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SP05 - Plant related Ecosystem Services & Functions


Dr. Manfred Finckh
University of Hamburg
Biocentre Klein Flottbek and Botanical Garden
Ohnhorststr. 18
22609 Hamburg

Phone: +49 40 42816 549
Fax: +49 40 42816 539



The woodland savannas of southern Africa have been identified as one of the top ten global tipping point regions regarding change of biodiversity and cascading effects on climate, biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of other regions. The Okavango basin is still covered to a large extent by woodland savannas. These woodlands provide, regulate and support ecosystem that are services essential for the livelihoods of a very fast growing human population. In future the basin will be exposed to drastic transformations of natural ecosystems and changes of climatic conditions, compromising the functioning of the ecosystem.

The botanical subproject (SP05) focuses on the vegetation which is central in many regards:

  1. It presently maintains numerous essential ecosystem functions and services, which need to be assessed and valuated
  2. it is the main subject of transformation and degradation caused by human overexploitation
  3. it provides important means for restoration and sustainable management


The botanical subproject aims at integrating ecosystem functions and services into an ecological and economic approach towards sustainable land management at a regional scale. This involves the following steps:

  1. qualitative and quantitative assessment and valuation of the plant based ecosystem functions and services, including a study of the dynamics and the identification of resilience thresholds for the systems involved.
  2. analysis of the interdependences between vegetation and drivers of change
  3. analysis of current trends with regard to possible scenarios and their cumulative consequences
  4. the study of the opportunities for sustainable development that are provided by the composition and patterns of different land use options with their respective trade-offs and synergies

To understand the dynamics and interactions between different land use options will be critical in order to provide useful information for future adaptation and restoration measures.

Overarching key questions of the subproject:

  • How can the values of plant-based ecosystem services be quantified? How are they related to climate zones, soil types, environmental parameters and land use types?
  • How do plant-based ecosystem services respond to disturbance and degradation in terms of time and intensity, lag phases, resilience, tipping points and cascading effects?
  • What is the potential to strengthen ecosystem services by applying restoration measures within degraded systems?
  • How can an optimum of plant-based ecosystem services be conserved considering different scenarios of future development?

The team

The team comprises scientists and students from nine research institutions in Angola, Botswana, Brazil, Germany, and Namibia. The team has expertise in vegetation geography, plant ecology and ecophysiology, biodiversity assessments and monitoring, forestry, and rangeland sciences.

Photo gallery

Woodlands in the upper Cubango Catchment, Angola.
© M.Finckh, 2010
Forest-grassland mosaics in the upper Cubango Catchment, Angola.
© M.Finckh, 2010
Charcoal trading north of Menongue, Angola.
© M.Finckh, 2010
Slash and burn agriculture, Caprivi, Namibia.
© M.Finckh, 2010
Cattle grazing on the Okavango floodplain, eastern panhandle, Botswana.
© M.Finckh, 2010
Wetland vegetation in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
© M.Finckh, 2010