Biotope Blog 2021

Biotope Blog 2021

December 22, 2021

Feline predator alert in the biotope!

Recently we got a very special hunter in front of the lens with our wildlife cameras - a European wildcat. This is very exciting, because although their population in Germany has recovered (there are about 6000 animals in the country), they are still considered endangered.

European wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris) are nocturnal loners that are somewhat larger than our domestic cats (Felis catus). Both are easy to confuse with each other. The main distinguishing feature is the thicker, bushier tail of wildcats, which has some clearly separated, closed black rings at the end of the tail and a black tip. Despite the close resemblance, wildcats and domestic cats are not closely related. While our cuddly felines descended from African wildcats once brought to Europe by Romans, wildcats have been native to Europe for many millennia - and remained shy and untamable.

European wildcat in the BioDiversum


December 8, 2021

Apple, pear, cherry, plum - that sounds like a delicious fruit salad, or cake? But that is not what we are talking about here. In November, our BioDiversum was enriched by twelve fruit trees. Landscape planner Ulrich Küneke and his team have planted a meadow orchard with native and old species behind the pond:

Malus 'Berlepsch', Malus 'Boskoop', Malus 'Goldparmäne', Malus 'Kaiser Wilhelm', Malus 'Jakob Lebel', Malus 'Rote Strenrenette'

Pyrus communis 'Gellerts Butterbirne', Pyrus communis 'Gute Graue'

Prunus avium 'Schneiders Späte Knorpelkirsche', Prunus avium 'Büttners Rote Knorpelkirsche'

Prunus domestica 'Hauszwetschge', Prunus domestica 'Mirabelle of Nancy'

In the future, the meadow will not only provide the institute's staff with healthy snacks, but more importantly provide habitat and food sources for native animals.

However, we have to be patient. Depending on the species, the trees will probably not bear fruit for another two to five years - and then fruit salad and cake will finally come into play.

November 4, 2021

Lights! Camera! Action!

At the end of September, the Biotop team faced a task of a very special kind. On behalf and with the support of the Max Planck Society, we shot a short film about the BioDiversum. With the help of a professional cameraman we got great footage of the pond, plants, and animals. Committed employees gave interviews about the measures and the care of the biotope.

It felt almost jinxed – but in a positive way. Not only were we lucky with the weather, but the entire team delivered a great performance that day, whether in front of or behind the lens. You can find the result of the 10-hour shooting day and the many, many hours of editing here:

Mit Biotopen das Artensterben aufhalten | BioDiversum

October 19, 2021

Finally, our biotope is officially opened!

Three years have passed since the ornithologist Peter Berthold visited our institute and planted the idea for the biotope. Time to take a brief look back.

We had the kick-off meeting for the project in spring 2019. First, experts determined the diversity of the current flora and fauna as we wanted to know what was already living on our premises in order to be able to determine which animals and plants we can establish later on. In 2020, flowering meadows were planted and construction measures were planned. A few months later, in March 2021, earthworks for the pond could start, we put up the bird feeder and 100 nesting boxes. Meanwhile, most of the construction work is completed.

In addition to all involved in planning the BioDiversum,  we invited reporters, guests from the city and region as well as our generous donators to the inauguration. Our guest of honor was, of course, Peter Berthold, without whom the project would probably never have been realized. After a few words of greeting, everybody was invited to take a walk along the pond, the flowering meadows, the nesting boxes, and so on to get an impression of the individual measures.

However, our biotope is not finished yet. A meadow orchard is planned, as well as a compost heap and a small island for the pond. And who knows what great ideas our colleagues at the institute will come up with to increase biodiversity in the and help the native species.

September 14, 2021

Construction works at the pond are as good as finished. From the observation platform visitors have a great view of the water. And this is certainly worth it as the initially gray pool is gradually transforming into a green, living pond! Young plants have been planted, water striders populate the surface by the hundreds – in short: life is spreading.

