Welcome to Kevin Gaston’s web site. Here you will find information about me, my research and my research group.
My group and I conduct basic, strategic and applied research in ecology and conservation biology, with particular emphases at present including common ecology, ecosystem goods & services, land use strategies, and urban ecology. We employ a broad spectrum of research techniques, including extensive sampling programmes, statistical modelling, and large scale field experiments, and work regionally, nationally and internationally.
10.6.13 New paper
Gaston, K.J. 2013. A green light for efficiency. Nature 497, 560-561.
- A Comment piece arguing that efforts to improve street lights are providing a rare opportunity to cut both financial and environmental costs.
10.6.13 New paper
Lennox, G.D., Gaston, K.J., Acs, S., Dallimer, M., Hanley, N. & Armsworth, P.R. 2013. Conservation when landowners have bargaining power: continuous conservation investments and cost uncertainty. Ecological Economics 93, 69-78.
- Spatially heterogeneous costs of securing conservation agreements should be accounted forwhen prioritizing properties for conservation investment. Most researchers incorporating conservation costs into analyses have relied on estimates of landowners’ opportunity costs of accepting a conservation agreement. Implicitly assumed in such studies is therefore that thosewho“produce” biodiversity (landowners) receive none of the surplus available from trade. Instead, landowners could use their bargaining power to gain profits from conservation investments. We employ game theory to determine the surplus landowners could obtain in negotiations over conservation agreements, and the consequent effects on conservation outcomes,when enrolment decisions are governed by continuous variables (e.g. the proportion of a property to enrol). In addition, we consider how landowner uncertainty regarding the opportunity costs of other landowners affects these outcomes. Landowners’ ability to gain surplus is highly variable and reflects variation in the substitutability of different properties for achieving a specified conservation objective. The ability of landowners to obtain profits from conservation agreements results in conservation outcomes that are substantially diminished relative to when landowners accept investment at opportunity costs. Uncertainty increases landowner profits, leading to a greater diminution in conservation benefits.
10.6.13 New paper
Durán, A.P., Rauch, J. & Gaston, K.J. 2013. Spatial coincidence between protected areas and metal mining activities. Biological Conservation 160, 272-278.
- The global protected area (PA) system has a key role to play in biological conservation, and it is thus vital to understand the factors that are likely to limit this potential. Attention to date has focused foremost on the consequences of biases in the spatial distribution of PAs for their effectiveness and efficiency in representing biodiversity. What is less clear is the extent to which these biases may also have affected the likelihood with which PAs coincide with or are influenced by particular kinds of threatening processes, further undermining their role. An obvious candidate for such concerns is metal mining activities. Here we demonstrate that approximately 7% of mines for four key metals directly overlap with PAs and a further 27% lie within 10 km of a PA boundary. Moreover, those PAs with mining activity within their boundaries constitute around 6% of the total areal coverage of the global terrestrial PA system, and those with mining activity within or up to 10 km from their boundary constitute nearly 14% of the total area. Given the distances over which mining activities can have influences, the persistence of their effects (often long after actual operations have closed down), and the rapidly growing demand for metals, there is an urgent need to limit or mitigate such conflicts.
10.6.13 New paper
Davies, T.W., Bennie, J., Inger, R., Hempel de Ibarra, N. & Gaston, K.J. 2013. Artificial light pollution: are shifting spectral signatures changing the balance of species interactions? Global Change Biology 19, 1417-1423.
- Technological developments in municipal lighting are altering the spectral characteristics of artificially lit habitats. Little is yet known of the biological consequences of such changes, although a variety of animal behaviours are dependent on detecting the spectral signature of light reflected from objects. Using previously published wavelengths of peak visual pigment absorbance, we compared how four alternative street lamp technologies affect the visual abilities of 213 species of arachnid, insect, bird, reptile and mammal by producing different wavelength ranges of light to which they are visually sensitive. The proportion of the visually detectable region of the light spectrum emitted by each lamp was compared to provide an indication of how different technologies are likely to facilitate visually guided behaviours such as detecting objects in the environment. Compared to narrow spectrum lamps, broad spectrum technologies enable animals to detect objects that reflect light over more of the spectrum to which they are sensitive and, importantly, create greater disparities in this ability between major taxonomic groups. The introduction of broad spectrum street lamps could therefore alter the balance of species interactions in the artificially lit environment.
10.6.13 New paper
Davies, T.W., Bennie, J., Inger, R., & Gaston, K.J. 2013. Artificial light alters natural regimes of night-time sky brightness. Scientific Reports 3, 1722.
