ZALF features a unique combination of expertise in natural, engineering and social sciences. Focusing on three Core Topics, issues of high relevance to society can thus be studied at different scales.
In addition to demands originating from the sustainability debate, the so-called Grand Societal Challenges have also been dominating the international science-policy discussion for some years. In consequence, research questions are derived from societal problems.
With regard to ZALF research, this includes, for example, sustainable agriculture and forestry, food security, the fight against climate change and its consequences, sustainable resource management as well as the maintenance of biological diversity.
In its 2015 position paper, the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) states that the cooperation between natural, engineering and life sciences as well as social and cultural sciences is essential for overcoming the Grand Societal Challenges. At the same time, the perception of the role of science in society is changing. Based on excellent disciplinary research, ZALF therefore not only pursues interdisciplinary but also transdisciplinary research, which involves additional stakeholders.
One science-based contribution to overcome the Grand Societal Challenges involves analyzing the behavior of the involved, mostly complex systems, developing scenarios and evaluating options for action. This requires the combination of knowledge of various natural, technical, economic, social and cultural aspects and system components and of their respective behavior at varying spatial and temporal scales. ZALF has taken on this challenge in its research field - agricultural landscapes.
In this context, the main objective of ZALF is to study natural, engineering and social interdependencies in agricultural landscapes at different scales in order to propose solutions for the sustainable use of agricultural landscapes. Research at ZALF is therefore divided into three Core Topics, focusing on different characteristics and interdependencies of the overall system:
Regarding the mission of ZALF, namely of providing society with knowledge for the sustainable use of agricultural landscapes, the three Core Topics address research questions concerning agricultural land use from different perspectives and in a coordinated manner. Conceptually, the three Core Topics build on one another and are interlinked with respect to content and methods. Research topics related to the Grand Societal Challenges such as agricultural intensification, climate change adaption, or water management can thus be dealt with from different angles according to the respective Core Topic. Cooperation between the three Core Topics is achieved by means of joint projects on appropriate topics.