I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Together with Dr Thomas Kastner, I am working on quantifying and downscaling biodiversity targets to different sectors and actors. 

In previous projects, I was studying effects of global change (climate change and species introductions) on interacting species with trait-based approaches.

E-Mail: larissanowak89@gmail.com

Current affiliation
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
Senckenberganlage 25
60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany



My research revolves around two main topics. On the one hand, I am interested in understanding how different aspects of global change impact biodiversity. On the other hand, I aim to find ways to apply such knowledge to protect biodiversity in a changing world.

My current project focuses on making biodiversity targets measurable and downscaling them to different sectors and actors. This work is part of a bigger project aiming at contributing to halting and reversing biodiversity loss caused by global biomass production systems.

In previous projects, I applied trait-based approaches to understand the potential impacts of future climate change and species introductions on interacting species. This work focused on mutualistic interactions between fleshy-fruited plants and avian frugivores, which contribute to the ecosystem function of seed dispersal.

Keywords: ecology, global change, biodiversity, species‘ traits, biodiversity targets


Nowak, L., Schleuning, M., Bender, I. M. A., Böhning-Gaese, K., Dehling, D. M., Fritz, S. A., Kissling, W. D., Müller, T., Neuschulz, E. L., Pigot, A., Sorensen, M. C., Donoso, I. (2022). Avian seed dispersal may be insufficient for plants to track future temperature change on tropical mountains. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 31, 848-860.

Nowak, L., Schleuning, M., Bender, I. M. A., Kissling, W. D., Fritz, S. A. (2022). Independent variation of avian sensitivity to climate change and adaptive capacity along a tropical elevational gradient. Diversity and Distributions, 28, 1123-1135.

Bagnara, M., Nowak, L.,  Boehmer, J., Schöll, F., Schurr, F., Seebens, H. (2022). Simulating spread and establishment of alien species along aquatic and terrestrial transportation networks – a multi-pathway and high resolution approach. Journal of Applied Ecology, 59, 1769-1780.

Tobias, A. J., […], Nowak L., […], Fritz, S. A., Thomas G. H., Schleuning M. (2022). AVONET: morphological, ecological and geographical data for all birds. Ecology Letters, 25, 581-597.

Schleuning, M., Neuschulz, E. L., Albrecht, J., Bender, I. M., Bowler, D. E., Dehling, D. M., Fritz, S. A., Hof, C., Mueller, T., Nowak, L., Sorensen, M. C., Böhning-Gaese, K., & Kissling, W. D. (2020). Trait-based assessments of climate-change impacts on interacting Species. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 35, 319-328.

Nowak, L., Kissling, W. D., Bender, I. M. A., Dehling, D. M., Töpfer, T., Böhning-Gaese, K., & Schleuning, M. (2019). Projecting consequences of global warming for the functional diversity of fleshy-fruited plants and frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Diversity and Distributions, 25, 1362-1374.

Bender, I. M. A., Kissling, W. D., Böhning-Gaese, K., Hensen I., Kühn, I., Nowak, L., Töpfer, T., Wiegand, T., Dehling, D. M., & Schleuning, M. (2019). Projected impacts of climate change on functional diversity of frugivorous birds along a tropical elevational gradient. Scientific Reports, 9, 17708.

Bender, I. M. A., Kissling, W. D., Blendinger, P. G., Böhning-Gaese, K., Hensen I., Kühn, I., Muñoz, M. C., Neuschulz, E. L. , Nowak, L., Quitián, M., Saavedra, F., Santillán, V., Töpfer, T., Wiegand, T., Dehling, D. M., & Schleuning, M. (2018). Morphological trait matching shapes plant-frugivore networks across the Andes. Ecography, 41, 1910-1919.

Dugger, P. J., Blendinger, P. G., Böhning-Gaese, K., Chama, L., Correia, M., Dehling, D. M., Emer, C., Farwig, N., Fricke E. C., Galetti, M., García, D., Grass, I., Heleno, R., Jacomassa, F. A. F., Moraes, S., Moran, Catherine, Muñoz, M. C., Neuschulz, E. L., Nowak, L. , Piratelli, A., Pizo, M. A., Quitián, M., Rogers, H. S., Ruggera, R. A., Saavedra, F., Sánchez, M. S., Sánchez, R., Santillán, V., Schabo, D. G., Ribeiro da Silva, F., Timóteo, S., Traveset, A., Vollstädt, M. G. R., & Schleuning, M. (2018). Seed-dispersal networks are more specialized in the Neotropics than in the Afrotropics. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 28, 248-261. 




