The word biotope derives from the Greek words bíos (life) and tópos (space). A biotope is a habitat in which certain plants and animals form a long-term association. Its composition depends primarily on the site conditions necessary for the existence and the flourishing of certain organisms. By virtue of its typical site and structural features, each biotope has its own potential, including its characteristic array of species. While the term “biotope” always refers to a concrete place, the term “biotope type” refers to biotopes within a definitive natural area which have the same characteristics.
Over the past three to four decades, the conditions of life for plants and animals have continued to deteriorate. The most important causes are the destruction and dismemberment of natural habitats by construction and impermeable coverage of the soil, as well as changes in the biotopes, e.g. due to fertiliser and pollutant input, extensive drops in the groundwater, and intensive agricultural and recreational use. While previously, only those species were affected which were by nature rare and strongly specialised in their needs, we today increasingly see a deterioration process which endangers the stock even of those species which were still very common during the 1950s.
Since there is a very complex relationship between particular plants and animals in nature, this development must be considered extremely dangerous. Complex food chains and communities of species have taken shape in a development process which has lasted for millennia, so that the loss of a single plant species means, on average, the loss of the basic conditions of life of between 10 and 20 species of animals. In extreme cases, several hundred species may be affected.
This development is demonstrated by an analysis of the Red Lists of endangered plant and animal species in Berlin. The Red Lists include 7,087 species, of which 13% are considered extinct or lost, and 31% as endangered. The share of Red List species in the overall species stock is 44%, or almost half of all wild plant and animal species. Broken down by species groups, the percentage of endangered species reaches values of around 40% among most invertebrates; for plants, fungi, and vertebrates, it is often considerably higher. (For detailed accounts and information, see Species Protection, only in German).
An assessment with reference to the Red List of Endangered Biotope Types in Germany (Riecken et al. 2006) yields a harldy less alarming picture for the biotope areas in Berlin. Approx. 10% of the area of Berlin contains biotopes which are endangered nation-wide. Berlin has a special responsibility for the protection and preservation of these biotopes.