- Artificial light is globally one of the most widely distributed forms of anthropogenic pollution. However, while both the nature and ecological effects of direct artificial lighting are increasingly well documented, those of artificial sky glow have received little attention.Weinvestigated how city lights alter natural regimes of lunar sky brightness using a novel ten month time series of measurements recorded across a gradient of increasing light pollution. In the city, artificial lights increased sky brightness to levels six times above those recorded in rural locations, nine and twenty kilometers away. Artificial lighting masked natural monthly and seasonal regimes of lunar sky brightness in the city, and increased the number and annual regime of full moon equivalent hours available to organisms during the night. The changes have potentially profound ecological consequences.
10.6.13 New paper
Cantú-Salazar, L., Orme, C.D.L., Rasmussen, P.C., Blackburn, T.M. & Gaston, K.J. 2013. The performance of the global protected area system in capturing vertebrate geographic ranges. Biodiversity and Conservation 22, 1033-1047.
- Given the heavy reliance placed on and investment in protected areas for biological conservation, there has been much debate as to how effective these are in representing biodiversity features within their boundaries. The majority of studies addressing this issue have been conducted on a regional or national basis, precluding a broad picture of patterns of representation at the species level. We present a global assessment of the representation of the terrestrial geographic ranges of complete taxonomic groups: all known extant amphibians, birds and mammals (20,736 species) within the current global system of protected areas. We conclude that it is necessary substantially to improve the levels of coverage of the geographic ranges of the majority of species, even the widespread ones. This is particularly true for rare species, which might be assumed to be foci for protected area systems. To improve on the low levels of coverage of vertebrate ranges attained by the existing areas, key regions should be targeted, but heavy reliance will also have to be placed on approaches to sustaining populations in the wider, unprotected landscape.
10.6.13 New paper
Anderson, K. & Gaston, K.J. 2013. Lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles will revolutionize spatial ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 11, 138-146.
- Ecologists require spatially explicit data to relate structure to function. To date, heavy reliance has been placed on obtaining such data from remote-sensing instruments mounted on spacecraft or manned aircraft, although the spatial and temporal resolutions of the data are often not suited to local-scale ecological investigations. Recent technological innovations have led to an upsurge in the availability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – aircraft remotely operated from the ground – and there are now many lightweight UAVs on offer at reasonable costs. Flying low and slow, UAVs offer ecologists new opportunities for scale-appropriate measurements of ecological phenomena. Equipped with capable sensors, UAVs can deliver fine spatial resolution data at temporal resolutions defined by the end user. Recent innovations in UAV platform design have been accompanied by improvements in navigation and the miniaturization of measurement technologies, allowing the study of individual organisms and their spatiotemporal dynamics at close range.
24.3.13 New paper
Tang, Z., Fang, J., Chi, X., Feng, J., Liu, Y., Shen, Z., Wang, X., Wang, Z., Wu, X., Zheng, C. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Patterns of plant beta-diversity along elevational and latitudinal gradients in mountain forests of China. Ecography 35, 1083-1091.
- Biodiversity patterns and their underlying mechanisms have long been focal topics of study for ecologists and biogeographers. However, compared with spatial variation in species richness (alpha- and gamma-diversity), beta-diversity, or the dissimilarity of species composition between two or more sites has until recently received limited attention. In this study, we explored the large-scale patterns of altitudinal turnover (beta-diversity) of plants in montane forests of China, based on systematic inventories of 1153 plots from 46 mountains distributed over ~30 degrees of latitude (21.9–51.7°N) and ~4100 m of altitude (160–4250 m). The beta-diversity of trees and shrubs declined significantly with increasing latitude. Along the altitudinal gradient, beta-diversity of both trees and shrubs showed non-significant trends in most mountains. Differences in climate explained ~30.0% of the variation in tree beta-diversity, with mean annual temperature being most important, and ~10.0% of that in shrub beta-diversity, with annual actual evapotranspiration and annual precipitation as the main predictors. However, climatic controls of beta-diversity varied dramatically in different biogeograpical regions. The beta-diversity of trees exhibited stronger, whereas that of shrubs showed weaker, climatic patterns in temperate and arid than subtropical regions. These results suggest that mechanisms causing patterns of beta-diversity may differ between latitudinal and altitudinal gradients, and among biogeographical regions; as a result, caution should be exercised in drawing close parallels between patterns and causes of beta-diversity along latitudinal and altitudinal gradients and among regions.
24.3.13 New paper
Tang, Z., Fang, J., Chi, X., Yang, Y., Ma, W., Mohhamot, A., Guo, Z., Liu, Y. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Geography, environment, and spatial turnover of species in China’s grasslands. Ecography 35, 1103-1109.