Ph.D. in Ecology. Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University Frankfurt, 07/2021

M.Sc. in Ecology and Evolution. Goethe University Frankfurt, 02/2016

B.Sc. in Environmental Science and International Forestry. Albert-Ludwig University, Freiburg, 02/2013

Scientific positions and scholarships

Postdoctoral research fellow in ‚Coproduced transformative knowledge to accelerate change for biodiversity (RAINFOREST)‘ at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, since 01/2023

Postdoctoral reserach fellow and Alexander von Humboldt foundation scholar, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA), 01/2022 – 12/2022

Research fellow in ‚Modelling species introductions’, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, 02/2021 – 10/2021

Doctoral research fellow in Emmy Noether Programme, ‘Macroevolution of climatic niches in birds’, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, 11/2020 – 01/2021

Doctoral research fellow in ‘Impacts of climate change on interacting plant and bird species’, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, 10/2016 – 10/2020

Research assistance at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 12/2015 – 09/2016

Additional experience

Teaching assistance in Master course ‘Community Ecology, Movement Ecology and Macroecology’ at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2016 – 2021

Internship at Forstliche Versuchs- und Forschungsanstalt Baden-Württemberg (forestry research institute), section forest ecology, Freiburg, Germany, 2012


Biodiversity – the fascinating variety of life on Earth

The diversity of life on Earth is striking. To date, we know of more than 6000 mammal species, about 10,000 bird species, almost 400,000 plant species, and approximately 1,000,000 insect species. But this is not all. It is estimated that many species are not even discovered yet, e.g., about 80% of the global insect species are still to be described.

This wide variety of life on Earth is termed biodiversity.

Biodiversity not only refers to the diversity of plants, animals or fungi dwelling on Earth, but it also encompasses as tiny things as single genes and as big things as entire ecosystems. Biodiversity enriches the planet with various colours, shapes, smells, and sounds, and it is everywhere around us. The forest where we go for a walk, the lake where we swim or the garden next to our house are full of buzzing life. Even in the middle of a city, we will encounter biodiversity. Be it the plant that squeezes its way through the asphalt, the bird that sings in an ornamental tree, or the bat that circles a street lamp at night, we can find different forms of life everywhere.

And why should we care about biodiversity? – You may wonder. Indeed, there are several important reasons, but for now, I would like to introduce one of my favourite reasons: biodiversity brings joy. It is joyful, fascinating, and inspiring to discover what is flying, crawling, hopping, twittering, or growing around us with all our senses.

How about taking on a challenge? Next time you step out of your door, go to your balcony or open a window, pause a minute and discover the different forms of life surrounding you. Which plants can you see, from tiny to large? Which animals can you hear? Are there any nature-related smells, for example, of flowers or herbs? Which colours and shapes do you see? Can you count the living beings around you? I bet the longer you look, the more you will discover. Give it a try.


1. Burgin, C. J., Colella, J. P., Kahn, P. L. & Upham, N. S. How many species of mammals are there? J. Mammal. 99, 1–14 (2018).
2. HBW & BirdLife. HBW and BirdLife Taxonomic Checklist v6. http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/taxonomy.
3. Barrowclough, G. F., Cracraft, J., Klicka, J. & Zink, R. M. How Many Kinds of Birds Are There and Why Does It Matter? PLoS One 11, e0166307 (2016).
4. Christenhusz, M. J. M. & Byng, J. W. The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase. Phytotaxa 261, 201 (2016).
5. Stork, N. E. How many species of insects and other terrestrial arthropods are there on Earth? Annu. Rev. Entomol. 63, 31–45 (2018).
6. Mora, C., Tittensor, D. P., Adl, S., Simpson, A. G. B. & Worm, B. How many species are there on Earth and in the ocean? PLoS Biol. 9, e1001127 (2011).
7. CBD. Convention on Biological Diversity – Article 2. Use of terms.
8. Díaz, S. et al. Assessing nature’s contributions to people. Science 359, 270–272 (2018).

My first encounter with an Octopus

A few days ago, I went to the coast in the South-East of Mallorca to spend a day at the sea, sunbathing and snorkelling. Snorkelling around Mallorca is fantastic. The water is usually crystal clear, and one can easily see down to the ground. We went to a rocky spot with meadows of Posidonia (Posidonia oceanica), a seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean sea, an important breeding ground and home to various marine animals.

When snorkelling, I saw a beautiful underwater landscape of varying depths, a mix of seagrass and rocky ground. There were numerous fishes, some swimming very close to me, and when I moved slowly and carefully, they were pretty relaxed and unafraid. Among them were saddled seabreams (Oblada melanura) with a characteristic dark spot at the base of their caudal fin. I also saw groups of tiny blue fishes closer to the ground and larger swarms of small, greenish, shining fishes that showed impressive swarm behaviour, such as changing directions almost simultaneously.

However, the highlight of that day was an encounter with an octopus (Octopus vulgaris). It was the first time I saw one in the wild (not on a screen). At first, I did not recognize it because it was sitting on the ground, well hidden, its colours adapted to the surroundings. I swam over it and thought, “that piece of rock has a bit of a strange shape…”. So I swam back, floated over the spot and paid closer attention. The octopus seemed a bit softer and more round than its surroundings. I could see some differently coloured skin, and then I spotted the eyes—what a beautiful moment and what an impressive animal. I was excited.

Later, I did some reading on octopuses. They are fascinating in many ways—for example, their ability to camouflage. With the help of specialized muscles and pigment cells in their skin, they can match their surroundings‘ colours, patterns and textures within seconds. As means of protection, they can squirt ink to distract potential predators. They have not one but three hearts, blue blood, and in addition to their central brain, a mini-brain in each of their tentacles. How amazing is this?