Trends in abundance and biomass of European birds

Inger, R., Gregory, R., Duffy, J. P., Stott, I., Vorisek, P. & Gaston, K. J. (2015) Common European birds are declining rapidly while less abundant species’ numbers are rising. Ecology Letters 18, 28-36.

Biodiversity is undergoing unprecedented global decline. Efforts to slow this rate have focused foremost on rarer species, which are at most risk of extinction. Less interest has been paid to more common species, despite their greater importance in terms of ecosystem function and service provision. How rates of decline are partitioned between common and less abundant species remains unclear. Using a 30-year data set of 144 bird species, we examined Europe-wide trends in avian abundance and biomass. Overall, avian abundance and biomass are both declining with most of this decline being attributed to more common species, while less abundant species showed an overall increase in both abundance and biomass. If overall avian declines are mainly due to reductions in a small number of common species, conservation efforts targeted at rarer species must be better matched with efforts to increase overall bird numbers, if ecological impacts of birds are to be maintained.

180 Words

Tree cover in urban parks

Shanahan, D. F., Lin, B. B., Gaston, K. J., Bush, R. & Fuller, R. A. (2015) What is the role of trees and remnant vegetation in attracting people to urban parks? Landscape Ecology 30, 153-165.

Public parks commonly contain important habitat for urban biodiversity, and they also provide recreation opportunities for urban residents. However, the extent to which dual outcomes for recreation and conservation can be achieved in the same spaces remains unclear. We examine whether greater levels of (i) tree cover (i.e. park ‘greenness’) and (ii) native remnant vegetation cover (i.e. vegetation with high ecological value) attract or deter park visitors. This study is based on the park visitation behaviour of 670 survey respondents in Brisbane, Australia, detailing 1,090 individual visits to 324 urban parks. We first examined the presence of any clear revealed preferences for visiting parks with higher or lower levels of tree cover or remnant vegetation cover. We then examined the differences between each park visited by respondents and the park closest to their home, and used linear mixed models to identify socio-demographic groups who are more likely to travel further to visit parks with greater tree cover or remnant vegetation cover. Park visitation rates reflected the availability of parks, suggesting that people do not preferentially visit parks with greater vegetation cover despite the potential for improved nature-based experiences and greater wellbeing benefits. However, we discovered that people with a greater orientation towards nature (measured using the nature relatedness scale) tend to travel further for more vegetated parks. Our results suggest that to enhance recreational benefits from ecologically valuable spaces a range of social or educational interventions are required to enhance people’s connection to nature.

276 Words

Agricultural ecosystems for biodiversity conservation

Duran, A. P., Duffy, J. P. & Gaston, K. J. (2014) Exclusion of agricultural lands in spatial conservation prioritization strategies: consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem service representation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281 (1792), 20141529.

Agroecosystems have traditionally been considered incompatible with biological conservation goals, and often been excluded from spatial conservation prioritization strategies. The consequences for the representativeness of identified priority areas have been little explored. Here, we evaluate these for biodiversity and carbon storage representation when agricultural land areas are excluded from a spatial prioritization strategy for South America. Comparing different prioritization approaches, we also assess how the spatial overlap of priority areas changes. The exclusion of agricultural lands was detrimental to biodiversity representation, indicating that priority areas for agricultural production overlap with areas of relatively high occurrence of species. By contrast, exclusion of agricultural lands benefits representation of carbon storage within priority areas, as lands of high value for agriculture and carbon storage overlap little. When agricultural lands were included and equally weighted with biodiversity and carbon storage, a balanced representation resulted. Our findings suggest that with appropriate management, South American agroecosystems can significantly contribute to biodiversity conservation.

187 Words

Vegetation cover along socio-economic gradients in Brisbane

Shanahan, D. F., Lin, B. B., Gaston, K. J., Bush, R. & Fuller, R. A. (2014) Socio-economic inequalities in access to nature on public and private lands: a case study from Brisbane, Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning 130, 14–23.

