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Ph. D. Students

Martin Denter

A1: Remote sensing based methods for the assessment of forest structures

Martin studied at Freiburg University where he received his B.Sc. in Environmental Natural Sciences and Environmental Hydrology. After graduation, he stayed at the University of Freiburg and completed his M.Sc. in Environmental Sciences focusing on environmental modelling and geographic information systems. At the Forest Research Institute Baden-Wuerttemberg his work focussed on analysis of aerial images. Consequently, he wrote his master thesis on the classification of deciduous tree species. Building up on the work of his predecessor Julian, he is going to develop methods for the investigation of microhabitats. 

Julian Frey

A1: Remote sensing based methods for the assessment of forest structures

Julian achieved his B.Sc. in Environmental Sciences from Lüneburg University before continuing his education at the University of Freiburg. In Freiburg he obtained his M.Sc. with a concentrations in environmental modeling, statistics, remote sensing and GIS. He is excited to work with ConFoBi project because he believes it’s a great chance to work in a relevant field with an interdisciplinary, and interesting, team.

Julian’s Ph.D. thesis topic focuses on remote sensing based methods for the assessment of forest structures, which are meaningful for biodiversity. He assesses research areas at three different scales; small structures will be recorded and analyzed with a terrestrial laser scanner, while the whole plot is recorded with a Camera-UAV. For the surrounding landscapes he uses high resolution areal images to identify landscape structures. He will analyze the resulting sets with innovative data processing, modeling, and statistic techniques.

Andreea Petronela Spinu

A2: Retention of structural elements in selectively used forests

Andreea studied Forestry and Forest Engineering (BSc) at Transilvania University of Brasov in Romania and received the Euroforester MSc degree from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden. She felt confronted with the controversial question of “how should (and would) forestry find the perfect balance between societal and environmental demands to achieve sustainability?”. She decided to approach this question by looking into the dynamics of forests which are close to natural states. As many agree, these are important sources of ecological information. Disturbance regimes (wind, fire), which for long have been considered negative agents, outside the management system and neglected in forest management decisions were of particular interest. Her BSc and MSc theses were thus focused on the dynamics of primary forests of Fagaras Mts. (Romania) and Bialowieza (Poland). For her PhD she is keen to use the ecological background from such ecosystems and move her focus on improving biodiversity in managed forests. Here, the survival of many forest specialist species is threatened by the scarcity and poor quality of tree microhabitats. During her research at ConFoBi, she will focus on the longevity of habitat trees and tree-related microhabitats. This information is valuable since such trees are meant to provide habitat structures for biodiversity conservation for a sufficiently long period. The ConFoBi project is an excellent match for her interests and academic background and she is keen to work in such a dynamic and transdisciplinary environment (hopefully, also to bring smiles on a daily basis with her positive attitude).


Thomas Asbeck

A2: Retention of structural elements in selectively used forests

Thomas completed his B.Sc. of Forest and Nature Conservation at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, between 2009 and 2012. He then became an Erasmus Mundus Master of European Forestry at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, and at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp. The topic of his Ph.D. is the retention of structural elements in selectively used forests with a special focus to tree micro-habitats. Through his previous education, Thomas has a wide understanding of various forest biodiversity conservation practices, especially in different regions of Central Europe and Scandinavia. Because of this, he recognizes the importance of ConFoBi’s transdisciplinary approach and the necessity to combine knowledge from different perspectives. Thomas assesses and records tree micro-habitat structures which he then analyses using spatial and statistical tools. After ConFoBi, he looks forward to new challenges in, or outside of, scientific research.

Dina Emrich

B1: Epiphyte and microhabitat diversity and function on habitat trees

Dina studied Biology (BSc) at the University of Gießen and focused on ecology and microbiology. In her thesis she investigated the effect of forest structure on bat activity and diversity. She holds a MSc in ecology and microbial biodiversity from the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.  In her master studies she focused on cryptogamic organisms, like cyanobacteria, green algae and lichens. Thereby, her interest in lichens from biological soil crusts was awakened. She wrote her thesis on lichens from the Atacama Desert within the frame of the DFG priority program EarthShape. The thesis investigated the lichen species composition in a fog oasis along a moisture gradient from coast to inland, applying molecular techniques. Furthermore, she examined the role of these lichens in bio-weathering processes.

