While most of the fieldwork campaigns this summer are being taken care of by our awesome teams of PhD and master students, there is a few sets of field days I am joining. One of them just happened on a lovely not-too-hot summer day in the heathlands and forests of northern Flanders, on the border with the Netherlands.
It is there, on the poor sandy soils of the Campina region, that we are monitoring vegetation for the global Dark Diversity project.
I have written about this intriguing ‘dark diversity’ before: it is basically the non-realised biodiversity, those species that are NOT present at a given location. It is those species that indicate the unrealised potential of an area. For this, we compare a disturbed and an undisturbed heathland site with a whole series of vegetation surveys in a circle with 20 km diameter around these plots.
There is of course at least two reasons why a certain species does not occur at a location: the local characteristics (a dry heathland will never hold the same species as a wet heathland a few meters downslope), and anthropogenic pressures. By comparing a disturbed with an undisturbed area, we will be able to disentangle these two, and get closer to the heart of what human influence does to diversity.
Of course, such general questions on the drivers of global diversity (loss) require a lot of data. We are just one factor in a big chain here: our Flemish heathlands are one vegetation type to be studied; ecologists all over the world are right now out in their own landscapes, doing exactly the same. Talk about feeling connected with the world!