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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: biodiversity

  1. How to Feed the World Without Killing the Planet?

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    • How can we balance demand for agricultural products with biodiversity protection?

    By July 7, 2017 The Nature Conservancy  read full blog article here

    ….Agriculture contributes one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, uses 70% of freshwater resources, and harms wildlife through conversion and fragmentation of biodiversity-rich habitats, water diversions, pesticide poisoning and creation of oceanic dead zones.1–3 And, as the human population grows and becomes more affluent, demand for food production is increasing, especially for luxury products that are more environmentally demanding.4 How can we balance demand for agricultural products with biodiversity protection?

    This question has prompted the land-sparing land-sharing debate.5–7 Land-sparing advocates argue that intensifying agriculture to produce higher yields is a necessary first condition to allow agriculture to contract to a smaller land footprint, providing opportunities for “sparing land for nature.”…The fallacy of the land-sparing land-sharing debate is its seductive simplicity.14….That logic is: ‘Biodiversity fares poorly in agriculture, therefore we must make agriculture as high-yielding as possible, to spare land for nature.’…

    The most immediate way to prevent further agricultural expansion into natural habitats is to have strong environmental policies and governance that prevents the expansion. Over the longer term, however, we can prevent further agricultural expansion by reducing consumption, and its companions, waste and inequity.32 Such solutions are not politically popular because they push back against the growth economy; yet there are three obvious places to start that could yield huge dividends for biodiversity and for current and future quality of life.

    • First, we could reduce meat consumption and the large land area that is devoted to producing it…Reducing meat consumption by those who eat too much, stabilizing it at current levels for those who are eating the right amount (about the size of a pack of cards per capita per day),33 and increasing access to meat for the 2 billion people who suffer from iron-deficient anemia,37 could help to solve several global disease crises at once. Finally, re-integrating livestock into smallholder farms could help to reduce nutrient overloads produced at contained animal feeding operations, reduce the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, and return critical nutrients to the soil and to the diets of small-holder or subsistence farmers.
    • Second, we could reduce the current wastage of 30 – 50% of the food that is produced annually….
    • Third, the growing human population also increases consumption — but we could stabilize human populations at lower levels than currently projected by meeting the unmet need for family planning.42,43 Many families wish to reduce the number of births, but do not have the means to do so. If these unmet needs for limiting reproduction could be met, human population could potentially stabilize at 6 – 7 billion people instead of the 9 – 13 billion people currently projected for 2100.44,45….

    FARMING FOR THE FUTURE

    ….Assuming that we could stabilize the existing agricultural land footprint primarily by reducing consumption (as described above) and creating strong environmental policies and governance that ensure nature protection, how should we farm in a manner most compatible with biodiversity conservation?

    …promote wildlife dispersal between protected areas to reduce long-term negative effects of isolation…by strategically restoring or protecting corridors of native vegetation surrounded by or interlocked with the most hospitable types of agricultural habitats, such as agroforestry,49 silvopastoral50 or other diversified agroecological systems,51 as has been proposed for the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.52

    …Use agroecological methods in the agricultural matrix that rely on the underlying biodiversity and ecosystem services,

    …Maintain productive, sustainable agriculture that supports livelihoods of local people living in the vicinities of protected areas. Agro-ecological methods, such as agroforestry, integrated pest management, and livestock integrationimpacts of agriculture on adjacent habitats and downstream regions….these agroecological methods increase resilience to drought, pests, diseases, floods, hurricanes and climate change,51,71–73 and help to preserve the sustainability of the system, by maintaining soil organic matter, water infiltration and holding-capacity, pest and disease control, pollination services, etc.41

    …Invest in agroecological and agronomic research and development to improve yields in diversified systems (with low reliance on external chemical inputs) in different cropping systems and regions.

    Conservationists should instead focus on other research questions and actions that will affect biodiversity conservation more directly….There is an urgent need to understand how different types of agriculture, as well as other matrix types,78 affect the dispersal capacities of wildlife. ..it is critical to determine which agricultural methods create the fewest negative spillover effects into adjacent natural habitats.

