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Wet meadow in northwestern Germany with cuckoowort and marsh marigold (Calthion)

The biotope ( Greek βίος bíos , German ' life ' , and τόπος tópos , German 'place' ) is a specific habitat of a community ( biocenosis ) in an area. Biotopes are the smallest units of the biosphere . In the field of nature conservation and landscape management, biotopes are assigned to biotope types from a pragmatic point of view . The term was first introduced to science in 1908 by Friedrich Dahl .


The term biotope is neutral. Biotopes are both natural landscape components such as streams , mountain forests , coniferous forests , mixed forests, etc. as well as - contrary to colloquial usage - landscape components created by humans such as “concrete deserts” ( e.g. urban landscapes ). Other common examples of biotopes are floodplains , deserts , mud flats or orchards . Strictly speaking, the definition of a biotope requires a reference to a species of plants , fungi and animals or a community of such (a biocenosis ). In practice, however, many biotope names and delimitations are not based on the often hidden or mobile living organisms, but rather on the more easily comprehensible abiotic conditions (such as urban landscape, coast, desert, mudflat, river, etc.). In the life sciences, a biotope is a habitat for organisms, a "biotope in itself" is meaningless, an "inanimate biotope" is not. However, this connection can be lost in the widely used classification of " biotope types ".

Semi-dry grassland ( Mesobromion erecti ) on a limestone slope in the Rhön , with common pasque flower

A biotope can be a space of different habitats (faunistic or floristic “living spaces”) as well as part of one or more habitats. It can both shape the existing biocenosis (community) and be shaped by it, which is why one can always assume an interaction between life and living space.

As small forms, biotopes can be assigned to certain biomes or eco-zones (large ecological regions). The delimitation and number of biomes are a matter of opinion, common (e.g. in Begon et al.) The distinction between eight terrestrial biomes (arctic tundra, northern coniferous forest, temperate forest, tropical rainforest, raingreen forests, steppes, tropical savannas, Mediterranean vegetation, desert, mountains). If one only considers the vegetation of these areas, they are called plant formations or vegetation zones under the same names .

Due to the development of the biocenosis, abiotic and human ( hemerobic ) influences of a place can be recorded. Nevertheless, (supposedly) inanimate places such as deserts or bare rocks are also biotopes, but they can be differentiated by a set of abiotic features. This definition assumes that every place on earth can be settled (and is actually settled), is a “place of life”. Under which circumstances which biocenosis can become established is the subject of discussions in ecology and nature conservation . But life (at least microorganisms) has been found everywhere on earth where it has been searched for, including rock crevices several hundred meters deep.

A man-made biotope at the Schleifgraben near Werbach

Since the nature conservation debate of the 1970s, the term has also been used colloquially for a, mostly newly created, small area of ​​landscape that is intended to serve as a habitat for endangered animal or plant species (mostly amphibians). Very often it is a piece of wet fallow land with a self-dug pond in it (“We are creating a biotope”). This use of the term does not correspond to its meaning in science, but sometimes also resonates with professional use, in that “biotope” is not used without judgment, but with positive connotations (as in “biotope networking”). What is actually meant is “biotope of a species worthy of protection / community”.

Definition of the term to the habitat

The term biotope must be distinguished from habitat . While the term biotope has a functional component, a habitat is the (spatially understood) habitat, habitat of a species or species community, possibly only a part of it (e.g. summer and winter habitat). Remember rule: “Biotope and habitat” are like “city and place of residence”.

Habitats and biotopes do not have to be congruent. The biotope of a community (e.g. a forest) can provide different habitats for different species (a forest has structures such as knotholes, canopy and herbaceous layers, soil ...), e.g. B. for insects. A habitat can comprise several biotopes, e.g. B. complementary habitats, such as migratory birds or many mammals that visit winter and summer quarters.

In the English-speaking world, the term habitat ("habitat") is usually used to mean the German "biotope". In English-language specialist books, sometimes also in those that have been translated from English, the terms are then synonymous. Later, the term biotope was also imported from German into the English-speaking world - albeit less in its original, technical meaning, but more in the second, colloquial, evaluative sense.


In ecology, the size of a biotope is given by the required habitat of the organisms living in it. Large animal species in particular usually also require large biotopes, which can also be composed of partially spatially separated habitats. When looking at large, migratory species like the gray whale , it covers thousands of square kilometers. If such partial habitats, for example summer and winter habitats, are essential for the survival of the species (s) under consideration, they all count together to form the biotope. Since the term biotope is defined by the colonizing organisms or their communities, it is meaningless to state an absolute size without reference to it. For example, a forest can be included as a biotope for wild species such as deer, but also a decayed, water-filled cavity in a single tree, for example as a habitat for copepods .

