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About ConFoBi

(Conservation of Forest Biodiversity in Multiple-Use Landscapes of Central Europe) is a Research Training Group (RTG) based at the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg and funded by the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG). ConFoBi has two overall aims: 

  1. to qualify young researchers through a structured doctoral programme for leadership positions within and outside of academia; the qualification program offers numerous courses and an international network of colleagues and partners, and aims at early academic independence and inter- and transdisciplinary competence.
  2. to implement and conduct an excellent research programme. The novelty of ConFoBi's interdisciplinary approach is the combination of multi-scale, ecological studies of forest biodiversity combined with social and economic studies of biodiversity conservation. This integrated approach is designed to establish a lively exchange of knowledge and expertise between scientific disciplines as well as forestry and conservation practitioners.


Research concept

ConFoBi focuses on the effectiveness of structural retention measures, namely habitat trees and dead wood, by using the Black Forest as a system model for multi-use forests in Central Europe. It identifies opportunities for cooperation between forestry and conservation sectors to effectively integrate conservation into forest management.

The research programme comprises four modules A-D, each consiting of several projects:

Module A – multi-scale assessment of structures provides tools for multi-scale assessment of structures ranging from micro-habitats to individual trees and to landscapes and assesses the dynamics of retention elements.
Module B – structures and forest biodiversity studies a wide range of taxa (understory vegetation, epiphytes, fungi, invertebrates, mammals, birds) and relates biodiversity-relevant metrics such as species occurrence, abundance and diversity to plot-scale forest structure, i.e. amount, quality, heterogeneity and spatial distribution of structural elements within the forest, and to the landscape context, i.e. amount, quality, heterogeneity and spatial distribution of forests in the surrounding landscape.
Module C – human dimensions of forest biodiversity assesses costs and benefits to model and optimize the economic efficiency of retention measures, and uses a subset of the ConFoBi plots  selected along social gradients (e.g. ownership, protection status) to assess how forest practitioners in different settings perceive and practice biodiversity conservation.
Module D – integration and translation uses a translational approach to focus on the interface between science and practice to assess how knowledge is generated and translated into practice, and to provide integration and communication between ConFoBi researchers and forest and conservation managers and policy-makers.

The major objectives of the research programme of the ConFoBi RTG are:

  • to study the effects of forest structures such as deadwood and habitat trees, and landscape context on multiple taxa including various trophic levels and functional groups (modules A and B);
  • to analyse how forest biodiversity conservation is perceived and practiced, and what costs and benefits it creates (module C), and
  • to identify how biodiversity conservation can be effectively and efficiently integrated in multi-functional forest management in a translational approach focusing on how knowledge is generated and transferred, and by developing evidence-based guidelines for practitioners (module D).


Study area

The study design of ConFoBi is based on a common pool of 135 study plots (1 ha) distributed along two environmental gradients:

1) landscape-scale forest connectivity (measured by the amount of forest in 25 km² surrounding plot centres), and

2) retention-related forest structure at the plot-scale.

We used data on the abundance of standing dead wood, as obtained from area-wide colour infrared (CIR) aerial imagery, to depict a gradient in forest structure; various other indicators of structural richness were later collected in the field. For logistic and authorization reasons, all plots are in state forests and outside of areas protected for threatened species.Plots were pre-selected on the basis of criteria to reduce variation in confounding factors, such as topography (<35° slope, >500 m a.s.l.), stand age (>60 years), and absence of water bodies and major human infrastructure. Candidate plots were cross-checked with foresters for the possibility to largely exclude forestry operations for the duration of ConFoBi. Of the final 135 plots, 115 are located in multi-functional forests managed by the State Forest Service; 20 plots (richest in deadwood) are in strict reserves without harvesting of timber.

Plots were surveyed for numerous variables of 1) stand characteristics such as topography and climate, 2) forest structure and vegetation, and 3) landscape structure at multiple spatial scales; for a summary of the measures taken see Storch et al. 2020.

See map in full screen on OpenStreetMap.


Qualification programme

ConFoBi offers interdisciplinary training, supervision, and coaching from experienced researchers to:

    • Advance doctoral researchers’ professional independence,
    • Develop inter- and trans-disciplinary competence,
    • Qualify students for leadership roles in and outside academia, and
    • Provide an international network of peers and partners.

At ConFoBi, we strive to achieve a balance between providing events and courses for the whole team as well as individual support. Past examples include two-day courses on good scientific practice and interdisciplinarity, in addition to regularly-booked courses offered by the International Graduate Academy of the University of Freiburg (IGA).