    Finally, incorporating socio-economic studies and participatory research can aid in focusing research questions on outcomes that can help inform pragmatic strategies appropriate to the conservation and agriculture needs of a given region.14,52 These types of studies, and others,14 would help to guide specific conservation actions to reconcile biodiversity conservation with agriculture….

  2. Small ‘weedy’ fish species to take over future oceans; acidic waters will reduce fish diversity, mid-sized predators associated with kelp

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    July 6, 2017 University of Adelaide  see full ScienceDaily article here

    The ocean acidification expected in the future will reduce fish diversity significantly, with small ‘weedy’ species dominating marine environments, researchers have demonstrated for the first time…..researchers studied species interactions in natural marine environments at underwater volcanic vents, where concentrations of CO2 match those predicted for oceans at the end of the century. They were compared with adjacent marine environments with current CO2 levels….
    ….”Small weedy species would normally be kept under control by their predators — and by predators we mean the medium-sized predators that are associated with kelp. But ocean acidification is also transforming ecosystems from kelp to low grassy turf, so we are losing the habitat that protects these intermediate predators, and therefore losing these species
    One way this biodiversity loss could be delayed is by reducing overfishing of intermediate predators.We showed how diminishing predator numbers has a cascading effect on local species diversity,” Professor Nagelkerken says. “Strong controls on overfishing could be a key action to stall diversity loss and ecosystem change in a high CO2 world.”A video about the research can be seen at https://youtu.be/oJE595-ALYoIvan Nagelkerken, Silvan U. Goldenberg, Camilo M. Ferreira, Bayden D. Russell, Sean D. Connell. Species Interactions Drive Fish Biodiversity Loss in a High-CO 2 World. Current Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.023
  3. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity?

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    • New model marries ecology, economics to determine how to protect biodiversity by managing ecosystem services

    June 28, 2017 University of California – Santa Barbara see full ScienceDaily article here

    ….What financial value should be ascribed to, say, plants that improve water quality or wetlands that reduce flooding and property damage from storms? Many ecology and conservation organizations advocate for making such determinations in the interest of land management. Conservation biologists, meanwhile, argue that putting a price tag on nature could weaken the protection of threatened species that have a lower dollar value.

    Therein lies the core issue in the debate: To what degree will biodiversity be protected by managing for ecosystem services?

    To address this question, a team of UC Santa Barbara researchers has developed a new modeling framework that blends a novel mix of ecology and economics. Their findings appear in the journal Ecology Letters.

    ….The team’s framework generates simple criteria for determining how much the value of the service must exceed the costs of management to financially justify protecting all species. This defines the settings whereby protecting all species is the economically optimal choice. The group examined this criterion for six different services and ecosystems, ranging from the pollination of watermelon to carbon storage along coastlines or in tropical dry forests.

    In some cases, protecting all species in an ecosystem is financially motivated. In others, management solely for financial benefits may leave many species at risk.

    Our results define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected,” Dee explained. “The analysis also helps identify when additional policies such as endangered species regulation will be needed to avoid biodiversity losses.”

    Laura E. Dee, Michel De Lara, Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines. To what extent can ecosystem services motivate protecting biodiversity? Ecology Letters, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/ele.12790

    Abstract: Society increasingly focuses on managing nature for the services it provides people rather than for the existence of particular species. How much biodiversity protection would result from this modified focus? Although biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, the details of which species are critical, and whether they will go functionally extinct in the future, are fraught with uncertainty. Explicitly considering this uncertainty, we develop an analytical framework to determine how much biodiversity protection would arise solely from optimising net value from an ecosystem service. Using stochastic dynamic programming, we find that protecting a threshold number of species is optimal, and uncertainty surrounding how biodiversity produces services makes it optimal to protect more species than are presumed critical optimal. We define conditions under which the economically optimal protection strategy is to protect all species, no species, and cases in between. We show how the optimal number of species to protect depends upon different relationships between species and services, including considering multiple services. Our analysis provides simple criteria to evaluate when managing for particular ecosystem services could warrant protecting all species, given uncertainty. Evaluating this criterion with empirical estimates from different ecosystems suggests that optimising some services will be more likely to protect most species than others.

