SustainabilityResearch Projects

The scientific investigation of questions surrounding sustainability requires a combination of different disciplinary perspectives. As a research university offering a broad range of subjects, Heidelberg University makes full use of its unique potential to address complex challenges through enhanced interdisciplinary cooperation. Consequently, it offers excellent conditions for research projects in the environmental sciences and related disciplines. Crossing traditional subject boundaries, Heidelberg scientists investigate such fields as climate processes and climate change, biodiversity and plants, and energy, sustainability and environmental regulation.

Thematic Research Network “Umwelten – Umbrüche – Umdenken”

The global environmental crisis as the trigger of significant processes of societal and ecological change is at the centre of the Thematic Research Networks (TRN) “Umwelten – Umbrüche – Umdenken”, which brings together researchers from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences at Heidelberg University. The aim of the network is to analyse the environmental crisis and its impact on individuals and societies in the interplay of different disciplinary perspectives, and to identify scope for action to deal with the catastrophic situations. The researchers are in particular studying narratives of critical transitions – on the one hand, against the backdrop of concepts such as ‘crisis’, ‘catastrophe’ and ‘apocalypse’, drawn from the humanities and cultural studies. On the other hand, they will use methods and analyses from the natural sciences.

In cooperation with the METROPOLINK Festival, the research network in summer 2022 implemented the project “Perceiving Extinction” at the interface between science and the arts. With the artistic design of an outsize mural, displaying the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, which is threatened with extinction, the network sought to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity. French street artist Mantra painted the picture of the butterfly on the wall of a house in Heidelberg-Neuenheim. The research network accompanied the process and gave insights into its work. Furthermore, besides a “Fall School” for doctoral candidates on the topic of Urban Ecologies, an international conference took place in October 2022 within the network, on the theme “Creating the ‘Good Life’ in the City: Urban Spaces in Times of Change, Challenge and Crisis”.

Participating in the network , which is funded within Field of Focus 3 “Cultural Dynamics in Globalised Worlds” are Prof. Dr Ulrike Gerhard (Urban Geography), Prof. Dr Barbara Mittler (Sinology), Prof. Dr Friederike Reents (German Studies; since December 2021 at the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt), Prof. Dr Robert Folger (Romance Studies), Prof. Dr Olaf Bubenzer (Physical Geography), Prof. Dr Frank Keppler (Earth Sciences) and Prof. Dr André Butz (Environmental Physics), as well as post-doctoral researchers Dr Jacqueline Lorenzen (Law) and Dr Tanja Granzow (Anthropology). There is close cooperation with the Käte Hamburger Centre for Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies (CAPAS) at Ruperto Carola and with the cross-university consortium project “Worldmaking”.

AgroBioDiv: Organic agriculture for more biodiversity and climate protection

The influence of organic agriculture on biodiversity in the agricultural landscape is the focus of the ‘AgroBioDiv’ research project, in which scientists of Heidelberg University blend their expertise in biology and political science. In addition to investigating various aspects of biodiversity, the Heidelberg scientists also want to examine how politics and public administration can help preserve the biological diversity of farmlands. The four-year research project headed by Prof. Marcus Koch and Prof. Jale Tosun is funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg to the amount of roughly 400,000 EUR.


The Heidelberg researchers investigate the interplay of cultivated seeds and plant material, crop and plant varieties and the diversity of wild-growing edible plants. They hope to discover what agriculture could look like in the transitional phase from conventional to organic farming. The research is carried out in selected areas – in the city of Heidelberg, in an organic model region near Lake Constance and at other places around Baden-Württemberg. It follows a participatory approach and involves stakeholders from agriculture, nature conservation and business, including growers and breeders, farmers, marketers, consumers and citizen scientists. With regard to the political and administrative process, the research team wants to determine which tools are needed to achieve a sustainable transition from conventional to organic farming. Using their interdisciplinary approach, the researchers will also investigate ways of raising awareness for the improvement of agricultural biodiversity.

meinGrün: Information and navigation to urban green spaces

In the ‘meinGrün’ (myGreen) project – which involves geographers of Heidelberg University under the direction of Prof. Alexander Zipf – a consortium of partners from academia, municipal practice and business is developing a framework for interactive information services about urban green spaces. To this end, the scientists use public geodata of municipalities, remote sensing data from the Copernicus space programme and user-generated data, e.g. from software like OpenStreetMap. This new wealth of data will be the basis for various user-friendly applications.

The web app helps users find green spaces in cities and plan their nature outings. Filters allow them to search for leisure offers in the vicinity – such as sports facilities, playgrounds, barbecue areas or lawns for sunbathing and relaxation. Routing options for cyclists and pedestrians not only provide directions for the fastest way to their destination, but also the quietest or the one with the most greenery. The app is free of charge and currently available for the cities of Heidelberg and Dresden. The project is sponsored by the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, the Remote Sensing Data Center of the German Aerospace Center, the Institute of Cartography of TU Dresden, the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology at Heidelberg University, the GIScience research group at Heidelberg University and other partners working in information technology, city administration and urban development.

MultiTip: A holistic, multi-method approach to Nile perch fishery in Lake Victoria

A complex socio-ecological system like Nile perch fishery in East African Lake Victoria may undergo abrupt, hard-to-reverse status changes – known as tipping points – that are linked to exponential loss of biodiversity and societal well-being. For several years scientists have assumed that Nile perch fishery in Lake Victoria is about to cross such a tipping point, with considerable socio-economic consequences at the local and regional level.

In the three-year ‘MultiTip’ project, scientists from the universities of Heidelberg and Kassel are investigating the causes of a potential irreversible collapse of Nile perch fishery and the requirements for a higher acceptance and improved implementation of legal regulation. In addition, the researchers want to discover how external interventions can contribute to avoiding a potential tipping point. The project is based on a multi-method approach that combines the use the secondary data and qualitative and quantitative methods with controlled experiments. Its aim is to provide analytical tools that can be applied to other resource systems in the long term.



Additional Research Projects