Scientists working in the thematic field ‛future ecosystems’ conduct research on the material and energy flows in ecosystems, on structural and functional aspects of biodiversity as well as the causes and impacts of anthropogenic changes. For example, they investigate on different scales, which and how many species occur in specific ecosystems, which ecosystem services and resources they generate, how stable populations and ecosystems are, which environmental stress factors affect them and what kind of regeneration potential they have. Researchers develop sustainable policy options for managing natural resources sustainably – beyond the simplified alternatives of "protection" or "use". This means that they have to take into account basic economic, legal and social conditions, while also considering ecological and technical knowledge and the fact that the ecosystems being used also provide numerous services and that it is therefore of upmost importance to protect them.
In selected model landscapes in Germany, Europe and ‛hot spot’ regions of the world such as South East Asia, case studies are being implemented to explain how ecosystem services can be maintained and optimized for the long term: provisioning ecosystem services such as food provision, supporting ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration or nutrient cycling, regulating ecosystem services such as natural pest control or flood water control and cultural ecosystem services such as recreation. Research is being conducted to establish the drivers of land use change in rural, forest and urban systems and how a better land use management can not only preserve the multi-functionality of a landscape, but also its biodiversity and resilience ‒ in other words the ability of an ecosystem to maintain its basic functions after disturbance or overexploitation.
Researchers are developing policy options beyond the simplified alternatives of "protection" or "use".
In order to make the state, development trends and potential of an ecosystem both measurable and comparable, indicators are being developed to assess the state of ecosystems and the services that they provide – comparable to those indicators that were developed for the good chemical and biological condition of surface waters. Instead of using chemicals or technology solutions that are energy and raw material-intensive, "nature-based solutions" like the natural pollination potential or biologically-driven material cycles and other naturally adapted processes can help with pest control for example or with the adaptation to climate change.