  4. California’s Delta Poised to Become Massive Carbon Bank

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    Matt Weiser June 9 2017  Water Deeply  see full article here

    A newly certified carbon trading protocol could help solve a number of problems in the West’s largest estuary, including flood risk, water pollution, habitat loss and threats to a critical freshwater supply.

    The largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, the Delta is a network of some 70 islands protected by more than 1,000 miles of levees. The soil on these islands is some of the richest farmland in the world because it is composed of organic material: decaying plants that accumulated over millennia.

    But when the levees were built 150 years ago to create farms, this dried out the soil, causing it to oxidize and decompose. As a result, the surface of many islands has slowly sunk below sea level. This results in a stronger leverage force on the levees, making them more vulnerable to failure. That’s a problem because the Delta is also the source of freshwater for 25 million Californians and more than 3 million acres of farmland. If numerous islands flooded due to levee failures, seawater could rush into the estuary and compromise the freshwater supply…

    Campbell Ingram: For every inch of elevation that you don’t lose in a given year due to ongoing agricultural practices, you’re not increasing hydrologic pressure on the levee. And for every inch that you then accrete in elevation, you’re reducing that pressure. It’s a slow process, but it’s at least moving in the right direction.

    A wetland compared to a monoculture of corn is typically going to have higher biodiversity, more use by waterfowl and amphibians and giant garter snakes. You can have some water quality benefits. And obviously the greenhouse gas emissions reduction and subsidence reversal….

    The Air Resources Board recently put out their latest scoping plan, and in that they describe a target of 15,000 to 30,000 acres of managed wetlands in the Delta in the next 13 years. This is one of the best uses of the western Delta because of its importance to the water supply….

  5. Human impacts on biodiversity and resulting loss of ecosystem services

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    May 31 2017  full ScienceDaily article here

    …coauthors from eight countries on four continents provide an overview of what we know and still need to learn about the impacts of habitat destruction, overhunting, the introduction of nonnative species, and other human activities on biodiversity.

    In addition, they summarize previous research on how biodiversity loss affects nature and the benefits nature provides –– for example, a recent study showing that reduced diversity in tree species in forests is linked to reduced wood production. Synthesizing findings of other studies, they estimate that the value humans derive from biodiversity is 10 times what every country in the world put together spends on conservation today — suggesting that additional investments in protecting species would not only reduce biodiversity loss but provide economic benefit, too.

    “Human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth, despite the fact that diversity of life enhances many benefits people reap from nature, such as wood from forests, livestock forage from grasslands, and fish from oceans and streams,” said Isbell, who served as lead author the paper. “It would be wise to invest much more in conserving biodiversity.”…

    Forest Isbell, Andrew Gonzalez, Michel Loreau, Jane Cowles, Sandra Díaz, Andy Hector, Georgina M. Mace, David A. Wardle, Mary I. O’Connor, J. Emmett Duffy, Lindsay A. Turnbull, Patrick L. Thompson, Anne Larigauderie. Linking the influence and dependence of people on biodiversity across scales. Nature, 2017; 546 (7656): 65 DOI: 10.1038/nature22899

    Abstract: Biodiversity enhances many of nature’s benefits to people, including the regulation of climate and the production of wood in forests, livestock forage in grasslands and fish in aquatic ecosystems. Yet people are now driving the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Human dependence and influence on biodiversity have mainly been studied separately and at contrasting scales of space and time, but new multiscale knowledge is beginning to link these relationships. Biodiversity loss substantially diminishes several ecosystem services by altering ecosystem functioning and stability, especially at the large temporal and spatial scales that are most relevant for policy and conservation.