- Environment and spatial processes are key factors in shaping species composition in a community. These two factors make competing predictions concerning the decay of species composition similarity with environmental divergence and geographic distance. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to test independently because changes in environment are commonly well correlated with geographic distance. However, an opportunity is provided by exploiting marked regional differences in the spatial structure of the environment. In this study, we test the predictions of environment filtering and dispersal in explaining species turnover using ~300 study sites spanning ~4000 km, across three major grasslands in China in which the environment is spatially structured to different degrees. We find that species composition similarity decayed with environmental divergence in the same way in all three regions, and even across biogeographic regions between which dispersal barriers are evident; in contrast, the decay of species composition similarity with geographic distance depended largely on the spatial structure of the environment. We conclude that, at the scale of study, environmental filtering rather than spatial processes best explains patterns of species turnover in China’s grasslands.
6.3.13 New paper
Keniger, L.E., Gaston, K.J., Irvine, K.N. & Fuller, R.A. 2013. What are the benefits of interacting with nature? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 913-935.
- There is mounting empirical evidence that interacting with nature delivers measurable benefits to people. Reviews of this topic have generally focused on a specific type of benefit, been limited to a single discipline, or covered the benefits delivered from a particular type of interaction. Here we construct novel typologies of the settings, interactions and potential benefits of people-nature experiences, and use these to organise an assessment of the benefits of interacting with nature. We discover that evidence for the benefits of interacting with nature is geographically biased towards high latitudes and Western societies, potentially contributing to a focus on certain types of settings and benefits. Social scientists have been the most active researchers in this field. Contributions from ecologists are few in number, perhaps hindering the identification of key ecological features of the natural environment that deliver human benefits. Although many types of benefits have been studied, benefits to physical health, cognitive performance and psychological well-being have received much more attention than the social or spiritual benefits of interacting with nature, despite the potential for important consequences arising from the latter. The evidence for most benefits is correlational, and although there are several experimental studies, little as yet is known about the mechanisms that are important for delivering these benefits. For example, we do not know which characteristics of natural settings (e.g., biodiversity, level of disturbance, proximity, accessibility) are most important for triggering a beneficial interaction, and how these characteristics vary in importance among cultures, geographic regions and socio-economic groups. These are key directions for future research if we are to design landscapes that promote high quality interactions between people and nature in a rapidly urbanising world.
23.2.13 New paper
de Boer, W.F., van Langevelde, F., Prins, H.H.T., de Ruiter, P.C., Blanc, J., Vis, M.J.P., Gaston, K.J. & Douglas-Hamilton, I. 2013. Understanding spatial differences in African elephant densities and occurrence, a continent-wide analysis. Biological Conservation 159, 468-476.
- The densities and survival of many wild animals are presently at risk. Crucial for improving conservation actions is an understanding on a large scale of the relative importance of human and ecological factors in determining the distribution and densities of species. However, even for such charismatic species as the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), spatially explicit, large-scale analyses are lacking, although various local-scale studies are available. Here we show through continent-scale analysis that ecological factors, such as food availability, are correlated with the presence of elephants, but human factors are better predictors of elephant population densities where elephants are present. These densities strongly correlate with conservation policy, literacy rate, corruption and economic welfare, and associate less with the availability of food or water for these animals. Our results suggest that conservation strategies should be organized in a socioeconomic context. The successful conservation of large animal species could depend more on good human education, greater literacy, good governance, and less corruption, than merely setting aside areas for conservation.
17.2.13 New paper
Irvine, K.N., Warber, S.L., Devine-Wright, P. & Gaston, K.J. 2013. Understanding urban green space as a health resource: a qualitative comparison of visit motivation and derived effects among park users in Sheffield, UK. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 417-442.
- With increasing interest in the use of urban green space to promote human health, there is a need to understand the extent to which park users conceptualize these places as a resource for health and well-being. This study sought to examine park users’ own reasons for and benefits from green space usage and compare these with concepts and constructs in existing person-environment-health theories and models of health. Conducted in 13 public green spaces in Sheffield, UK, we undertook a qualitative content analysis of 312 park users’ responses to open-ended interview questions and identified a breadth, depth and salience of visit motivators and derived effects. Findings highlight a discrepancy between reasons for visiting and derived effects from the use of urban green space. Motivations emphasized walking, green space qualities, and children. Derived effects highlighted relaxation, positive emotions within the self and towards the place, and spiritual well-being. We generate a taxonomy of motivations and derived effects that could facilitate operationalization within empirical research and articulate a conceptual framework linking motivators to outcomes for investigating green space as a resource for human health and well-being.
15.2.13 New paper
Bonnington, C., Gaston, K.J. & Evans, K.L. 2013. Fearing the feline: domestic cats reduce avian fecundity through trait-mediated indirect effects that increase nest predation by other species. Journal of Applied Ecology 50, 15-24.
