). Therefore, deeper knowledge of population biology and genetics is a basic prerequisite for understanding the spatial and temporal dynamics of ecosystems andtheir species composition.The different populations of one species can also demonstrate specific local adaptations to certain environmental conditions which can be of great economic importance for the development of resistances in crops.The Council sees an urgent need for research in the following areas: • The genetic variability within and between populations of endangered species – but also of wild related species of crops – merits more study. Thus, the potential consequences of genetic erosion for the survival of species with small populations can be made clearer.The impact of demographic, environment-related and genetic chance occurrences, as well as natural disasters on the population dynamic is highly relevant in this context. • The sources-sinks dynamic and genetic transfer within and between populations should be studied more closely with the approach of meta population biology in the context of long-term projects. That way a basis for the management of endangered species would be established in the light of increasing habitat fragmentation. In this context, the MVP concept (Minimum Viable Population) should be carried forward and tested on various experimental model systems. J 3.1.3 Functional ecology The third focus of biological basic research the Council recommends is support for functionally oriented ecology and ecosystem research (cf core programme element 1 of Diversitas). It is the precondition amongst other things for responding to the following core question: ‘Are there ecosystem thresholds of diversity, above or below which abrupt changes in the structure and functioning of ecosystems result and in particular: are there minimum limits below which the system collapses?’ Our understanding ofthe diverse interactions and connections within ecosystems is extremely rudimentary, but is the precondition for both evaluating human interventions in the biosphere and for the development of sustainable use systems. For the implementation of many ofthe research recommendations enumerated here, the fundamentals of taxonomy and population biology are in turn required; interdisciplinary approaches are therefore what will lead to success. • The biodiversity of an ecosystem is strongly determined by site factors. A tighter approach to the effects ofthe various site factors should be recorded and combined to form an overall complex. • The reciprocal relations between diversity, structure and function of ecosystems call for intensive research initiatives. Grassland, climatic chamber and laboratory experiments are not sufficient for that purpose. Experiments relating to the connection between biodiversity and ecosystem processes must also urgently be conducted in other terrestrial, limnic and marine ecosystems and on several levels (not just at species level). In parallel, findings from experiments with model ecosystems in the field should also be verified. In this context the connections between biological diversity and soil processes, herbivore activity and pollination are of particular importance. • Ecosystems seem in many cases to demonstrate a higher diversity than is necessary for their functioning under stable environmental conditions. If this assumption is correct, then even extensive interventions by mankind might prove insignificant – however only if stable environmental conditions can be guaranteed. This hypothesis is in urgent need of clarification. The impact of extreme climatic events (in simulated scenarios of global climate change) and other anthropogenic disturbances on the relationship between species diversity and ecosystem processes andthe stability or resilience of ecosystems (Box D 2.4-2) must therefore also be studied. In this way the ability to indicate early on the potential consequences of human interventions in the biosphere could be enhanced and corresponding countermeasures could be developed and taken. • In this connection not just the question ofthe influence of species diversity per se, but also the influence ofthe respective species composition on ecosystem processes need to be pursued. How are two systems that have the same number of species but a different composition of species types (eg beech forest versus spruce forest) functionally different? • The possibilities of identifying what are termed keystone species (Section D 2.4) in ecosystems and using them as indicators for the structure and
374 J Research strategy for the biosphere function of systems must be opened up by means oftheoretical and empirical studies. Closely linked to that is the decoding of characteristics that empower a species to dominate (eg mass development of damaging organisms, invasive species; Section E 3.6). This knowledge is essential amongst other things for the further development of sustainable land use strategies and for nature conservation. • Great efforts are required to research consumers and decomposers that have hitherto been neglected by taxonomy and ecological research, for their diversity andtheir impact on ecosystem processes. The functional links between microbial diversity andthe higher plants or animals (eg mycorrhiza, pathogens, parasites) should be a focus of that effort. Furthermore, the influence of climate change, land use change and biogeochemical deposition on the composition and stability of microbial communities should be investigated. • Clarifying biotic regulation of conversion processes in soils is the basis for a site-appropriate, sustainable and environmentally friendly soil management. In order to avoid lasting and irreversible damage, therefore, it is necessary systematically to record the resilience of organism communities in the soils and integrate these into comprehensive evaluatory concepts. Drawing on the Council’s soil report (WBGU, 1995a) an expanded Critical Load Concept is proposed. This would require basic research dedicated to the interlinkage of biodiversity in soils and ecosystem functions, clarifying transition scales and developing methodological approaches to the measurement ofthe functional diversity ofthe various taxa. Existing indicator systems (eg World Bank or OECD) should be extended and supplemented to be able to produce quantitative descriptions ofthe biotic status of soils. Without that sort of system, human interventions cannot ultimately be evaluated. Approaches adopted so far are inadequate for deployment at system level. J 3.2 Socio-economic basic research J 3.2.1 Ethics Cross-cultural research Cross-cultural research can provide important contributions to the identification and understanding of different forms of behavioural ethics vis-à-vis nature (Sections E 3.1 and E 3.5). The following issues are worthy of particular consideration: • Cultural and religious norms relating to the valorization ofthe biosphere. • Relationship of normative behavioural orientation and actual behaviour. • Identification of universal or quasi-universal principles relating to the use of natural resources. • Identification of reconstructable normative rationales in different cultures. • Analysis of cultural pluralism and multiculturalism in relation to the perceived validity of norms in relation to biosphere use. Identification of consensual values In order to establish a better foundation on which to evaluate political measures for protecting the biosphere, particular importance should be attached to identifying values about which there is a consensus (Chapter H). The following are the priority topics in this respect: • Systematic collection and analytical evaluation of value systems in society, both those actually lived andthe normatively posited, (for instance, using a value tree analysis). • Evaluation of existing discussion and negotiation procedures under the aspect of validity and ability to convince on ethical grounds. • Elaboration of pilot studies to test new forms of ethical discussion. Conducting negotiations on biosphere conservation Particularly in the area of biosphere conservation, national and international negotiations can benefit from an analysis of procedural demands on an ethical and scientifically satisfactory form of conducting negotiations (Section I 2.3). Social sciences research should above all make efforts on the following points: • Analysis of political negotiating protocols under the aspect ofthe relevance of ethical arguments andtheir impact on participants in the negotiations. • Evaluation of case studies of successful and less successful discussions and negotiations in which ethical arguments had a role to play. • Implementation of support studies on ongoing negotiations by observers trained in the social sciences. • Planning of pilot studies on the constructive steering of ethically discursive negotiating processes oriented to the requirements of procedurally satisfactory negotiations.