  6. Planting 400 acres of pines to survive climate change, give more time to adapt

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    If you want to plant a pine tree that might survive the climate upheavals that are already remaking northern Minnesota’s boreal forest, where should it go? Scientists from the Nature Conservancy and elsewhere now think they know. This summer they’re embarking on a project to plant 400 acres with cold-loving evergreens like jack pine and tamarack in carefully selected “conifer strongholds” — places that they predict will stay cooler or wetter or have better soil, increasing the chances that a few of each species will survive for the next generation as Minnesota grows warmer.

    …The aim is to preserve northern forest species — not just the trees but also the mosaic of plants and animals that rely on them — to maintain biodiversity. Now, climate change is forcing a different kind of evolution on the southern, most vulnerable, edge of the boreal forest. The giant, long-living pines are disappearing, replaced by more southern species like red maple as tree species across the country move in response to rapid changes in temperature and moisture brought on by 100 years of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere.

    A study of 86 eastern tree species published last week by Purdue University scientists found that many [tree species] have already migrated west in response to increased rainfall in the central part of the country, and north in response to higher average temperatures.

    ….If that’s what happens [stay within 2C], then the conifer stronghold will work, he said. But if carbon emissions and climate change continue to accelerate, then in time, northern Minnesota will instead look a lot like Kansas, Frelich said, and no boreal species will survive long-term. Cornett hopes to provide conifers more time on the Minnesota landscape no matter what happens. She and foresters from the University of Minnesota and elsewhere have identified 30 such strongholds, totaling 400 acres, in the forests north of Duluth and in the St. Louis River watershed, where they will plant seedlings this year. Next year they plan to plant 50,000 more at other sites in northeast Minnesota.

    The conifer stronghold data comes from a much bigger effort by the Nature Conservancy to map and identify areas across the national landscape that are most likely to promote biodiversity in the future. In short, rather than tracking and protecting places because of the species that are there, it focuses on geology. A limestone valley, for example, will be home to a different set of species than a granite mountain no matter what the climate.

    Species are important, but they are going to change over time,” said Mark Anderson, the Boston Nature Conservancy scientist who is heading the project nationally. “We want to conserve these stages so they have a place to thrive.”

  7. Protecting life’s tangled ecological webs- keeping habitats connected

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    Allowing species to move in response to environmental change is predicted to not only reduce extinctions but allows food webs to maintain structure into the future

    May 9, 2017 McGill University ScienceDaily

    A key finding from their analysis: keeping habitats connected, so that species can move in response to environmental change, is crucial to ecosystem resilience.

    …Previous theories of biodiversity explain how the number or diversity of species may change, but few have asked how the ‘wiring’ of the ecological webs will change in the future. “A unified understanding of biodiversity conservation requires knowing how the structure of ecological networks will be reshaped by global change both in space and time, and this is what is different about our work“…

    ….By creating a computer model of ecological networks and simulating environmental shifts, the researchers discovered that allowing species to move in response to environmental change not only prevented extinctions, but it allowed the complex networks, such as food webs, to maintain their structure into the future. “Our results suggest the degree to which future ecosystems will resemble those we see today will depend on whether species are able to easily move across human dominated landscapes,” says Thompson, now a postdoctoral fellow at UBC who worked on the study as a PhD student in Gonzalez’s lab at McGill.

    Patrick L. Thompson, Andrew Gonzalez. Dispersal governs the reorganization of ecological networks under environmental change. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017; 1: 0162 DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0162

  8. Affluent countries contribute less to wildlife conservation than the rest of the world

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    Less affluent countries are more committed to conservation of their large animals than richer ones, a new research collaboration has found.

    May 4, 2017 University of Oxford  ScienceDaily

    …they found that in comparison to the more affluent, developed world, biodiversity is a higher priority in poorer areas such as the African nations, which contribute more to conservation than any other region….