Depending on the problem and question within ecology , biotopes can sometimes be called phytotopes (plant location) and zootopes (animal habitat). However, these terms are not commonly used. Biochores are narrowly defined areas of life within a biotope.

A biotope (understood here as the spatial extension of a certain type of biotope ) is the smallest spatial unit in landscape ecology - this use of the term does not entirely coincide with that in ecology. Some biotopes in this sense can take up a very large area (e.g. lakes, mudflats) depending on the system of recording ( biotope type mapping ).

A biotope (or several) together with the animals and plants living in it and the interactions between them form an ecosystem . In landscape ecology, the (outdated) expression “biogeocenosis” can also be found. More articles about biotopes can be found in the category: Biotope

Assessment and exposure

Biotopes and biotope types are often rated according to their rarity (or area development and functional position in the ecosystem), according to their suitability as a habitat for threatened species or according to the degree of human influence ( hemerobia ).

Habitats (habitats) of mobile animal species often consist of several biotope types (as part of habitats). Species-rich biotope complexes are created in the spatial vicinity of different natural biotope types. Mosaic-like cultural landscapes composed of extensive economic forms partially replace biotopes that could develop by themselves without influencing humans in the course of the succession (ecosystem development) ( natural landscapes ). Structurally rich landscapes of this type are threatened primarily by the economic interests of society (land grabbing through traffic, settlement and raw material extraction, intensification of agriculture and forestry). Individual biotopes or ecosystems also suffer from the entry of pollutants from the air or from direct discharges.

In addition, many mobile animal species have a minimal space requirement. Above all, animal species that move on the ground or are very shy need larger, coherent habitats. Roads, agricultural or forestry monocultures and settlements or individual structures (e.g. hydropower plants) not only represent a loss of biotope area, which can lead to the extinction of relatively insensitive species (most of the mass insects, spiders, microorganisms) in sub-areas . Through landscape fragmentation and negative edge zone influences, they reduce the quality and accessibility of the remaining biotopes (isolation), so that many sensitive and mobile species (e.g. lynx, wolf, sea eagle, many fish species) are extinct or endangered and, despite intensive efforts, cannot repopulate the biotopes .

Biotope protection and the biotope network

The habitat protection is a strategy within the nature conservation. As a rule, its aim is to preserve populations of endangered animal and plant species that are worthy of protection through special protection and preservation of their habitats. The opposite (or: complementary) is (direct) species protection . A typical instrument of biotope protection is the designation of protected areas. Areas should be defined and maintained in which the protection of nature has priority over land use , or in which at least nature conservation concerns must be taken into account when using them. Typical species protection measures can take place within these areas in order to specifically promote individual species or groups of species, e.g. B. Creation of a pond for amphibians or the preservation of dead trees in a forest to protect the dead wood fauna . But you can also start in areas where nature conservation is of secondary importance, e.g. B. Hanging nest boxes in home gardens to encourage songbirds. Normally, the protection of the biotope is not itself the purpose of the biotope protection, but the preservation of the animal and plant species that depend on them. Different strategies are being pursued within biotope protection. Conservative nature conservation tries to preserve currently particularly species-rich habitats as unchanged (or even optimized) as possible. In particular, the preservation of so-called semi-cultural formations that are particularly rich in species serves this purpose. These are habitats that owe their creation to extensive forms of land use that were customary in the past, e.g. B. heaths, grasslands , wet meadows , orchards and. v. a. This usually requires maintenance measures that interfere with natural development. One variant of this is contractual nature conservation, which strives for the same goal through contracts (linked to usage conditions) with land users (usually farmers). In contrast, process protection tries to create areas in which natural forces can work unaffected and unhindered. One then hopes that this will create the habitats for the threatened species by themselves. Some conservationists already consider the action of these natural forces even in an area to be worthy of protection, without the need for special target species to be promoted. However, this position is not very widespread within nature conservation.

The most important strategy of biotope protection in official nature conservation is the designation of nature reserves . Other protected area categories under the Federal Nature Conservation Act are relatively less significant. Sometimes extensive natural monuments (FNDs) can fulfill similar functions. The few large national parks (in addition to their importance for nature recreation and tourism) tend to have a complementary function. National parks essentially correspond to particularly large nature reserves. In addition, the process protection approach is particularly important in them. The Federal Nature Conservation Act and the nature conservation laws of the federal states also define particularly valuable biotope types that are protected without further designation of protected areas. These are mainly types that are rare and require a very long regeneration period (time to recreate), such as B. Moore .

