Global Change and Globalization
Project 2: The laurel forest
Project 3: Carbonates as indicators
Project 4: Tourists and bananas
Project 5: Modeling ecological impacts
Research group III:
Element Cycles and Socioeconomic Dynamics – Understanding Global Processes on a Local Scale (Canary Islands).
Natural element cycles and processes determine the natural volume and
speed of elements moving through the biotic and abiotic spheres of the planet. Socio-economic
dynamics determine the time, location, and intensity of human activities that provide additional
mobilisation of the movements of these elements. Jointly, natural and socio-economic processes
rearrange the patterns of what elements occur when and where in what amount. The starting point
of the joint research group is the observation that the interacting dynamics of element cycles and socioeconomic
processes are embedded in and increasingly impacted on by two large secular trends of our age,
climate change and globalization.
While trends of climate change are well-documented and sophisticated models are available for future prospects on a global scale, downscaling the global phenomena of climate change and globalization to regional or even local scales has proven to be neither trivial nor accurate. Downscaling is indispensable, however, for assessing and calibrating any global model.
Interdisciplinary research approach.
Political and economic developments that made the islands undergo a severe transformation to monoagricultural land use (e.g. banana plantations) and tourism are being both challenged and amplified
by changes in world trade rules, shifts in relative prices, and new patterns of income distribution
brought about by globalization. This is environmentally important as mass tourism and extensive
agriculture result in various important and interwoven problems: energy and water supply, waste
management, pollution of water, air and soil, health risks for residents and tourists, stress on living
habitats, etc. All these issues are interrelated. Furthermore, the Canary Islands are a hotspot of
climate change with possible reorientation of atmospheric circulation and with sea level rise. The
enormous transfer of dust from the Sahara to the Canary Islands, carrying important nutrients and
pollutants may be significantly changed if the trade winds would be shifted to some degree due to
climate change. This is also true for the hydrological system, since various islands totally depend
on trade wind mediated/transported humidity.
The complex character of environmental issues is nowadays recognized as a multidisciplinary research challenge with interdependent variables. All fields are impacted by overriding scenarios such as climate change and globalization. Only by applying a holistic experimental and modelling approach involving a comprehensive set of disciplines within environmental sciences the results can be scaled up from a local scenario to a regional, trans-regional or global scale. A network of various natural and anthropogenic processes in an island environment is going to be unraveled to predict consequences if single variables (e.g. acidification, land use, agriculture, tourism etc.) are changing.
27th to 30th Sep. 2009: Project meeting and first joint field survey of the research group on Tenerife, Spain. The experts on geology, geography and botanic discussed the different research projects within the group intensively, planned further fieldwork for spring 2010 and got first impressions of the study area via various field trips all over the island. Moreover, they established future research cooperation with the University of La Laguna and the ICIA (Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias).
The participants of the first field survey of the research group "Element cycles and socioeconomic dynamics" at the peak of the Teide / Tenerife Island: (1) Prof. Dr. Heinfried Schöler, (2) Prof. Dr. Alexander Siegmund, (3) PD Dr. Ulrich Glasmacher, (4) Dr. Mike Thiv, (5) Prof. Dr. Marcus Koch, (6) PD Dr. Mario Trieloff, (7) Dipl.-Geogr. Sebastian Günthert and (8) Dipl.-Geol. Markus Heidak.
Cycles of elements, nutrients and pollutants, and formation age of soil and sediments on the Canary Islands.
The research project will quantify the past, recent, and future element distribution in soils and sediments on the Canary Islands.
Hereby, the influence of climate change and the impact of globalization revealed by the variation in
time dependent environmental changes caused by humans on the island will be a major object.
Special emphasis will be given to the quantification of the transport processes of selected inorganic
and organic elements and gas species from volcanic rock through the soil and sediments into
plants such as Laurisilva. Important for the understanding of the influence of long-term climate
change is the determination of the soil and sediment minerals and the formation age of the newly
formed minerals. Knowing the minerals and their formation age, it is possible to predict the climate dependent evolution of soil and sediments, and therefore, the evolution of inorganic elements and gas specious. As an important component for
understanding the time dependent change of element and gas specious, plants and their ability of
mineral formation, element storage or leaching have to be considered in the full description of
climate dependent element and gas specious cycle.
Furthermore, understanding the geogenic in-situ element cycle allows determining and quantifying the anthropogenic and winding transported geogenic elements. In addition, elements in fertilizer will be considered that are induced into the Canary Island environment ot increase the productivity. The element cycle of these elements is partly depended on the interaction of the humans from the Canary Islands in relation to Globalization processes. We will select climate and plant sensitive main and trace elements and gas species to balance the element transport including elements introduced by fertilizer. The formation age of the newly formed minerals will be determined by different geochronological dating techniques such as 40Ar/39Ar, K-40Ar and (U-Th)/He. Cosmogenic nuclides will also allow determining erosion and erosion rates in the past. XRD and microscopic techniques will be used to determine the various minerals that bear the elements under investigation. Hereby, the minerals that form the volcanic rocks, the minerals of the soil and sediment profiles will be characterized.