- Urban areas contain high densities of non-native species, which in the UK include the domestic cat and the grey squirrel. The direct predation effects of domestic cats on prey populations attract intense debate, and such influences of the nest-predatory grey squirrel are receiving increasing attention. In contrast, theory predicts that sublethal and indirect effects are more important, but empirical evidence is currently lacking. We conducted controlled model presentation experiments at active urban blackbird nests to provide the first empirical evidence that quantifies the potential sublethal and indirect effects of predators (domestic cat and grey squirrel) on avian reproductive success. Domestic cat models reduced subsequent parental provisioning rates, a strong indicator of sublethal effects, by one-third relative to a nonpredatory rabbit control. There was no compensatory increase in food load size. Previous experiments demonstrate that this magnitude of reduced food delivery will reduce nestling growth rates by c. 40%. The grey squirrel model induced similar but weaker effects. Following the brief presence of the domestic cat model, subsequent daily nest predation rates, chiefly by magpies and carrion crows, increased by an order of magnitude relative to the squirrel and rabbit models. The intensity of parental nest defence elicited in response to model presentations predicts the probability of such third-party predator predation events, and the domestic cat model generated significant increases in nest defence behaviour. It is imperative that future assessments of the impact of predatory species on avian prey species take lethal trait-mediated indirect effects into account, as so doing will prevent biased estimates of predator effects and facilitate the design of more effective management strategies.
4.1.13 New paper
Dornelas, M., Magurran, A.E., Buckland, S.T., Chao, A., Chazdon, R.L., Colwell, R.K., Curtis, T. Gaston, K.J., Gotelli, N.J., Kosnik, M.A., McGill, B., McCune, J.L., Morlon, H., Mumby, P.J., Øvreås, L., Studeny, A. & Vellend, M. 2013. Quantifying temporal change in biodiversity: challenges and opportunities. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 280, 20121931.
- Growing concern about biodiversity loss underscores the need to quantify and understand temporal change. Here, we review the opportunities presented by biodiversity time series, and address three related issues: (i) recognizing the characteristics of temporal data; (ii) selecting appropriate statistical procedures for analysing temporal data; and (iii) inferring and forecasting biodiversity change. With regard to the first issue, we draw attention to defining characteristics of biodiversity time series – lack of physical boundaries, uni-dimensionality, autocorrelation and directionality – that inform the choice of analytic methods. Second, we explore methods of quantifying change in biodiversity at different timescales, noting that autocorrelation can be viewed as a feature that sheds light on the underlying structure of temporal change. Finally, we address the transition from inferring to forecasting biodiversity change, highlighting potential pitfalls associated with phase-shifts and novel conditions.
19.12.12 New paper
Edmondson, J.L., Davies, Z.G., McHugh, N., Gaston, K.J. & Leake, J.R. 2012. Organic carbon hidden in urban ecosystems. Scientific Reports 2, 963.
- Urbanization is widely presumed to degrade ecosystem services, but empirical evidence is now challenging these assumptions. We report the first city-wide organic carbon (OC) budget for vegetation and soils, including under impervious surfaces. Urban soil OC storage was significantly greater than in regional agricultural land at equivalent soil depths, however there was no significant difference in storage between soils sampled beneath urban greenspaces and impervious surfaces, at equivalent depths. For a typical U.K. city, total OC storage was 17.6 kg m-2 across the entire urban area (assuming 0 kg m-2 under 15% of land covered by buildings). The majority of OC (82%) was held in soils, with 13% found under impervious surfaces, and 18% stored in vegetation.Wereveal that assumptions underpinning current national estimates of ecosystem OC stocks, as required by Kyoto Protocol signatories, are not robust and are likely to have seriously underestimated the contributions of urban areas.
8.12.12 New paper
Gaston, K.J., Davies, T.W., Bennie, J. & Hopkins, J. 2013. Reducing the ecological consequences of night-time light pollution: options and developments. Journal of Applied Ecology 49, 1256-1266.
- Much concern has been expressed about the ecological consequences of night-time light pollution. This concern is most often focused on the encroachment of artificial light into previously unlit areas of the night-time environment, but changes in the spectral composition, duration and spatial pattern of light are also recognized as having ecological effects. In this paper we examine the potential consequences for organisms of five management options to reduce night-time light pollution. These are to (i) prevent areas from being artificially lit; (ii) limit the duration of lighting; (iii) reduce the ‘trespass’ of lighting into areas that are not intended to be lit (including the night sky); (iv) change the intensity of lighting; and (v) change the spectral composition of lighting. Maintaining and increasing natural unlit areas is likely to be the most effective option for reducing the ecological effects of lighting. However, this will often conflict with other social and economic objectives. Decreasing the duration of lighting will reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, but is unlikely to alleviate many impacts on nocturnal and crepuscular animals, as peak times of demand for lighting frequently coincide with those in the activities of these species. Reducing the trespass of lighting will maintain heterogeneity even in otherwise well-lit areas, providing dark refuges that mobile animals can exploit. Decreasing the intensity of lighting will reduce energy consumption and limit both skyglow and the area impacted by high-intensity direct light. Shifts towards ‘whiter’ light are likely to increase the potential range of environmental impacts as light is emitted across a broader range of wavelengths. The artificial lightscape will change considerably over coming decades with the drive for more cost-effective low-carbon street lighting solutions and growth in the artificially lit area. Developing lighting strategies that minimize adverse ecological impacts while balancing the often conflicting requirements of light for human utility, comfort and safety, aesthetic concerns, energy consumption and carbon emission reduction constitute significant future challenges. However, as both lighting technology and understanding of its ecological effects develop, there is potential to identify adaptive solutions that resolve these conflicts.