Opportunities to experience nature are important for human wellbeing, yet they are often inequitably distributed across society. Socio-economic variation can explain some of this inequity, but there has been relatively limited consideration of how access to different kinds of nature experiences varies across society. Here we examine how tree cover (as a measure of the general ‘greenness’ of urban environments) and native remnant vegetation cover (as a measure of access to higher quality natural areas) varies across the socio-economic gradient within public parkland and residential yards in Brisbane, Australia. We found that most tree cover was provided on residential land, and spatial regression models revealed that tree cover in both public parkland and private spaces was strongly positively related to socio-economic advantage. Conversely, most remnant vegetation cover was located on public parkland, and this was only weakly positively related to socio-economic status. These results suggest that municipal management of remnant vegetation can support equity in access to high quality nature experiences across the socio-economic gradient. However, the results also highlight the important role of residential yards in providing access to nature in general, as these areas provide the majority of overall tree cover. Thus, while public policy can enhance equity in access to nature on public lands, strategies such as social marketing and incentives that enhance nature within private spaces are important particularly within more disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

262 Words

Effects of artificial night-time light

Gaston, K. J., Duffy, J. P., Gaston, S., Bennie, J. & Davies, T. W. (2014) Human alteration of natural light cycles: causes and ecological consequences. Oecologia 176, 917–931.

Artificial light at night is profoundly altering natural light cycles, particularly as perceived by many organisms, over extensive areas of the globe. This alteration comprises the introduction of light at night at places and times at which it has not previously occurred, and with different spectral signatures. Given the long geological periods for which light cycles have previously been consistent, this constitutes a novel environmental pressure, and one for which there is evidence for biological effects that span from molecular to community level. Here we provide a synthesis of understanding of the form and extent of this alteration, some of the key consequences for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, interactions and synergies with other anthropogenic pressures on the environment, major uncertainties, and future prospects and management options. This constitutes a compelling example of the need for a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach to understanding and managing the impact of one particular anthropogenic pressure. The former requires insights that span molecular biology to ecosystem ecology, and the latter contributions of biologists, policy makers and engineers.

195 Words

Marine artificial light

Davies, T. W., Duffy, J. P., Bennie, J. & Gaston, K. J. (2014) The nature, extent and ecological consequences of marine light pollution. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12(6), 347–355.

Despite centuries of use, artificial light at night has only recently been recognized as a cause for environmental concern. Its global extent and ongoing encroachment into naturally lit ecosystems has sparked scientific interest into the many ways in which it may negatively affect human health, societal attitudes, scientific endeavors, and biological processes. Yet, perhaps because sources of artificial light are largely land based, the potential for artificial light pollution to interfere with the biology of the ocean has not been explored in any detail. There is little information on how light pollution affects those species, behaviors, and interactions that are informed by the intensity, spectra, and periodicity of natural nighttime light in marine ecosystems. Here, we provide an overview of the extent of marine light pollution, discuss how it changes the physical environment, and explore its potential role in shaping marine ecosystems.

169 Words

How effective are Protected Areas?

Coetzee, B.W.T., Gaston, K.J. & Chown, S.L. (2014) Local Scale Comparisons of Biodiversity as a Test for Global Protected Area Ecological Performance: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 9(8): e105824.

Terrestrial protected areas (PAs) are cornerstones of global biodiversity conservation. Their efficacy in terms of maintaining biodiversity is, however, much debated. Studies to date have been unable to provide a general answer as to PA conservation efficacy because of their typically restricted geographic and/or taxonomic focus, or qualitative approaches focusing on proxies for biodiversity, such as deforestation. Given the rarity of historical data to enable comparisons of biodiversity before/after PA establishment, many smaller scale studies over the past 30 years have directly compared biodiversity inside PAs to that of surrounding areas, which provides one measure of PA ecological performance. Here we use a meta-analysis of such studies (N = 86) to test if PAs contain higher biodiversity values than surrounding areas, and so assess their contribution to determining PA efficacy. We find that PAs generally have higher abundances of individual species, higher assemblage abundances, and higher species richness values compared with alternative land uses. Local scale studies in combination thus show that PAs retain more biodiversity than alternative land use areas. Nonetheless, much variation is present in the effect sizes, which underscores the context-specificity of PA efficacy.

215 Words

Mapping Ecosystem Services

Casalegno, S., Bennie, J.J., Inger, R. & Gaston, K.J. (2014) Regional Scale Prioritisation for Key Ecosystem Services, Renewable Energy Production and Urban Development. PLoS ONE 9(9): e107822.

