Robert Bosch Junior Professorship

Dr. Nina Farwig

Berlin/Stuttgart. From hornbill birds in South Africa to lemurs in Madagascar and botanical studies in Kenya’s Kakamega Forest – despite her relatively short career experience as a biologist, Nina Farwig has already been up close and personal with a lot of flora and fauna. But the 31-year-old has a special area of interest: the decline in species diversity and the way in which this is impacting on ecosystems, and, by extension, human beings as well.

Nina Farwig is the first Robert Bosch Junior Professor for research into the “Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources.” She was awarded the title at an official ceremony at the Bosch offices in Berlin. The laudatory speech was given by Klaus Töpfer, former German environment minister and former executive director of the UN environment program. In our interview, Nina Farwig explains what she plans to do with the grant from the Robert Bosch Stiftung:

The Robert Bosch Stiftung is giving you a grant of almost one million euros over the next five years. What will you do with the money?
I intend to use it to study the potential for regeneration in small, natural forested areas in South Africa. I want to know how ecosystems react when there is a decline in species numbers. The most important question to answer is whether a minimum number of species is necessary in order to ensure that the functions of the ecosystems and their benefits for human beings can be preserved.

What benefits do you mean in this context?
Well, for example, an ecosystem provides people with wood for building and medicinal plants, but it is also important for the pollination of cultivated plants.

What’s so special about this project?
The world’s forests are dwindling, so it is of crucial importance to preserve or expand the remaining forested areas in the long term. For that reason, we need to develop sustainable use strategies to ensure that we can preserve both biological diversity and ecosystem functions.

What kind of utilization strategies would these be?
For example, forest plantations could be networked with natural areas of forest, using corridors or forest islands as “stepping stones,” and thus boosting the regeneration potential in these monocultures.

Specifically, what will the funding be used for?
The funds will be used for German and South African associates, doctoral students, undergraduates, and field assistants, for travel expenses, and also for items of equipment for field research. These include laptops, binoculars, GPS devices, insect nets, and the like.

(Interview: Jörg Kirchhoff)