iDiv Summer School 2016 - Biodiversity Synthesis and Integration

The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig invited graduate students to its second summer school with the theme “Biodiversity Synthesis and Integration” from 19 to 25 June 2016 taking place in Leipzig, Germany. Please find more information about the theme, programme and teachers below.

The event was built around the aims of learning more about biodiversity research, exploring relevant research projects in small groups, and building up the scientific knowledge by publishing the results. The programme thus consisted of plenary lectures, discussions with iDiv members, an excursion, and plenty of time for group work projects around the theme of biodiversity synthesis and integration. By mingling 20 promising young researchers with experienced and inspiring researchers, the summer school offered an outstanding opportunity to progress together in a relaxed and constructive atmosphere.

The lead teacher of the summer school was Stan Harpole, iDiv Professor and head of the research group in Physiological Diversity. Other lecturers included senior scientific staff at iDiv. The summer school was aimed mainly at PhD students working on biodiversity topics, but applications from advanced master’s level students were also considered. A limited number of travel grants were also available (see section “application”).

The application deadline for the course was Sunday, 3 April 2016.

19 – 25 June 2016

iDiv at BioCity Campus Leipzig
Deutscher Platz 5e
04103 Leipzig, Germany

Dr. Godefroy Devevey
yDiv Coordinator


The programme of the summer school consisted of:

  • Keynote lectures
  • Methodological lectures and exercises
  • Project work in small groups lead by an experienced researcher
  • Presentations of the results by student participants
  • Exchange with iDiv researchers
  • Excursion

For more information see the programme (PDF).


Each day was dedicated both to plenaries and the work in research projects to allow for new insights and mutual exchange. The morning plenaries explored some technical aspects of the research, including exercises and the afternoon keynote lectures opened larger perspectives on biodiversity and research career.

The hands-on research projects have been designed by researchers of iDiv. Guided by a project leader, in each project 3-6 students worked together with the objective of a publication. The projects required some preparation before the summer school (about 40 hours per person) starting mid-April while the summer school week was devoted to an exchange about the individual work and to the publication preparation.

The proposed projects all focussed on a distinct understanding of biodiversity:

1) A comprehensive review of diversity congruence in community ecology

We will be doing an extensive literature search for studies that measured more than one component of diversity. Depending on the studies collected we will either write a comprehensive review paper on the emerging patterns and state of multi-component diversity studies, and/or a meta-analysis of the frequency of diversity congruence within taxonomic groups, geographic areas, and spatial scales. The project requires interested participants with an eye for detail. Experience in Microsoft access, data analysis in R and/or meta-analyses is helpful but not required.

2) Effects of intra-specific trait variability and disturbances on species coexistence: a generic spatially explicit individual-based model implemented in NetLogo

We will take an existing model that addresses a question related to biodiversity research, re-implement it using the software NetLogo, and analyse it and possibly modify it with regard to modified or new questions. Model and questions are ready, during the school the focus will be on model analysis and preparing a paper. We will suggest models but also welcome suggestions. Models can range from single-species conservation models to community and ecosystem models, but need to be simple enough to be manageable. They need to be more on the generic side as parameterization could be too uncertain and time-consuming. Programming skills are not required, as we will use Netlogo.

3) Effects of invasive earthworms on soil biodiversity

The broader aim of this project is to enhance participant’s skills in carrying out literature search and apply meta-analysis techniques using R statistical software. Participants will search published works on earthworm invasion effects on soil biodiversity (e.g. from soil microorganisms to soil invertebrates) and extend an already existing database created by us. During the course, we will provide R codes to perform meta-analysis on the real data. Further, we aim to discuss with the participants about the ecology of earthworm invasion and work together to write a manuscript. Basic R skills are desirable, but not compulsory. Participants interested in invasion ecology are encouraged to apply.

4) Understanding scale-dependent biodiversity changes: a spatially-explicit simulation approach

The project group will receive a prepared simulation model that predicts species diversity and spatial distributions in a landscape. The model allows systematic variations of several features of the community, e.g. species pool diversity and species aggregation, and manipulations of different processes, e.g. density dependent survival and recruitment. The project group will formulate simulation scenarios based on specific research questions. The simulation results will be analyzed in a spatially-explicit way with the goal to understand the scale-dependent signatures of different drivers of biodiversity. The project requires experience in programming and data analysis in R. Experience in ecological modelling is helpful, but not required.

In their application, students were asked to indicate which project they would like to work in by ranking the four projects from favourite to lesser interest.

On the last course day, all groups presented their findings and celebrated their work. On the very last day an excursion took place.

It was estimated that the summer school preparation and attendance would represent about 80 hrs of work and was thus accredited with 3 ECTS according to the European Transfer and Accumulation System.


iDiv’s core mission is to provide the scientific foundation for a sustainable management of the earth’s biodiversity. Addressing the key questions related to biodiversity and its loss require an approach that integrates across space and time, organizational levels, complexities and scientific disciplines. Along with integration, synthesis is at the heart of iDiv’s mission.

Synthesis of existing information in order to generalize findings or detect new patterns has been important in biological sciences for a long time. However, with the recent rise of IT, new type of synthesis is rising, using previously unknown types and quantities of data and applying novel computational tools to answer fundamental questions of biodiversity sciences. An important aspect of biodiversity synthesis is to understand, map and predict the distribution and shifts of mechanisms that drive biodiversity dynamics and consequences in response to such topics as climate change and land use change on a large scale.

Biodiversity synthesis also means bridging researchers from different disciplines, with the goal to provide a comprehensive and consistent understanding of the underlying processes and mechanisms of biodiversity dynamics. Broad synthesis can only be reached through transdisciplinary research.

Date and venue

The summer school took place at iDiv, which is located at the Biocity Leipzig. The Alte Messe has good transport connections in the immediate vicinity of the university’s natural science campus and the German National Library. It is surrounded by other cutting-edge research centres in the area of biosciences, including the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (IZI). The Leipzig Botanical Garden is also located at a walking distance from iDiv.



A field excursion as part of the course programme took place on Saturday, 25 June 2016. For this the group took a walk in the Neuseenland under the theme Valorization of a closed strip mining landscape: geology, pedology, ecology and sociology.


The application deadline was Sunday, 3 April 2016, and each applicant was informed about admission by mid-April. The selection was done by yDiv committee members and the project leaders.

The maximum number of participants was 20. The gender and nationality of applicants were taken into account to maintain diverse participation. Applications from developing countries, in particular from female applicants, were particularly welcome.

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