The central focus of this area is research into the functions of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems: still and flowing water, soil-water and groundwater, open landscape, arable land and forest – especially in relation to biodiversity. The findings from these research areas are used to develop concepts for sustainable use and management of agricultural land, forests, lakes and river ecosystems, as well as for the restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity, and other ecosystem services.

The processes and systems researched for this field include natural biology and biodiversity, interactions between microorganisms and plants and animals, the chemistry and biology of bioactive metabolites in biotic interactions, soil and forest ecology including carbon dynamics and stress tolerance of forests, water ecology, aboveground and underground water cycles, aquatic and terrestrial material cycles, environmental meteorology, climate processes, climate change and analysis of the environment.

Research in the field of the sustainable management of ecosystems, including crop science, wildlife management, biodiversity management, soil protection and management, river and groundwater protection, silviculture, forest monitoring, forest protection and forest technology, ecological water management, land and resource use, “the blue bioeconomy” (sustainable aquaculture) and environmental forensics. Research will be carried out into vulnerability and adaptation strategies of (managed) ecosystems as well as nature-based solutions for the restoration of ecosystems in the context of changes and threats from climate change (alien invasive species, water scarcity, extreme events and soil degradation).

Other main points in this area of competence concern large-scale experimental approaches, as well as digitization processes in environmental science, agriculture and forestry and water research (ecosystem modelling, habitat modelling, climate modelling, geomatics and hydro-informatics including methods from the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence).

The cross-linking of departments researching in this field of expertise is carried out by the following graduate schools: (i) Transition to Sustainability (T2S) and (ii) Human River Systems in the 21st Century (HR21), by the Centre for Bioeconomy and the Cluster for Development Research (CDR).

The distribution of third-party funds raised represents an appropriate balance between basic research and applied research, as well as between national and European funding agencies. Current and planned major projects include Horizon 2020 projects (e.g. EJP-Soil), ERA-NET, ESFRI (e.g. DANUBIUS, eLTER-RI) and Horizon Europe Pillar 2 Cluster 5 (climate etc.) and Cluster 6 (Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment etc.). The main national sponsors are FWF, WWTF, FFG, the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund, and the City of Vienna University Anniversary Foundation, as well as regional administrations and public corporations.