20.9.12 New paper
Fuller, R.A., Irvine, K.N., Davies, Z.G., Armsworth, P.R. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Interactions between people and birds in urban landscapes. Studies in Avian Biology 45, 249-266.
- A large body of work over the past few decades has revealed the manifestly dramatic impacts of urbanization on species’ distributions and ecologies, many of which result from gross changes in land use and configuration. Less well understood are the rather more direct interactions between people and biodiversity in the urban arena. While there is a general concern that urbanization impoverishes human contact with nature, daily interaction with biodiversity in urban greenspaces and the widespread provision of food and nesting resources for wildlife form a part of many city-dwellers’ experience. Using data from the UK, we show that supplementary resource provision aimed explicitly at enhancing avian populations can result in high levels of additional foraging and nesting opportunities, particularly in urban areas. However, our data also indicate that levels of such resource provision are strongly positively correlated with human population density at a regional scale, and within a large city. The proportion of households participating in bird feeding depends on social and economic features of the human population, suggesting that strong covariation between human and ecological communities will result. Indeed, we demonstrate that the abundances of some urban-adapted bird species are positively related to the density of feeding stations across the urban landscape, although such relationships were not apparent for other species that commonly use garden feeding stations. It has been suggested that interactions with nature, such as feeding birds, could have beneficial consequences for human health. A better understanding of this potential feedback is required.
16.9.12 New paper
Davies, T.W., Bennie, J. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Street lighting changes the composition of invertebrate communities. Biology Letters 8, 764-767.
- Artificial lighting has been used to illuminate the nocturnal environment for centuries and continues to expand with urbanization and economic development. Yet, the potential ecological impact of the resultant light pollution has only recently emerged as a major cause for concern. While investigations have demonstrated that artificial lighting can influence organism behaviour, reproductive success and survivorship, none have addressed whether it is altering the composition of communities. We show, for the first time, that invertebrate community composition is affected by proximity to street lighting independently of the time of day. Five major invertebrate groups contributed to compositional differences, resulting in an increase in the number of predatory and scavenging individuals in brightly lit communities. Our results indicate that street lighting changes the environment at higher levels of biological organization than previously recognized, raising the potential that it can alter the structure and function of ecosystems.
24.8.12 New paper
Webb, T.J., Freckleton, R.P. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Characterising abundance-occupancy relationships: there is no artefact. Global Ecology & Biogeography 21, 952-957.
- A short piece logically and empirically refuting a recent suggestion that interspecific relationships between local abundance and regional occupancy are often artefactual. Rather, these patterns remain fundamentally important descriptors of the structure of species assemblages.
14.8.12 New paper
Canard, E., Mouquet, N., Marescot, L., Gaston, K.J., Gravel, D. & Mouillot, D. 2012. Emergence of structural patterns in neutral trophic networks. PLoS One 7, e38295.
- Networks of interactions between species are central elements of ecological systems and have very complex structures. Historically, much effort has focused on niche-mediated processes to explain these structures, while an emerging consensus posits that both niche and neutral mechanisms simultaneously shape many features of ecological communities. However, the study of interaction networks still lacks a comprehensive neutral theory. Here we present a neutral model of predator-prey interactions and analyze the structural characteristics of the simulated networks. We find that connectance values (complexity) and complexity-diversity relationships of neutral networks are close to those observed in empirical bipartite networks. High nestedness and low modularity values observed in neutral networks fall in the range of those from empirical antagonist bipartite networks. Our results suggest that, as an alternative to niche-mediated processes that induce incompatibility between species (‘‘niche forbidden links’’), neutral processes create ‘‘neutral forbidden links’’ due to uneven species abundance distributions and the low probability of interaction between rare species. Neutral trophic networks must be seen as the missing endpoint of a continuum from niche to purely stochastic approaches of community organization.
10.7.12 New paper
Davies, Z.G., Fuller, R.A., Dallimer, M., Loram, A. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Household factors influencing participation in bird feeding activity: a national scale analysis. PLoS One 7, e39692.