    …the findings show that poorer countries tend to take a more active approach to biodiversity protection than richer nations. Ninety per cent of countries in North and Central America and 70 per cent of countries in Africa were classified as major or above-average in their mega-fauna conservation efforts.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/cache/MiamiImageURL/1-s2.0-S2351989416300804-gr2_lrg.jpg/0?wchp=dGLbVlB-zSkzk&pii=S2351989416300804Standardised Megafauna Conservation Index scores for the 20 top performing countries.

    …Firstly, [countries] can ‘re-wild’ their landscapes by reintroducing mega-fauna and/or by allowing the distribution of such species to increase. They can also set aside more land as strictly protected areas. And they can invest more in conservation, either at home or abroad.”

    Lindsey, Peter A et al. Relative efforts of countries to conserve global megafauna Global Ecology and Conservation Volume 10, April 2017, Pages 243–252

    From Abstract: …we developed a Megafauna Conservation Index (MCI) that assesses the spatial, ecological and financial contributions of 152 nations towards conservation of the world’s terrestrial megafauna. We chose megafauna because they are particularly valuable in economic, ecological and societal terms, and are challenging and expensive to conserve. We categorised these 152 countries as being above- or below-average performers based on whether their contribution to megafauna conservation was higher or lower than the global mean; ‘major’ performers or underperformers were those whose contribution exceeded 1 SD over or under the mean, respectively…. Our analysis points to three approaches that countries could adopt to improve their contribution to global megafauna conservation, depending on their circumstances: (1) upgrading or expanding their domestic protected area networks, with a particular emphasis on conserving large carnivore and herbivore habitat, (2) increase funding for conservation at home or abroad, or (3) ‘rewilding’ their landscapes. Once revised and perfected, we recommend publishing regular conservation rankings in the popular media to recognise major-performers, foster healthy pride and competition among nations, and identify ways for governments to improve their performance.

  9. Grasslands with diverse plant species have more carbon storage capacity

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    Grasslands’ carbon storage value now quantified

    Posted: 19 Apr 2017 06:15 AM PDT

    Grasslands that feature diverse plant species have more carbon storage capacity than less-diverse grasslands, largely because the former produce more biomass, the researchers say. They found that increasing the number of plant species from one to 10 had twice the value of increasing from one to two species, from the standpoint of carbon storage capacity.

    And the ability to measure the economic value of biodiversity for enhancing carbon storage could help in making decisions about land management, the paper published in the journal Science Advances concludes….

    Bruce A. Hungate, Edward B. Barbier, Amy W. Ando, Samuel P. Marks, Peter B. Reich, Natasja van Gestel, David Tilman, Johannes M. H. Knops, David U. Hooper, Bradley J. Butterfield, Bradley J. Cardinale. The economic value of grassland species for carbon storage. Science Advances, 2017; 3 (4): e1601880 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601880

  10. Climate change: global reshuffle of wildlife will have huge impacts on humanity

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    Mass migration of species to cooler climes has profound implications for society, pushing disease-carrying insects, crop pests and crucial pollinators into new areas, says international team of scientists

    , environment editor  The Guardian UK  Thursday 30 March 2017 Full article here

    Global warming is reshuffling the ranges of animals and plants around the world with profound consequences for humanity, according to a major new analysis. Rising temperatures on land and sea are increasingly forcing species to migrate to cooler climes, pushing disease-carrying insects into new areas, moving the pests that attack crops and shifting the pollinators that fertilise many of them, an international team of scientists has said.

    They warn that some movements will damage important industries, such as forestry and tourism, and that tensions are emerging between nations over shifting natural resources, such as fish stocks. The mass migration of species now underway around the planet can also amplify climate change as, for example, darker vegetation grows to replace sun-reflecting snow fields in the Arctic.

    Human survival, for urban and rural communities, depends on other life on Earth,” the experts write in their analysis published in the journal Science. “Climate change is impelling a universal redistribution of life on Earth.”…