Based on these interdisciplinary experiences, Dina is happy to further advance her skills in ConFoBi.

During her PhD she is going to investigate the epiphytic lichen and bryophyte diversity on selected trees to evaluate the effect of forest connectivity and forest structure on the cryptogamic diversity in the southern Black forest; as well as the influence on cryptogamic species cover. ConFoBi is ideal for her because it combines her main interests, forest ecology cryptogamic biodiversity and conservation.

Diane Stevenson

B1: Epiphyte and microhabitat diversity and function on habitat trees

Diane studied at the Reading University where she received her M.Sc. in Plant Diversity, Taxonomy and Systematics. Her thesis was Molecular Systematics of Aspalathus L. (Fabaceae). Currently, her Ph.D. thesis focuses on epiphyte and micro-habitat diversity and function on habitat trees. She decided to participate in the ConFoBi project because of her interest in epiphytes and forestry, officially bringing her back in into academia. Diane’s goals after the project are to continue in her academic research or to work in forest conservation.

Sara Klingenfuß

B2: Underlying mechanisms of vegetation change and diversity in retention forestry

Always a nature enthusiast, Sara started her scientific career with an internship at the Fraunhofer Institute for Sustainability and Innovation Research, where she became interested in the interplay between humans and nature as well as the processes that govern global change. Afterwards she  pursued her studies in geoecology, evolution and ecology at the University of Tübingen. Her interests there ranged from patterns that create and maintain biodiversity, e.g. disturbance and heterogeneity, over threats of a changing world, towards early recognition of critical transitions in ecosystems that are susceptible to global change. As she moved from small to large scales, she discovered the great necessity to include several disciplines in scientific approaches to investigate the laws of nature. ConFoBi bears the perfect opportunity for her to combine all her studies and experiences. The interdisciplinary approach to look at modern world influences on a forest ecosystem was so appealing to her, that she is now committed to three years of intensive research. During her PhD, she concentrates on how understorey functional biodiversity is influenced by natural and human-made heterogeneity, such as soil properties or forest structures. The field of functional diversity is emerging for some time now and observing processes related to functional traits of plants might reveal how different communities are formed under their respective environmental conditions. Her work is within the field of community ecology, connecting small scale processes with factors that influence plant diversity on larger scales, also looking at connectivity of forest patches.

Jan Helbach

B2: Underlying mechanisms of vegetation change and diversity in retention forestry

Jan started his undergraduate studies in chemical engineering. His interests evolved and led him to pursue an M.Sc. in Geo-ecology, with a focus in botany, zoology and ecology, from Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen. During his academic career, Jan completed an internship at NABU Natural Reserve Centre Wollmatinger–Reed, where his responsibilities included surveying threatened species, monitoring and controlling invasive species, and promoting landscape conservation.

As a Ph.D.-candidate of ConFoBi, Jan aims to study plant diversity of managed forest ecosystems. His contribution to his subproject is to investigate the conditions which lead retention forestry to have higher plant diversity and how retention forestry can be an instrument for conserving diversity in temperate forests. Jan’s research will include a closer look on how habitat trees and standing dead wood influence their environment and if they increase heterogeneity in their surroundings.

For Jan, ConFoBi provides the opportunity to conduct research in the field of biodiversity within a group of related researchers and transdisiplanary researchers. He also believes that forests are near natural ecosystems in central Europe that should be protected. They still cover large areas and assume a wide range of ecosystem services, i.e. habitats for a variety of species, filtering the air, storing carbon dioxide and many other benefits.  Jan is interested in factors harming rare and sensitive ecosystems such as invasive species or climate change. In these cases he looks to the plant community scale in order to detect changes, spatially and temporally.