- In highly urbanized nations, domestic gardens can play a significant role in maintaining biodiversity and facilitating human-wildlife interactions, which benefit personal and societal health and wellbeing. The extent to which sociodemographic and socioeconomic factors are associated with engagement in wildlife gardening activities remain largely unresolved. Using two household-level survey datasets gathered from across Britain, we determine whether and how the socioeconomic background of a household influences participation in food provision for wild birds, the most popular and widespread form of human-wildlife interaction. A majority of households feed birds. House type, household size and the age of the head of the household were all important predictors of bird feeding, whereas gross annual household income, the occupation of the head of the household, and whether the house is owned or rented were not. In both surveys, the prevalence of bird feeding rose as house type became more detached and as the age of the head of the household increased. A clear, consistent pattern between households of varying size was less evident. When regularity of food provision was examined in the study cities, just 29% of households provided food at least once a week. The proportion of households regularly feeding birds was positively related to the age of the head of the household, but declined with gross annual income. As concerns grow about the lack of engagement between people and the natural environment, such findings are important if conservation organizations are successfully to promote public participation in wildlife gardening specifically and environmentally beneficial behaviour in society more generally. [Image: M.J. Gaston]
7.7.12 New paper
Dallimer, M., Rouquette, J.R., Skinner, A.M.J., Armsworth, P.R., Maltby, L.M., Warren, P.H. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Contrasting patterns in species richness of birds, butterflies and plants along riparian corridors in an urban landscape. Diversity and Distributions 18, 742-753.
- Urbanization is a major driver of global landuse change, substantially modifying patterns of biodiversity. Managing these impacts has become a conservation priority. The creation and maintenance of greenways, such as river corridors, is frequently promoted as a strategy for mitigating habitat fragmentation in urban areas by bringing semi-natural habitat cover into city centres. However, there is little evidence to support this assertion. Here, we examine whether riparian zones maintain semi-natural habitat cover in urban areas and how species richness varies along such zones. We find that multiple transects and taxonomic groups are required to describe species richness responses to urbanization as no single pattern is evident. Although riparian zones are an important component of the mosaic of urban habitats, we find that river corridors do not disproportionately support tree and natural surface cover when compared to non-riverine urban areas.
6.7.12 New paper
Gaston, K.J. 2012. The importance of being rare. Nature 487, 46-47.
- A commentary on a recent paper by Mi et al. on the differences between common and rare species.
5.7.12 Media coverage
This week’s issue of Nature also picks up on our research on the ecological effects of street lighting.
17.6.12 Media coverage
Our paper on the ecological effects of street lighting received lots of media coverage, including by the BBC, New Scientist, major UK and international newspapers, and numerous web sites and blogs. Thanks to the research team for all their hard work. [Image: K. Murphy]
5.6.12 Media coverage
Our research got a mention on BBC Springwatch!
20.5.12 New paper
Coming very soon! The first paper, of what will hopefully be many, from the Ecolight project and on a new and exciting avenue of work for the research group.
Davies, T.W., Bennie, J. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Street lighting changes the composition of invertebrate communities. Biology Letters, in press.
11.5.12 New paper
Cianciaruso, M.V. Silva, I.A., Batalha, M.A., Gaston, K.J. & Petchey O.L. 2012. The influence of fire on phylogenetic and functional structure of woody savannas: moving from species to individuals. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 14, 205-216.
- Fire is a key determinant of tropical savanna structure and functioning. High fire frequencies are expected to assemble closely related species with a restricted range of functional trait values. Here we determined the effect of fire on phylogenetic and functional diversity of woody species and individuals in savanna communities under different fire frequencies. We found phylogenetic signals for one third of the functional traits studied. High numbers of fires simultaneously led to phylogenetic over dispersion and functional clustering when communities were represented by mean trait values with all traits that putatively should be affected or respond to fire. This finding is important, because it shows that the relationship between ecological processes and the phylogenetic structure of communities is not straightforward. Thus, we cannot always assume that close relatives are more similar in their ecological features. However, when considering a different set of traits representing different plant strategies (fire resistance/ avoidance, physiological traits and regeneration traits), the results were not always congruent. When asking how communities are assembled in terms of individuals (not species) the outcome was different from the species-based approach, suggesting that the realised trait values – rather than mean species trait values – have an important role in driving community assembly. Thus, intraspecific trait variability should be taken into account if we want fully to improve our mechanistic understanding of assembly rules in plant communities. [Image: M.V. Cianciaruso]
13.4.12 New paper
Armsworth, P.R., Acs, S., Dallimer, M., Gaston, K.J., Hanley, N. & Wilson, P. 2012. The cost of policy simplification in conservation incentive programs. Ecology Letters 15, 406-414.