17.th March to 14th April 2010: Tenerife fieldwork report by Markus Heidak
The laurel forest: An example of relict biodiversity hotspots threatened by human impact and global change.
Laurisilva or laurissilva is an endemic type of humid subtropical laurel forest
found on several of the Macaronesian islands of the North Atlantic, including the Madeira Islands,
the Azores and the Canary Islands. This vegetation is thought to represent a relic of widespread
Pliocene subtropical forests.
The forests are made up of laurel-leaved evergreen hardwood trees, reaching up to 40 meters in
height. Many of the species are endemic to the islands and highly endangered. Consequently, they
harbor a rich biota of understory plants, invertebrates, birds or insects.
Laurisilva formerly covered much of the Azores and Madeira and parts of the western Canary
Islands, but the forests have been much reduced in extent by logging, clearance for agriculture and
grazing, and the invasion of exotic species.
On the Canary Islands, roughly 60 km2 of laurisilva remain on Tenerife (nearly 7% of the territory),
smallest areas on La Palma, over 20 km2 in Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, and relic
areas in Gran Canaria.
The laurisilva forests of Macaronesia are relicts of a vegetation type which originally covered much
of the Mediterranean Basin when the climate of the region was more humid. With the drying of the
Mediterranean Basin during the Pliocene, the laurel forests gradually retreated, replaced by more
drought-tolerant sclerophyll plant communities. Most of the last remaining laurisilva forests around
the Mediterranean are believed to have disappeared approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of
the Pleistocene, when the Mediterranean basin became drier and with an harsher climate,
although some remnants of the laurel forest flora still persist in the mountains of southern Spain,
north-center of Portugal and northern Morocco, and two constituent species (Laurus nobilis and
Ilex aquifolium) remain widespread. The location of the Macaronesian Islands in the North Atlantic
Ocean moderated these climatic fluctuations, and maintained the relatively humid and mild climate
which has allowed these forests to persist to the present day.
The "ecological niche" of this vegetation type will be characterized by modeling approaches using temperature and precipitation and eventually trade wind influence as parameters focusing on Tenerife. This approach will require not only detailed knowledge on present-day distribution of the laurel forests but also its distribution prior massive man-made degradation during the last 50 years. Detailed maps on the maximum possible extension of this vegetation type under present-day conditions will result of the work. Further, biodiversity data should be collected from the literature to compare the different relict forest and characterize them independently. These data will be complemented by genetic data of species strictly associated with this vegetation type (target species, keystone species). Initially, Aeonium cuneatum will be selected, but if possible the study will also consider woody plants such as Laurus azorica. The genetic data will be used to calculate "past fragmentation", "actual gene flow" and/or "genetic isolation". In a last step a model of the changing distribution of the laurel forest under different temperature and precipitation scenarios reflecting global warming and/or direct human impact will be developed. Based on these data a predict of the magnitude of genetic erosion and loss of alpha-diversity should become possible.
4th to 25th January 2010: Fieldwork in Tenerife (participants: Dr. Mike Thiv, Anja Landau) to collect silica leave samples for genetic analysis of the two model species Laurus novocanariensis and Ixanthus viscosus. During the three weeks of field work, an exhaustive sampling of both species has been made for the most important parts of the island (Anaga, Teno and the area in between as well as the southern populations near Guimar). Connections with our cooperation partners Arnoldo Santos de Guerra and Alfredo Reyes-Betancourt (both ICIA – Instituto Canario de Investigaciones Agrarias) were established during meetings and several field trips.
Carbonates as indicators for ocean acidification events.
One of the most serious problems related to anthropogenic CO2 release is the decrease of
seawater pH due to hydrolysis of atmospheric carbon dioxide (Ocean Acidification: OA), which
leads to a significant decrease of marine calcification rates. In times of rapidly growing coastal
urbanizations which already are threatened by rising sea level, the deconstruction of natural storm
barriers caused by decreasing accumulation potential of reefs and carbonate shelves is additional
perceivable risk, specifically for islands and archipelagos. Moreover, OA also impacts marine food
webs and alters the biodiversity and productivity of the oceans. OA probably increase coastal
water pollution through reactivation of buried nutrients and a decreasing ability to compound
pollutants. Research on this pressing scientific issue has to be multidisciplinary and includes
research on OA events of the geological past.
Their study provides important data about the response of diverse ecosystems to OA events, such as
the ability of populations to undergo physiological and genetic (phylogenetic) adaptions.
Unfortunately, the impact of past OAs is at present only poorly understood due to the lack
of reliable proxies on pH fluctuations in fossil shallow marine benthic ecosystems.
Within the research project such a proxy will be developed by using the calcite/aragonite (C/A) ratios of benthic calcifiers. A new grinding tomography technique, recently established in Heidelberg, may allow for a precise measurement of these C/A ratios. Before applying this promising and potentially powerful new proxy in specific scientific projects, however, its natural variability and taxonomic bias needs to be tested.