Nolan Rappa

B3: Diversity and functions of plant-insect interactions along a forest retention gradient

Nolan became interested in nature conservation while studying biology in Buffalo, New York. During an exchange to the University of Alaska, he became interested in the ecology and conservation of terrestrial, forest insects through researching insect defoliators. After receiving a B.A. in Biology, he went on to study a M.Sc. in Ecology at the University of Bremen, Germany. His work there focused on parasitoid hymenoptera, insect biocontrol, and safe alternatives for mitigating insect damage as well as potential non-target effects on other insects. As a ConFoBi PhD candidate, Nolan is researching the effect of forest retention gradients and other forest structural elements on insect diversity, insect community interactions, and food web interactions. His main interests are the effects of landscape-scale conservation efforts on insect communities and the management of forest ecosystems to promote biodiversity. His focus is the preservation of natural heritage through interdisciplinary research.

Anna Knuff

B3: Diversity and functions of plant-insect interactions along a forest retention gradient

Anna studied Biology (B.Sc.) at the University of Erlangen and Biodiversity and Ecology (M.Sc.) at the University of Bayreuth. During her studies she became fascinated by the complex relationships between species, especially between plants and insects. This interest led her to choose a master thesis on infestation patterns of domestic and wild apple species by a florivorous beetle (doi: 10.1111/jen.12341). Motivated by this first success, Anna set out to look for a Ph.D. position. The ConFoBi project soon engaged her interest as it investigates, not only the factors on which forest biodiversity depends, but also the question of how these newly gained insights could be implemented in forest management.

In her subproject, Anna evaluates how the diversity of Hymenopteran species relates to the quality, heterogeneity and spatial distribution of habitat trees and coarse woody debris within the forest, at a plot scale and at the landscape scale. Research in agricultural landscapes has shown that the effectiveness of management practices to protect biodiversity depends on the surrounding landscape; Anna’s research will test whether this is also true for the forest ecosystems in the ConFoBi study plots.

Anna works with bird-plant interactions – birds play an important role in seed dispersal, along with her study of insect-plant relationships – herbivory by insects impacts plant fitness. These relationships are shaped by elements of habitat ecosystems and surrounding landscapes, such as forest structure, i.e. dead wood, herbivory by gall-inducing insects, and fruit predation by frugivorous birds can play important. Anna’s research will add to the knowledge of how landscape complexity and habitat elements contribute to insect diversity and how they structure important interactions of birds, insects, and plants.

Laura-Sophia Ruppert

B4: Functional connectivity among saprophytic beetles in dead wood patches

Laura obtained her B.Sc. in Bioscience and M.Sc. in Molecular Bioscience with a focus on Evolution and Ecology at the University of Heidelberg. She aims to answer ecological questions with genetic methods and therefore examines insect biodiversity with environmental DNA metabarcoding and looks at the genetic connectivity of ground-dwelling insects to identify barriers to the gene-flow for her Ph.D. thesis.

Nathalie Keller

B4: Functional connectivity among saprophytic beetles in dead wood patches

Nathalie graduated from the University of Bern with a B.Sc. in Biology with a special focus in ecology and evolution. She went on to complete her M.Sc. in Animal Ecology and Conservation, graduating in 2014.
She has a strong interest in applied ecology. The possibility of “real world” implementation was a priority when developing her master thesis. The thesis investigates the lack of recolonization in restored habitats for the endangered European Nightjar in Switzerland. Habitat characteristics and moth abundance, as their primary prey, were explored to provide habitat management recommendations.
During a research project at the Natural History Museum in Florida, in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Nathalie studied the evolution of hind-wing tails of Arsenurinae, a subfamily of Lepidoptera. She found molecular methods used to resolve the phylogeny was extremely interesting, ultimately leading her to a Ph.D. thesis combining conservation biology with molecular tools. This combination of conservation, ecology, entomology and molecular tools are the main focus of her Ph.D. thesis. She is investigating the influence of retention forestry, forest structure and amount of dead wood on saproxylic beetle assemblages and genetic diversity. Furthermore she will analyze the functional connectivity of a saproxylic beetle and the importance of landscape composition.