Although the importance of addressing ecosystem service benefits in regional land use planning and decision-making is evident, substantial practical challenges remain. In particular, methods to identify priority areas for the provision of key ecosystem services and other environmental services (benefits from the environment not directly linked to the function of ecosystems) need to be developed. Priority areas are locations which provide disproportionally high benefits from one or more service. Here we map a set of ecosystem and environmental services and delineate priority areas according to different scenarios. Each scenario is produced by a set of weightings allocated to different services and corresponds to different landscape management strategies which decision makers could undertake. Using the county of Cornwall, U.K., as a case study, we processed gridded maps of key ecosystem services and environmental services, including renewable energy production and urban development. We explored their spatial distribution patterns and their spatial covariance and spatial stationarity within the region. Finally we applied a complementarity-based priority ranking algorithm (zonation) using different weighting schemes. Our conclusions are that (i) there are two main patterns of service distribution in this region, clustered services (including agriculture, carbon stocks, urban development and plant production) and dispersed services (including cultural services, energy production and floods mitigation); (ii) more than half of the services are spatially correlated and there is high non-stationarity in the spatial covariance between services; and (iii) it is important to consider both ecosystem services and other environmental services in identifying priority areas. Different weighting schemes provoke drastic changes in the delineation of priority areas and therefore decision making processes need to carefully consider the relative values attributed to different services.

301 Words

Land-sharing or land-sparing?

Soga, M., Yamaura, Y., Koike, S. & Gaston, K.J. (2014) Land sharing vs. land sparing: does the compact city reconcile urban development and biodiversity conservation? Journal of Applied Ecology, 51, 1378-1386.

As cities around the world rapidly expand, there is an urgent need to implement the best development form to minimize the negative impacts of urbanization on native biodiversity. Two divergent forms for the expansion of cities are land-sharing and land-sparing developments. To date, their relative benefits for biodiversity conservation are poorly understood. We quantified the relative conservation benefits of land-sharing and land-sparing developments for butterflies and ground beetles in Tokyo, Japan. For each insect species, we determined which approach resulted in a larger total population size. At a higher level of urbanization (higher number of buildings in a landscape), land sparing rather than land sharing resulted in a higher total population size for the majority species of both taxa. However, at a lower level of urbanization, butterflies and ground beetles showed different responses to city development forms. Ground beetles had their highest total population sizes under land sparing, whereas for butterflies, especially open-land and matrix-dwelling species, larger populations were achieved under land sharing. The negative impacts of urbanization on biodiversity differ greatly between land-sharing and land-sparing development forms. We also revealed that the relative conservation benefits of land sharing and land sparing depend on the level of urbanization. In areas that will be heavily urbanized in the future, city planners and policymakers should adopt approaches that follow a land-sparing strategy and that keep large blocks of greenspace free from development. At lower levels of urbanization, on the other hand, as land sharing was suggested to be the better strategy for many butterfly species, a hybrid development form could be adopted that integrates areas of land sharing and land sparing, which might have the additional benefit of enhancing the delivery of some ecosystem services by bringing nature and people closer together in some areas.

323 Words

City trees and soil carbon

Edmondson, J.L., O’Sullivan, O.S., Inger, R., Potter, J., McHugh, N., Gaston, K.J. & Leake, J.R. 2014. Urban tree effects on soil organic carbon. PLoS One 9, e101872.

Urban trees sequester carbon into biomass and provide many ecosystem service benefits aboveground leading to worldwide tree planting schemes. Since soils hold ~75% of ecosystem organic carbon, understanding the effect of urban trees on soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil properties that underpin belowground ecosystem services is vital. We use an observational study to investigate effects of three important tree genera and mixed-species woodlands on soil properties (to 1 m depth) compared to adjacent urban grasslands. Aboveground biomass and belowground ecosystem service provision by urban trees are found not to be directly coupled. Indeed, SOC enhancement relative to urban grasslands is genus-specific being highest under Fraxinus excelsior and Acer spp., but similar to grasslands under Quercus robur and mixed woodland. Tree cover type does not influence soil bulk density or C:N ratio, properties which indicate the ability of soils to provide regulating ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and flood mitigation. The trends observed in this study suggest that genus selection is important to maximise long-term SOC storage under urban trees, but emerging threats from genus-specific pathogens must also be considered.


211 Words