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Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Knowledge areas: biology, natural history, geography, economics, archaeology and cultural history, sociology and political science, ethics, industrial ecology, architecture, urban design and planning.

There is escalating pressure on biodiversity and ecosystem services, defined as benefits that nature provides to us. Changes in land use are the most important driving force, both nationally and globally.

Other factors that intensify the pressure on the natural environment include climate change, overharvesting of biological resources and other driving forces, both individually and in interaction with land-use changes.

These direct driving forces are in turn influenced by underlying indirect forces related to changes in society, the economy and technology. Changes in the natural environment also change our access to a number of natural resources, and thus have an impact on our well-being.

NTNU will conduct research on anthropogenic effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We want to understand how political, economic and social change processes and conflicts of interest create changes in the natural environment, and what measures can stop the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Methods and technologies for monitoring, valuing and modelling biodiversity and ecosystem services will be key themes for research. This is especially important because many of the most important regions for biodiversity are in countries that have not charted their natural resources to a significant extent. 

Research questions:

  • How robust are the various components of biodiversity and ecosystem services to the changes in land use?

  • Is it possible to identify threshold values for populations and species' response to
    environmental changes?

  • How can biodiversity and ecosystem services be valued?

  • How can we further develop and standardize the existing methods and technologies for mapping and monitoring biodiversity and ecosystem services?

Previous and ongoing projects

Previous and ongoing projects

In 2010, Sæther received an Advanced Research Grant from the European Research Council for this project. The aim is to link differences between species in the population dynamics of specific life history traits or specific ecological conditions.

The analysis will be based on a long time series of fluctuations in population size and parallel changes in demographic parameters based on data collected by a large network of partners both in Norway and abroad.

The relationships that are expected to be uncovered will probably enable us to identify how key characteristics of populations such as minimum population size help to ensure viability or space required ensuring a stable presence in the area which can be estimated from the specific characteristics of the species.
Furthermore, one of the things this project will be able to relate is  the potential for evolutionary responses to environmental change to species' population dynamics so as to identify which species find it difficult to adapt to a new environment. 


NFR Miljø2015: 2012 – 2014. ManEco will:

  1. strengthen the scientific basis for understanding how grazing affects key ecosystem processes and cultural and social services

  2. establish a common framework for understanding how grazing affects biodiversity and ecosystem services, and

  3. identify rights holders' preferences within a holistic ecosystem service framework.  

The project is led by NTNU's Science Museum, https://www.ntnu.no/vitenskapsmuseet/maneco


This project seeks to clarify various alternative incentives to ensure forest-based emissions reduction, biodiversity conservation and livelihood improvement in the context of REDD plus projects in two districts in Tanzania. The project is implemented in cooperation with the Department of Economics, University of Dar Es Salaam and is funded through the Tanzania Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation Program (CCIAM), 2011 – 2015. 

This project is funded through NORKLIMA, a 2013 Project questioning whether today's natural and cultural heritage is able to handle the challenges of overriding environmental and climate issues. The key objectives of the project are rethinking how environmental values in public administration are constructed and what (new) concepts and practices might be necessary to create a sustainable environment.

This is a project under the EU's FP7/ Biodiversa program (2013 – 2015). The project focuses on European mountain areas where there has been prolonged agrarian influence and where there is documented biodiversity values associated with the culture-affected landscape. These mountain areas are facing challenges as a result of changes in climate and society.

The project will, based on studies of mountain areas in Norway, Austria and France, respectively, illustrate how and to what extent resource-use systems and landscapes in these areas are resistant to change, and what mechanisms may exist to cope with change. Work Package 4, in which researchers at the Department of Geography are involved, is looking specifically at how different governance structure influence the management of these mountain areas and how the qualities of this type of landscape can be seen in terms of thinking about ecological services.


Most developing countries are experiencing a sharp population growth. Africa's human population, for example, has quintupled since independence in the early 1960s. The largest population growth occurs near national parks and protected areas. The pressure on protected areas therefore increases sharply and the threat to biological resources is increasing.