Anna-Lena Hendel

B5: Landscape-moderated use of forest structures by bats

Anna-Lena studied biology in Berlin and Trondheim and continued her studies in “Global Change Ecology” during a master’s degree at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Through her studies in Bayreuth she began to integrate remote sensing techniques into her ecological research. Her master thesis thus addressed the effects of extreme weather events on the primary productivity and the course of the phenology in the High Arctic by combining field observations and satellite images.
During her studies in Bayreuth, Anna-Lena worked for an environmental consultancy, where she came in contact with bats for the first time. Due to the secret but fascinating life of bats and the fact that they are extremely bound to landscape structures that are currently under threat, she looked out for the possibility to combine her interests in remote sensing and bats and thus applied to ConFoBi.
In her PhD project on the landscape-moderated use of forest structures by bats, she now expands the research topic, concentrates on the landscape effects and investigates how bats respond to the landscape in terms of connectivity. In this way, she hopes to understand better the habitat requirements of bats and gain new insights for forestry and nature conservation. She is pleased that the project is methodologically demanding and that her fieldwork can be used to validate the new methods. Additionally, she wants to learn as much as possible from the other ConFoBI-projects, which provide a unique opportunity for joint research ideas, knowledge transfer and shared field experiences.

Marlotte Jonker

B5: Landscape-moderated use of forest structures by bats

Marlotte studied Forest and Nature Conservation at Wageningen University in the Netherlands where she specialized in ecology. Her focus in ConFoBi is the landscape-moderated use of forest structures by bats. She was thrilled and surprised to be accepted to the project because she had been out of academic research for five years. During this time she gained a lot of experience in ecological consulting which continued to fuel her interest in ecology and helped her become part of the ConFoBi project. She describes her opinion of ConFoBi as “such a great project: complex, international, multilevel and off course the topic: forests AND bats. Everything I had been looking for!”.

Marlotte records the ultrasonic sounds of bats at each research plot. After she analyzes the data she hopes to have a deeper understanding about bat species richness and diversity. Ultimately she would like to relate her findings to habitat structures in the forest and to the landscape context. The big picture question she has set out to solve is if ‘retention forest measurements’, such as leaving dead wood and habitat trees within the forest, will effectively contribute to the conservation of bat biodiversity.

Marlotte sees a future for herself in science; she would like to “contribute to our understanding of nature: to discover things we didn’t know and provide tools that could help to conserve nature. Next to that, I want to bring a smile to the world, keep creating and I hope to ‘stay hungry, stay foolish…’”.

João Manuel Cordeiro Vale Pereira

B6: Multi-scale assessment of bird-forest relationships

João has been fascinated with nature and birds since a young age, having completed Bachelor’s studies in Biology at the University of Lisbon. Willing to expand horizons, he moved to Germany to complete a MSc in Ecology at the University of Bremen, under a DAAD scholarship. There, João developed an interest for the topic of spatial ecology and effects of habitat fragmentation on sensitive bird species, and for how this knowledge can be applied both in protected areas and in sustainable agriculture and forestry systems.
His Master’s thesis took him to the distant landscapes of the Peruvian Andes, studying how forest fragmentation and human-induced changes in forest structure affect threatened bird communities at high-altitude Polylepis forest. Switching continents, altitudes and bird species, and from protected to managed forests, ConFoBi brought him back to Germany and represented a natural continuation to his master’s research.
In the Black Forest, João is going to investigate the ecological mechanisms that drive changes in bird communities along forest structure and fragmentation gradients. Building up on the work of his predecessor Marco, he is going to investigate how retention forestry might induce changes in trophic relations of birds – both insect prey and mammalian predators -, which in turn might drive observed patterns in bird abundance and activity. João is looking forward to the broad opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration that ConFoBi provides and hopes that these three years of PhD will build a solid foundation for a career either in academia or in the nature conservation sector.

Marco Basile

B6: Multi-scale assessment of bird-forest relationships

Marco studied Natural Science at University of Naples ‘Federico II’ and Environmental Biology at University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. His thesis was on the relationship between forest structure and the short-toed treecreeper, Certhia brachydactyla, a forest specialist. During his university career he got involved in many research and field activities with birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

Marco now works on the relationship between forest structure and birds in a broader context. This takes into account the influence of landscape composition and local forest management practice. Applying for ConFoBi was the natural progression for Marco’s master’s project. With ConFoBi he will be conducting ornithological field work in his research areas; he will survey forest specialist birds with count data and identifying species that he observes. After ConFoBi Marco plans to continue ornithological research.