- Incentive payments to private landowners are a commonly employed strategy to conserve biodiversity and enhance the supply of goods and services from ecosystems. To deliver cost-effective improvements in biodiversity, payment schemes must trade-off the inefficiencies that result from over-simplified policies with the administrative burdens of implementing more complex incentive designs. In this paper we examine the effectiveness of different payment schemes using field parameterized, ecological economic models of extensive grazing farms. We focus on profit maximising farm management plans and use bird species as a policy-relevant indicator of biodiversity. Common policy simplifications result in a 49–100% loss in biodiversity benefits depending on the conservation target chosen. Failure to differentiate prices for conservation improvements in space is particularly problematic. Additional implementation costs that accompany more complicated policies are worth bearing even when these constitute a substantial proportion (70% or more) of the payments that would otherwise have been given to farmers.
20.3.12 New paper
Evans, K.L., Newton, J., Gaston, K.J., Sharp, S.P., McGowan, A. & Hatchwell, B.J. 2012. Colonisation of urban environments is associated with reduced migratory behaviour, facilitating divergence from ancestral populations. Oikos 121, 634-640.
- How individuals colonising novel environments overcome the diverse suite of new selection pressures faced is a fundamental question in ecology and evolution. Urban environments differ markedly from the rural ones that they replace and successful colonisation of urban areas may therefore require local adaptation and phenotypic/genetic divergence from ancestral populations. Such a process would be facilitated by limited dispersal to and from the novel habitat. Here using stable isotopes we provide evidence that urban European blackbird Turdus merula populations tend to be more sedentary than rural ones. The increased sedentary behaviour of urban birds could promote further ecological divergence between rural and urban populations, such as the earlier breeding of urban blackbirds, and in some cases may contribute to their previously documented genetic divergence.
12.3.12 New paper
Braschler, B., Chown, S.L. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. The Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes do not have exceptional local ant richness. PLoS One 7, e31463.
- The Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes at the southern tip of Africa are notable for having high regional plant diversity despite relatively low plant productivity. However, whilst local plant diversity varies it remains moderate. Here we show that for ants neither regional nor local richness are exceptional by global standards. It seems unlikely that the mechanisms which have contributed to the development of extraordinarily high regional plant diversity in these biomes have had a strong influence on the ants.
2.3.12 New paper
Armsworth, P.R., Fishburn, I.S., Davies, Z.G., Gilbert, J., Leaver, N. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. The size, concentration, and growth of biodiversity-conservation nonprofits. BioScience 62, 271-281.
- Nonprofit organizations have a vital role to play in biological conservation, at local, regional and global scales. Understanding how the structure of conservation nonprofits influences their effectiveness in improving the plight of biodiversity has been identified as a priority research topic. We review empirical patterns in the size, concentration, and growth of over 1700 biodiversity-conservation nonprofits registered for tax purposes in the United States within the context of relevant economic theory. Conservation-nonprofit sizes vary by six to seven orders of magnitude and are positively skewed. Larger nonprofits access more revenue streams and hold more of their assets in land and buildings than smaller or midsized nonprofits do. The size of conservation nonprofits varies with the ecological focus of the organization, but the growth rates of nonprofits do not.
Many congratulations to Barbara Goettsch on receiving the Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership. This recognizes exemplary service to the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of IUCN, especially from individuals who have made a specific contribution to species conservation on the ground or through their leadership, as part of the work of an SSC Specialist Group or Task Force. It is much deserved.
2.2.12 New paper
Hanley, N., Acs, S., Dallimer, M., Gaston, K.J., Graves, A., Morris, J. & Armsworth, P.R. 2012. Farm-scale ecological and economic impacts of agricultural change in the uplands. Land Use Policy 29, 587-597.
- Recent decades have witnessed substantial losses of biodiversity in Europe, partly driven by the intensification of agricultural production. Future trends for upland birds will likely be impacted by changes in agricultural support regimes, such as those currently envisaged in on-going reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. Using integrated ecological-economic models, we show that the impacts of future agricultural scenarios on farm incomes, land use and biodiversity are very diverse across policy scenarios and farm types. Moreover, each policy scenario produces unequal distributions of farm income changes and gains and losses in alternative biodiversity indicators. This shows that generalisations of the effects of policy and pricing changes on farm incomes, land uses and biodiversity can be misleading.
28.1.12 New paper
Dallimer, M., Skinner, A.M.J., Davies, Z.G., Armsworth, P.R. & Gaston, K.J. 2012. Multiple habitat associations: the role of offsite habitat in determining onsite avian density and species richness. Ecography 35, 134-145.
- Here we document an example of what is probably a widespread but poorly understood phenomenon, namely how the abundances of individual species and of assemblages depend not only on characteristics of a given site on which they occur but also on the characteristics of sites comprising other habitats on which they are dependent. Such interdependencies are fundamentally important to conservation management, particularly because many threatened species move between different habitats daily or seasonally.