Legally protected biotopes

Sign "Legally protected biotope" on a body of water in Schleswig-Holstein

Legally protected biotopes according to § 30 BNatSchG are:

  1. natural or near-natural areas of flowing and standing inland waters including their banks and the associated natural or near-natural vegetation accompanying the shore as well as their natural or near-natural silting areas, oxbow lakes and regularly flooded areas,
  2. Moore , marshes , reed beds , sedges - and bins rich wet meadows , source areas, inland salt meadows,
  3. open inland dunes , natural open block, rubble and scree slopes , clay and loess walls, dwarf shrub -, broom and juniper heath , mat-grass turf, dry grassland , heavy metal lawn , woods and thickets of dry and warm sites,
  4. Quarry , swamp and alluvial forests , ravine, block dump and slope debris forests ,
  5. open rock formations, alpine lawns as well as snow valleys and crooked wood bushes ,
  6. Rocks and cliffs , coastal dunes and beach ridges, beach lakes , Bodden waters with silt areas, salt marshes and mud flats in the coastal area, seagrass beds and other marine macrophyte, reefs, subtidal sandbanks of the Baltic and species-rich gravel, Grobsand- and Schill areas in marine and coastal areas.

Impairments to these legally protected biotopes are generally prohibited. If an “overriding public interest ” makes an infringement necessary, exceptions can be permitted; in these cases, the impairments must be compensated for in a suitable manner.

The success of initial efforts to protect biotopes, which was limited to the preservation and restoration of valuable biotopes, was severely limited by the isolation of the biotopes from traffic and settlements. Because of the increasing pressure of economic land use, the minimum requirements for habitat sizes or the critical compound distances of some species cannot be satisfied. Some animals can have their complementary habitats (eg. As spawning places) do not reach or are from other populations isolated ( genetic erosion ). Therefore, since the amendment of the Federal Nature Conservation Act 2001 , the biotope network has become a further essential goal of nature conservation ( § 3 BNatSchG old version).

The aim of the biotope network is to break down the barriers for animal species. A composite consists of so-called stepping stones (for mobile species such as birds), linear elements (e.g. hedges , rivers, streams, strips of field margins, etc.), composite surfaces (e.g. structurally rich areas for game), and from the biotopes or core areas of a nature reserve that are actually to be protected . The biotope network particularly demands areas within the settlements or at transport facilities in order to reduce their negative barrier effect. Individual measures are e.g. B. Green bridges or toad tunnels, which are supposed to enable animals to partially maintain their habitat requirements despite intensive land use.

Since 1988 the biotope of the year has been proclaimed in Hessen to draw the public's attention to endangered or particularly valuable biotopes.

Criticism and resistance

Biotope protection is democratically legitimized as a social and political goal and defined by law. On the other hand, the preservation and care of valuable biotopes require a high level of financial and energetic expenditure, which means external costs, i.e. mostly to be borne by the general public. Under the pressure of the economic interests of land-intensive uses (agriculture and forestry, settlement activities, raw material extraction), the valuable, artificial cultural landscape can only be preserved through political instruments. The effectiveness of protective and care measures is not always apparent to the non-specialist observer, and so measures are often perceived as “senseless waste” or “unreasonable”.

A major social resistance to biotope protection, besides the pressure from land grabbing , is that the resulting external costs are not internalized into production costs or prices for consumers . The complex maintenance of biotopes would be necessary to a much lesser extent if their use or management were paid for (and promoted) through higher prices. In the past, resources were freed up through increased efficiency, which went hand in hand with a deterioration in the state of nature and the landscape. However, these resources have not yet been used to a sufficient extent to maintain the state of nature and the landscape as the basis of human existence.

A sensible strategy consists in the establishment of large protected areas in which certain biotopes can set up by themselves. At the same time, however, the economically motivated building and settlement pressure is steadily increasing. The extensive urban sprawl and the population's need for recreation make effective large-scale protected areas, in which nature would ultimately be left to its own devices, seemingly impossible in many regions.

See also

Web links

Commons : Biotopes  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Biotop  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. "If you want to include not only animals but also plants in the name, you can use the German words» Gewässer- und Geländearten «as» biotopes «. Friedrich Dahl: Principles and basic concepts of biocenotic research. In: Zoologische Anzeiger 33 (1908): pp. 349–353 Quotation on p. 351 full text source
  2. M. Begon, JL Harper, C.R Townsend, 1999: Ecology. Individuals-populations-communities . Birkhäuser Verlag , Basel
  3. Biochore at
  4. Biochore. Duden