Nicole Still

C1: Economic valuation of biodiversity-oriented forest management strategies

Nicole holds a B.Sc. summa cum laude in Biological Anthropology from the George Washington University and an MSc in Environmental Protection and Management from the University of Edinburgh, where she studied the impacts of forest and wildlife management strategies on biodiversity and strategies for maximizing stakeholder engagement in conservation at various spatial scales. Prior to coming to ConFoBi, Nicole worked with NGOs on landscape-level forest planning efforts and initiatives to engage landowners and forestry practitioners for improved forest management and conservation at the landscape scale.
Nicole’s PhD focuses on the economic evaluation of biodiversity-oriented management strategies using a multidisciplinary approach that considers the value of social benefits of biodiversity, as well as climate and management impacts on biodiversity. She is keenly interested in mixed-methodology approaches to issues of biodiversity conservation and is particularly excited about the practical applications of this ConFoBi project for forestry practitioners and land managers.

Philipp Mack

C2: Local biodiversity knowledge and forest conservation practices

Philipp completed both his Bachelor and Master degree in Geography at the University of Innsbruck with specialisation on development and natural hazard research. After a semester abroad at the Universidade de São Paulo, his work focussed on causes and impacts of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. After working and researching in Brazil, he completed his master's thesis on the social implications of environmental and post-frontier governance measures in the southwestern Pará region.

Due to the focus of integrative geography Philipp is especially interested in the transdisciplinary character of ConFoBi and hopes to be able to contribute to it. At the beginning of his doctorate he would like to take up Bettina's work on local knowledge and embed it in the broader actor network of biodiversity conservation in the Black Forest. The broad spectrum of social science methods will serve this purpose methodically, as well as the interest in linking them through Mixed Methods approaches.


Bettina Joa

C2: Local biodiversity knowledge and forest conservation practices

Bettina holds a Dipl.–Ing. (FH) in Environmental Engineering from Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences and a M.Sc. in Geography of Global Change from the University of Freiburg. Her master thesis was about Renewable Desalination as an approach to address drinking water scarcity in Kiribati.

When applying for ConFoBi, Bettina was particularly attracted by its transdisciplinary approach as it matches her own interdisciplinary background combining nature with social sciences. Furthermore, she is already very familiar with the Black Forest as a research site and appreciates the opportunity to explore it in more detail.

Her Ph.D. thesis focuses on local biodiversity knowledge and forest conservation practices. Thereby, Bettina is interested in the people working in the forests and earning (part of) their livelihoods with it. She uses social science approaches to investigate the local ecological knowledge of forest practitioners and how it is related to biodiversity conservation.

Manuel John

D1: Professional epistemologies and integration of
biodiversity-related knowledge into socio-political decision-making

Manuel graduated from the University of Düsseldorf with a B.A. in Social Sciences, which combines Political Sciences, Communication and Media Studies and Sociology. Already leaning towards the latter, he continued his studies with a M.A. in Sociology at the University of Jena.

His focus on empirical social research in general and qualitative interview research in particular led him to work for the Black Forest National Park as a researcher. There he collaborated in a project exploring the relationship of the (particularly elderly) local population to the forest and the role it played in everyday life in the first half of the 20th century.

With ConFoBi, following his predecessor Ronja Mikoleit, Manuel focusses on analyzing different “professional epistemologies” or ways of understanding how legitimate knowledge is established and used for making decisions, in various fields surrounding the ConFoBi project (e.g. the natural sciences, nature conservation, forestry, forest policy). He is really looking forward working transdisciplinary and in close contact with his colleagues from all fields and adding new and original perspectives on pressing questions in the field of biodiversity conservation.

Ronja Mikoleit

D1: Professional epistemologies and integration of
biodiversity-related knowledge into socio-political decision-making

Ronja holds a B.A. from Freiburg University in Sociology and Anthropology and a M.A. from Potsdam University in Sociology. During her master’s studies she also attended interdisciplinary courses, focusing on questions of gender and environment as well as qualitative research methods. In her more theoretically oriented master thesis, she focused on the role of the body and materiality in sociological theory and relations to new phenomenology and new materialism. This led her to theoretical questioning of the nature/culture dualism.