27.1.12 New paper
Dallimer, M., Irvine, K.N., Skinner, A.M.J., Davies, Z.G., Rouquette, J.R., Armsworth, P.R., Maltby, L., Warren, P.H., Gaston, K.J. 2012. Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. BioScience 62, 46-55.
- The natural environment provides humankind with a diverse array of benefits. Not all of these are well understood. For example, there is substantial evidence that people living in cities gain benefits to psychological well-being from greenspaces, but which components of those spaces are most important in this regard are unclear. Here we report the lack of a consistent relationship between actual plant, butterfly, and bird species richness and the psychological well-being of urban greenspace visitors. Instead, well-being shows a positive relationship with the richness that the greenspace users perceived to be present. One plausible explanation for this discrepancy, which we investigate, is that people generally have poor biodiversity-identification skills. The apparent importance of perceived species richness and the mismatch between reality and perception pose a serious challenge for aligning conservation and human well-being agendas.
The last of our recent flurry of new additions to the research group started work today. It is a pleasure to have Stefano Casalegno join us as a postdoctoral researcher mapping and analysing the distribution of ecosystem goods and services across Cornwall.
Maru Correa joins the research group today as a PhD student. We hope that she thoroughly enjoys her new life by the sea!
Two new additions to the research group today. Rich Inger joins as the group manager and a postdoctoral researcher working on the ecosystem services provided by wild birds. Maria Avila-Jimenez joins as a postdoctoral researcher working on the EPSRC-funded SECURE project. We hope to make both converts to the benefits of interdisciplinary research…
A warm welcome to James Duffy, who joins the research group as a technician, providing analytical support for a range of projects. We look forward to keeping him very busy!
4.11.11 New paper
Sandel, B., Arge, L., Dalsgaard, B., Davies, R.G., Gaston, K.J., Sutherland, W.J. & Svenning, J-C. 2011. The influence of late Quaternary climate-change velocity on species endemism. Science 334, 660-664.
- We show that areas of the Earth that have experienced low rates of climate-change velocity (the rate of climate displacement) are essential refuges for many small-ranged species.
27.9.11 New paper
Eigenbrod, F., Bell, V.A., Davies, H.N., Heinemeyer, A., Armsworth, P.R. & Gaston, K.J. 2011. The impact of projected increases in urbanization on ecosystem services. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278, 3201-3208.
- We examine some of the challenges of meeting future demands on and patterns of ecosystem services in the face of increasing urbanization, determining the relative influence on different services of sprawl and densification solutions to housing projected population growth across Britain (media coverage: BBC)
24.9.11 New papers
Booth, J.E., Gaston, K.J., Evans, K.L. & Armsworth, P.R. 2011. The value of species rarity in biodiversity recreation: a birdwatching example. Biological Conservation 144, 2728-2732.
- We determine the relationship between the rarity of species and their value for wildlife viewing recreation. We document the significance of rare birds in drawing increasing numbers of visitors, but also the apparent failure of protected area managers to capitalise on the opportunities for revenue raising and education.
Dallimer, M., Tang, Z., Bibby, P.R., Brindley, P., Gaston, K.J. & Davies, Z.G. 2011. Temporal changes in greenspace in a highly urbanised region. Biology Letters 7, 763-766.
- We document the impact of national level planning policy on temporal patterns in the extent of greenspace in cities.
Edmondson, J.L., Davies, Z.G., McCormack, S.A., Gaston, K.J. & Leake, J.R. 2011. Are soils in urban ecosystems compacted? A citywide analysis. Biology Letters 7, 771-774.
- We show that, across a typical UK city, urban soils are in better physical condition than agricultural soils and can contribute significantly to ecosystem service provision.
20.9.11 New paper
Davies, Z.G., Edmondson, J.L., Leake, J.R. & Gaston, K.J. 2011. Mapping an urban ecosystem service: quantifying above-ground carbon storage at a city-wide scale. Journal of Applied Ecology 48, 1125-1134.
- We demonstrate the potential benefits of accounting for, mapping and appropriately managing aboveground vegetation carbon stores, even within a typical densely urbanized European city (Examples of media coverage: BBC; Nature; New Scientist; Times of India)
15.9.11 New paper
Holland, R.A., Eigenbrod, F., Armsworth, P.R., Anderson, B.J., Thomas, C.D., Heinemeyer, A., Gillings, S., Roy, D.B. & Gaston, K.J. 2011. Spatial covariation between freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem services. Ecological Applications 21, 2034-2048.
- We examine relationships between indicators of riverine water and associated habitat quality, freshwater biodiversity, three terrestrial ecosystem services, and terrestrial biodiversity across England and Wales.