To monitor the water quality, our pond group now makes weekly measurements. In addition to pH and water hardness, it checks nitrate and phosphate as well as the temperature.

A little teepee is installed next to the platform. It provides a good view of the pond, the edge of the forest and the flowering meadows. One may thus observe birds and other animals without disturbing them.

Some rock piles will hopefully provide a habitat for lizards and other reptiles.

A first toad has also been spotted at the pond and we are looking forward for more native animals to explore and benefit from our wetland. We want to let nature take its course so that a stable ecosystem can develop in and around the pond. However, this will only work if no one introduces fish, turtles, or other animals into our pond. They would soon destroy the ecological balance. Why this is, we have explained here.

By the way: It is forbidden by law to release non-native species into the wild.

August 24, 2021

A snapshot from our flowering meadows: Apparently, this female crab spider (Misumena vatia) had just spent some time on a yellow flower, as her body color indicates. Crab spiders – at least the females – can adapt their color to their environment within a few days. This makes them virtually invisible to their prey: bees, butterflies, and flies (in other words, anything that visits flowers). Perfectly camouflaged, the crab spider lies in wait for its victims and strikes in the right moment. For this, its long front legs are not only convenient to extend its reach. They also allow the spider to keep the stings of some of its prey at bay – since wasps and even hornets are also part of its menu. After a successful catch, the prey is killed with a bite and sucked dry.

For a long time, it was believed that differently colored crab spiders belonged to different species. Only genetic analyses showed that they are indeed one and the same species.

By the way, the spider owes its name to its unusual physique. Due to its long front legs and the much shorter hind legs, it actually looks like a crab.

August 20, 2021

For many native birds, this year’s breeding season is over. At the moment, we enjoy watching tit families together with their youngest offspring eagerly filling their bellies at our feeders. Some of the youngsters probably hatched in our nest boxes. Next to blue and great tits also other bird species utilized our diverse nesting aids.

Diverse nesting aids? Exactly! Depending on the species, the requirements for suitable nesting sites differ. In order to support as many species as possible, we put up a variety of boxes on our institute grounds. What the different box types look like, how they differ, for which species they are suitable, and what else you need to look out for is illustrated in our infographic.

August 10, 2021

Alarm! Water thieves are drinking our pond dry!

We caught the criminals red-handed when they raided our wetland one morning. In perfectly rehearsed choreography, one after the other approached the water at lightning speed and grabbed small portions. Such impudent swallows….

Enough with the jokes. We are very happy that the first animals benefit from our pond. In addition to the swallows, we are already seeing water striders, ‘Teichschwimmer’ (Colymbetes fuscus), and dragonflies!

July 26, 2021

Peculiar nightlife

For the past few weeks, our wildlife cameras have been running to monitor the nocturnal fauna in the biotope. Our scientist Rick Kluiver observes the activities on the cameras and recently came across some pretty strange sounds.

What could this be?

July 17, 2021

It is high time for an update on our kestrels: Our couple successfully raised four young, which are now almost ready to leave their nest. These days you can often watch one of them spreading and flapping its wings while the others sit in the box and watch. Then it is the next one's turn. It can only be a matter of days until the young ones fly out.

June 29, 2021

Creepers and crawlies everywhere!

Our scientist, amateur photographer, and creepy-crawly enthusiast Alexandre Webster has been lurking around the institute to take pictures of and identify insects in the BioDiversum. Lo and behold, after a short time he has already discovered over 100 species and put together a beautiful collage. We are curious to see how the insect diversity will develop over the years once flowering meadows, shrub planting, and the pond are completed.

Once again we see: It takes dedicated employees like Alex to get the best out of our biotope!

June 18, 2021

Let it flow!

Finally, we can fill our pond. Nevertheless, we are only halfway there. At this point, the water's main purpose is to fix the foil and fleece to the bottom of the pond. This ensures that nothing can slip anymore and facilitates the construction of the shallow water and riparian zones.