Ronja’s Ph.D. topic addresses the question of how biodiversity-related knowledge is generated and how it is used in various decision-making contexts. It proceeds from the assumption that biodiversity research, policy, and management are marked by distinct ‘professional epistemologies’ or cultures of knowledge production. Her Ph.D. research strives to analyze the varied institutionalized practices by which members of different professional communities test and deploy knowledge claims, used as a basis for decision-making. In methodological terms, she uses a qualitative-interpretative approach to reconstruct specific ‘knowledge orders’ in the broader ConFoBi research area.

Ronja appreciates ConFoBi for the interdisciplinary exchange with various perspectives, enriching each other’s individual research perspectives and working together in an international team. For her subproject, she plans to utilize a broad range of qualitative research methods such as expert interviews, document analysis and participatory observation of actors in the field of biodiversity research, politics and management. As a sociologist, she believes that environmental topics such as biodiversity are as much about society as they are about nature or the environment. In her opinion, “there needs to be done a lot more social science research on this topic!"

Carlos Miguel Landivar Albis

D2: Evidence-based biodiversity management of forests

Carlos Miguel did his bachelor studies in Biology in the Universidad Mayor de San Andres (La Paz, Bolivia). Later he completed his M.Sc. degree in Tropical Forestry at TU Dresden. Most recently he got a Professional Certificate in Data Science from Harvard University. During his professional experience, Carlos have done research about the composition of metacommunities of birds in High Andean wetlands, climate change adaptation strategies of indigenous people in Bolivian Amazonas and evaluation of ecosystem services in bird-friendly coffee plantations in the Andes.
During his Ph.D. research in ConFoBi, Carlos will analyse the socio-economical drivers for forest management and biodiversity conservation; its consequences in forest structure; and the effects of remnant biodiversity in shaping the structure of the forest. His principal goal is to describe the decision-making process of forest management and its consequences in biodiversity, combining the socio-economic demands over the forest, the evidence of scientific knowledge and the ecological mechanisms that define forest structure and conservation.

Fabian Gutzat

D2: Evidence-based biodiversity management of forests

Fabian completed his undergraduate studies in Biobased Products and Bioenergy at the University of Hohenheim. After graduation, he stayed at the University of Hohenheim where he continued his graduate studies in Environmental Sciences. His research interests include evidence-based approaches towards decision-making, assessment of statistical validity and reliability, and socio-ecological systems.With ConFoBi, Fabian is able to continue to explore his research interests. He is exploring the possibilities of evidence-based guidelines in biodiversity-oriented forest management. To this end, the framework routinely used for guideline development in medical sciences will be transferred to environmental sciences.
After his three-year contract has expired he is looking forward to a new position.

Xiang Liu

Associated: Synergistic Use of One-class and Multiclass Classification Approaches to Map tree species and Deadwood at landscape Scale Based on Multi-source Remote Sensing Data

Xiang obtained his MSc with a major in physical geography science from Nanjing Normal University. During his master’s studies he focused on the detection of invasive species based through remote sensing methods, especially the usefulness of different one-class classification algorithms. He is excited to join ConFoBi project as an associated PhD student because ConFoBi provides the opportunity to conduct research within a group of related researchers and transdisciplinary researchers.
Xiang’s Ph.D. research topic focuses on tree species classification and deadwood detection with different machine learning algorithms based on multi-source remote sensing data. His first aim is to examine the potential of multi-source remote sensing data for tree species and deadwood mapping at regional and local scales. The second aim is to map the occurrence of deadwood and relate occurrences with selected environmental variables. . He believes the research will help to gather more detailed tree species information and a better understanding of the distribution of deadwood in the Black Forest region.

Josef Großmann

Associated: Formation and development duration of microhabitats at single tree and forest stand level

Josef completed his B.Sc. of "Forestry and Environment" (major) and "nature conservation and landscape management" (minor) at the University of Freiburg between 2010  and  2014. As participant of the BachelorPLUS program he absolved one year abroad at University of New Brunswick, Canada. He finished his M.Sc. of "Forest Sciences" at University of Freiburg in 2017 with a thesis about tree microhabitats and selection criteria for habitat trees.