Today, we see that animal populations decline and species go extinct due to increased human activities and resource utilization. Most of these types of natural resource utilization are illegal. People who live near these protected areas find that their livestock are killed by predators and that their crops are destroyed by animals such as elephants and many primates. Therefore, people create "boxed" negative attitudes toward protected areas as they feel they will not be taken into account in the development of such areas.  

A better understanding of these dynamics in terms of both biodiversity and the needs of the people who live there is therefore crucial for the future management of these protected areas. The main partners in this project have been the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, the University of Dodoma, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Chittagong, NINA and UMB. The project has received money from DN Embassy in Dar es Salaam, NUFU and NFR.


Improved extraction of wood in the boreal coniferous forest: implications for industries related to wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals. 

NFRC Natural Nutrition, 2012 – 2014. 

The Norwegian bioenergy production will double by the year 2020, and the wood in the boreal coniferous forests comprise a large potential in this area.

This Forest Grazing project looks at how increased harvesting affects the forest as pasture for wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals, how cloven-footed animals affect forests and the consequences this has for the industries involved. The project is led by the Norwegian Institute with NTNU (CBD) as the main partner. The project also includes researchers from UMB, NINA, Norwegian Institute for Forest and Landscape, the University of Montreal, Canada, and the James Hutton Institute in Scotland. (www.skogsbeite.no).


Biodiversity Information, 20XX – 20XX. 

Most alien species pose no threat to the ecosystem being invaded, but some species are very harmful to native flora and fauna.  

The project developed a set of quantitative criteria to assess the risk that alien species pose. The set of criteria has two axes: one quantifies the risk of spread and establishment in new areas and the other axis measures the ecological impact on native flora and fauna at species and at landscape level. This set of criteria was used by Artsdatabanken to consider 2300 alien species in Norway and the basis for the so-called "Black List" of species in Norway.

NFR NORKLIMA 2013 – 2015.

This interdisciplinary project will investigate the mechanisms that underlie how climate affects populations of reindeer in Svalbard and the relative importance of changes in summer versus winter climate for the dynamics of these populations.

The project will predict future changes in population dynamics by combining data on climate, snow and ice conditions, vegetation, and reindeer with a theoretical framework for population modeling. The results of the analyses will constitute an important tool for the development of sustainable management strategies by increasing our understanding of the processes behind climate change on artic herbivores.


NFR FROPRO, 2012 – 2014, post-doc. at the CBD.

This project will seek to understand how, at the molecular and genetic level, species adapt to environmental changes through evolutionary processes.

An important component of this project is to explain the genetic basis of plasticity in life history traits (e.g. litter size). The project will use new gene analysis equipment to detect "adaption genes" in important characteristics such as breeding time and clutch size. This knowledge will be central to understanding when and how quickly species can adapt to climate change.


NFR FRIPRO 2013 – 2015, CBD.  

The project will focus on the genetic basis for the evolution of complex traits in species and help to improve our understanding of evolutionary processes. The project will use new and interdisciplinary research methods in molecular biology and statistical models. Results will increase understanding of survival of populations and species in a changing environment.



Head of research area

Gunnar Austrheim



Teknisk støtteenhet for Naturpanelet åpnet i Trondheim

Ordfører Rita Ottervik i Trondheim, direktør Ellen Hambro for Miljødirektoratet, generalsekretær Anne Larigauderie i Naturpanelet, statssekretær Lars Andreas Lunde i Klima- og miljødepartementet og prosjektleder Bjarte Heide for støtteenheten i Miljødirektoratet.

(26 Feb 2015) I Miljødirektoratet er Naturpanelets tekniske støtteenhet (TSU) på kapasitetsbygging etablert. Naturpanelet har til nå opprettet fire regionale støtteenheter rundt om i verden. Sentrale oppgaver til enheten i Trondheim er å sørge for utveksling og opplæring av eksperter, hjelpe til med å finne finansiell og teknisk støtte til nasjonale økosystemutredninger og identifisering av urfolkskunnskap. 

Eksperter fra hele verden skal sikre biomangfoldet 

(16 Oct 14) Gjennom Naturpanelet (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES) startes nå en ny prosess der eksperter fra hele verden skal gjennomføre en oppdatert vurdering av kunnskap om hvordan mennesker endrer og ødelegger natur, og hvilke konsekvenser dette har for vår velferd.