In addition, we will now install the storage and pumping system through which we can later feed our pond with pure rainwater.

June 4, 2021

Everything is green!

With the sunny spells and scattered showers during the last weeks, the vegetation in our biotope has now blossomed and turned green. Some of our nesting boxes are now actually difficult to find behind all the leaves. The flowering meadows, which we planted last year with regional seeds, change their colors almost weekly. In addition, they now provide food and habitat for all kinds of insects.

June 3, 2021

Our pond works are progressing at a fast pace!

A layer of foil and fleece now covers the ponds’ bottom. Next comes a layer of mortar before it can be filled with the actual soil. Hopefully, by the end of the month, we can say "Let the water flow!".

Why do we actually use (plastic) foil?

Originally, we wanted to seal the pond with a layer of clay. However, clay is very sensitive to frequent changes between damp and dry, which is what we expect to happen at the edge of the pond due to water level fluctuations. Thus, clay would inevitably crack at some point. Since the pond is located in a water conservation area, we have to make sure that it is absolutely leak-proof. Unfortunately, this can only be guaranteed with a resistant plastic foil. By the way, the foil will additionally be covered with mortar to protect it from UV light and mechanical damage.

May 25, 2021

Finally, the first five swift boxes are hanging (two are visible on the picture in the upper left of the building), yet whether they will be occupied this year is uncertain. Swifts remain quite loyal their breeding locations and do not easily settle in new areas. However, we are optimistic that they will discover our nesting boxes sooner or later. 

It is becoming increasingly difficult for swifts to find suitable nesting sites. On the one hand, they are synanthropic, meaning they nest in human settlements, which are taking up more and more space. On the other hand, by demolishing or old buildings and sealing roofs we are making it increasingly difficult for them to breed. The more important it is today that we offer these extraordinary birds alternative nesting opportunities.

May 20, 2021

Our pond is now completely excavated and the walls are finished. The stepped structure can be seen very clearly. In the deepest area it will be three meters deep. There is also a zone of medium depth and a shallow shore area. Once there is water in the pond, these three zones will result in three different habitats with different conditions from water temperature to the incidence of light and oxygen concentration.

April 29, 2021

Some have merely been hanging for two weeks, yet, a few of our nest boxes were immediately occupied! Here, a pair of great tits is already busy flying back and forth to their nest. From other boxes, we unmistakably perceive the chirping of fledglings.

April 26, 2021

In the meantime, the earthworks for our pond have made considerable progress. Its future shape is already recognizable.

There is also a lot going on at the area in front of tower 1 of our institute. The course of the new footpath is now clearly visible. Soon we will plant flowering shrubs and other woody plants. We are also setting up two charging stations for e-cars in the adjacent parking areas.

April 24, 2021

During the last weeks, more than 80 nesting boxes have found their places on our grounds, especially along the edge of the forest. We try to offer nice homes for as many different bird species as possible: We have nest boxes with large, small, or oval entrance holes, half-caves, boxes for starlings... We are looking forward to see how they will be accepted!

By the way, there are five nesting boxes hidden in the photo – who can spot them all?

April 22, 2021

Since the end of March, a kestrel box made by our carpentry has been hanging high up on tower 6 of our institute. And lo and behold: It is already occupied! The pair of kestrels is constantly flying in and out and is obviously busy preparing their nest for breeding.

March 19, 2021

The excavator has finally arrived – today the earthworks for the pond started! Earthworks were actually supposed to start on March 8, but it was delayed due to the bad weather. If everything goes according to plan, the wetland biotope and thus the central element of the BioDiversum will be ready by the end of spring.

January 14, 2021

Our year-round bird feeding station is ready! With this measure we want to increase the density and biodiversity of breeding birds. The bird feeder was built by our team in our carpenter’s workshop.

To not disturb the animals, shrubs will be planted around the feeding station. To make sure that the birds can still be observed at a sufficient distance, we plan to cut viewing slits in the bushes.


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