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Landscape Research

Lueneburger Heide
Lueneburger Heide

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Küster

Object of Research

The landscapes we see today are the result of a process lasting over millions of years, characterized by the interaction of abiotic and biotic factors. Geology, climate, relief, soil, water balance, vegetation, fauna, and anthropogenic impacts constitute the crucial parameters. A landscape is accordingly not static, but subject to permanent change.

The image of a landscape is evaluated by humans: A landscape is perceived as static, although natural processes are permanently changing it. There are landscapes which are conceived as “nature” and make the double meaning of this term evident: On the one hand, nature is the natural process of change, on the other, it is the what people believe to represent static nature. “Near-natural landscapes” or “cultural landscapes” are designations which are derived from the interpretation of a landscape believed to be static. If we talk about “nature conservation”, we may either mean the preservation of the process which stands under the influence of natural change, or the conservation of a landscape believed to represent nature. This contradiction must be resolved.

In this regard, we work in following fields of research, holding a perspective that is based on geobotany:

  • Landscape history

  • Landscape dynamics and processes of landscape change

  • Specific forms of agricultural and forestal land use

  • Scenarios of landscape development

Current Projects

Triticum monococcum
Cultured crops (here: Triticum monococcum) are distinguished by large grains with a high starch content and a stable ear axis which remains intact after ripening.

Preparation of a volume about Emden and Krummhörn in the series “Landscapes in Germany” (funded by the Lower Saxony Foundation)

In cooperation with the Institute of Regional Geography in Leipzig, a volume belonging to the traditional publication series “Landscapes in Germany” is being prepared and supposed to deal with the City of Emden and the Krummhörn marshland area. Comprehensive representations of the regional history and landscape have been attained during the last decades. They provide the basis for the compilation of this book, along with new territorial records and images. It is particularly intended not only to consider the landscape’s natural and settlement history in an isolated fashion, but to describe the interactions between natural factors and human activity and settlement. The country surrounding the City of Emden has also been influenced over centuries by urban activities, since the formation of a settlement process in the treeless marshes would have been impossible without the establishment of a trade network which enabled an intensive contact between townspeople and people from the countryside. Old traces of the urban influence on the marshes can still be seen, for example, in the art works in the medieval churches of the area; they demonstrate that surpluses from the land use must have always been plenty, so that the inhabitants of the region were able to afford purchasing numerous imported goods. The book will be published by the Böhlau printing house(Cologne/ Weimar).

Revision of the book “History of the Landscapes in Central Europe”

The collective representation of central Europe’s landscape history is based on material records which by now date back to almost twenty years. It has been agreed with the C.H. Beck printing house that a fundamental revision of the book is to be released as soon as the remaining copies of the previous editions are sold out; this will be the case in the course of 2010.

Description of the History of Cultivated Plants

Landscapes in many places of the world have been greatly changed to enable the cultivation of crops. Fields were irrigated, woodlands cleared to create fields for agriculture. The plants which were grown in the last 10,000 years had to display specific traits: They not only had to contain large amounts of nutritious substances (carbohydrates, fat, or proteins) but the ripened fruits or seeds had to adhere to the plant until the seeds were ripe. As the seeds and fruits of wild plant species normally do not ripen at exactly the same time, plants had to be selected particularly in this regard: Over thousands of years people collected especially those plants to which as many as possible ripe seeds and fruits adhered. This produced a type of selection which ran in opposition to natural selection. These views are to be published book form.

Project: “Interactive Biodiversity” (cooperation partner of the Institute of Life Science Didactics, funded by the Federal Environment Foundation)

The basics for an electronic determination of plant and animal species are currently elaborated in the scope of a pilot project. The Institute of Geobotany is responsible for the scientific management of the project, in which aspects of biological didactics stand in the focus.

Finalized Projects

Woerlitz Park was developed in a riverine landscape of the Elbe. Lake Woerlitz, the central part of the park, resulted from an old branch of the river.

Landscape Textbook “Garden Realm of Dessau Wörlitz” (funded by the Ministry of Education in Saxony-Anhalt)


Based on the theoretical approach that landscapes are created by natural processes, shaped by humans, ideas and metaphors, a landscape textbook was written on the “Garden Realm of Dessau Wörlitz”. This area lies in a glacial spillway of the Saale Ice Age, in which the Elbe flows today. Agriculture has been practiced for over thousands of years at the margins of the valley and especially where the Mulde flows into the Elbe, whereas a vast meadowland (pasture woodland) used to be located in the lowlands. The area has been considerably reshaped in several controlled steps since the late seventeenth century, i.e. by the establishment of one of the oldest large-sized formal gardens (Oranienbaum) in central Europe and the creation of the oldest landscape park in Germany (Wörlitz Park). Numerous relations between the biogeographic circumstances, the political-historical situation, and the respective forms of planning could be revealed. The book will appear in 2010, published by the C.H. Beck publishing house in Munich.

PAN Project “European Cultural landscapes” (funded by the European Union)

A group of European landscape researchers who had collected very excellent examples of historical cultural landscapes assembled under the project leadership of the University in Bergen. The results were published on the Internet; the database is currently being extended. A selection of historical landscapes has been presented in a book which was published in German language in 2009 (Knut Krzywinski, Michael O’Connell and Hansjörg Küster, Europäische Kulturlandschaften. Bremen 2009). An English and Norwegian edition is to follow early in 2010.