12th to 17th Sep. 2009: Fieldwork and international project meeting in Maestrazgo, Spain: PD Dr Stefan Götz (1) and PhD student Enric Pascual-Cebrian (3) (Uni Heidelberg), diploma student Dominik Hennhöfer (5) (KIT), Prof. Ramon Salas (2) (Universitat Barcelona), Dr. Telm Bover Arnal (6) (Universität Bayreuth), Prof. Eulalia Gili (8), Prof. Antonio Obrador (7) and Diploma Student Manel (4) (Universitat Autonoma Barcelona) discussed sampling strategies in the field and arranged future research cooperation. Beside the already running Ex Ini II and the related DAAD "acciones integradas" projects, additional funding shall increase the research group. A proposal for a two year postdoc grant "Beatriu de Pinos" from the Catalanian government has been submitted. Figure was taken in Mid-Cretaceous carbonate platform sediments of the Aliaga anticline in the central Maestrazgo, Spain.
Fieldtrip from 12th to 17th Sep. 2009
6th to 12th Sep. 2009: Presentation at the 8th International Symposium on the Cretaceous System.The ISC, the most important international congress on the Cretaceous system, is held every four years, uniting more than 500 scientists from over 30 countries. S. Götz presented a lecture titled "Calcite/Aragonite ratios in rudist bivalves – a future proxy for Cretaceous ocean acidification events?". The lecture attracted much attention and additional international cooperation could be arranged.
The link between environmental degradation and trade is one of the most debated aspects in
international environmental policy. Due to their small size, less diversified economic activities, and
transparent trade linkages, islands offer advantageous conditions for studying this relationship in
detail. In the recent literature, island research has served both as a model of the deleterious
impacts of autarchy on long-run sustainability and as a model of the damaging impact of trade on
the natural environment. This inconclusiveness at the island level is unsatisfactory, but a result of
the paucity of case studies and of data limitations within the existing case studies. Together, these
circumstances prevent an exhaustive test of existing theoretical predictions and more robust
prediction at higher scales.
The proposed research will add to the existing research by examining the case of the Canary
Islands. The Canary Islands offer a set of particularly interesting characteristics that lend
themselves to closer examination: Much of the environmental pressure on the islands stems from
two key industries, tourism and banana cultivation, that are also significant sources of income.
Both of these industries represent hallmarks of specific globalization dynamics. Tourism is a
service sector whose primary effect is a spatial shift of purchasing power. This spatial shift
depends on low transportation costs and local infrastructure that can absorb additional demand.
Banana cultivation on the Canary Islands is – on the other hand – a product of erstwhile trade
restrictions in agricultural commodities that are increasingly under pressure on account of the
global dismantling of tariffs and non-tariff trade restrictions under the WTO agreements. These
industries compete for a number of natural resources such as water quality and quantity, but also
form synergies in the area of landscape features that add to the attraction of the islands as a
This research will examine the subtle interplay of the agricultural and tourism sector in accomplishing sustainable growth paths for an island economy such as the Canaries. Building on the availability of high quality data on economic variables (GDP, import-export patterns, commercial coverage rate), economic policy measures (CAP changes replacing output subsidies with income subsidies) and environmental impacts (pesticide and fertilizer run-off; salinization), this research will build a stylized model of an island economy along the lines of Brander and Taylor (1998) and calibrate this model using empirical data. By doing so, the research will complement the existing literature on trade and the environment by validating theoretical hypotheses against high-quality data from an EU region and by developing and testing alternative causal mechanisms.
Modeling and valuation of ecological impacts of land cover and land use changes on the Canary Islands.
On account of its physical geographical characteristics, the island Tenerife is a popular destination
for tourists, especially from European countries. Being in its infancy in the 1960s, the mass tourism
increased from 1978 to 2008 almost tripled to about 5,3 million tourists a year. This development
involved a social and economic change from an agrarian to a service based society. In fact in 2008
more than 78% of the people employed on Tenerife worked in the tourism sector, whereas in 1978
it was only 56%.
These changes in the socioeconomic system lead not only to an increasing expansion of
infrastructure based on land cover and land use changes (LCLU) but also to a spatial
concentration of settlements. Because of the natural landscape assumption especially the coasts
in the south of the island are predominant for mass tourism. The expansion of settlements (land
consumption) and the increasing offer of work in these regions cause migration of the population
from rural regions in middle and higher altitudes to the nearness of the tourist centres and the
fallow of agricultural areas.
The spatial dynamic of the new built-up infrastructure compromises the sensitive ecosystems of
the island by minimizing, fragmentation and destruction. Especially the coastal vegetation and
shrubbery vegetation (Tabaibal, Cardonal) are affected by the dynamics of increasing urbanisation
On the basis of medium spatial scaled remotely sensed data the existing time series of land cover and land use change will be updated. Therefore an object-based classification of a current high spatial scaled satellite data scene has to be done followed by a change-detection analysis (postclassification). Taking into account the different driving forces for these changes a model will be set up to analyse and valuate the dynamics of impacts on different sensitive ecological areas, like for instance coastal vegetation and laurisilva. The intensive collaboration with the projects "Tourists and bananas trade-offs and synergies for island environmental management in a globalized world" and "The Laurel Forest: An example of relict biodiversity hotspots threatened by human impact and global change" is intended.