Health benefits of nature relatedness

Dean, J.H., Shanahan, D.F., Bush, R., Gaston, K.J., Lin, B.B., Barber, E., Franco, L. & Fuller, R.A. 2018. Is nature relatedness associated with better mental and physical health? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15, 1371. 

Nature relatedness is a psychological characteristic with the potential to drive interaction with nature and influence well-being. We surveyed 1538 people in Brisbane, Australia to investigate how nature relatedness varies among socio-demographic groups. We determined whether people with higher nature relatedness reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and better overall health, controlling for potentially confounding socio-demographic and health-related variables. Overall nature relatedness was higher in older people, females, those without children living at home, not working, and people speaking English at home. Aspects of nature relatedness reflecting enjoyment of nature were consistently associated with reduced ill health, consistent with widespread evidence of the health and well-being benefits of experiencing nature. In contrast, aspects of nature relatedness reflecting self-identification with nature, and a conservation worldview, were associated with increased depression, anxiety or stress, after accounting for potential confounding factors. Detailed investigation of causal pathways among nature relatedness, socio-demographic factors and health is warranted, with particular focus on the relationship between stress and nature orientation.

Visualising the urban green

Anderson, K., Hancock, S. Casalegno, S., Griffiths, A., Griffiths, D., Sargent, F., McCallum, J., Cox, D.T.C. & Gaston, K.J. 2018. Visualising the urban green volume: Exploring LiDAR voxels with tangible technologies and virtual models. Landscape and Urban Planning 178, 248-260. 

The distribution of vegetation within urban zones is well understood to be important for delivery of a range of ecosystem services. While urban planners and human geographers are conversant with methodologies for describing and exploring the volumetric nature of built spaces there is less research that has developed imaginative ways of visualising the complex spatial and volumetric structure of urban vegetation from the treetops to the ground. Using waveform LiDAR data to measure the three-dimensional nature of the urban greenspace, we explore different ways of virtually, and tangibly engaging with volumetric models describing the 3D distribution of urban vegetation. Using waveform LiDAR data processed into voxels (volumetric pixels) and experimenting with a variety of creative approaches to visualise the volumetric nature of the data, we describe the development of new methods for mapping the urban green volume, using a combination of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Minecraft, 3D printing and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling processes. We demonstrate how such methodologies can be used to reveal and explore the complex nature of the urban green volume. We also describe the outcome of using these models to engage diverse audiences with the volumetric data. We explain how the products could be used readily by a range of urban researchers and stakeholders: from town and city councils, to architects and ecologists.

Research priorities for protected areas

Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Stolton, S., Amend, T., Badola, R., Bianco, M., Chetri, N., Cook, C., Day, J.C., Dearden, P., Edwards, M., Ferraro, P., Foden, W., Gambino, R., Gaston, K.J., Hayward, N., Hickey, V., Irving, J., Jeffries, B., Karapetyan, A., Kettunen, M., Laestadius, L., Laffoley, D., Lham, D., Lichtenstein, G., Makombo, J., Marshall, N., McGeoch, M., Nguyen, D., Nogué, S., Paxton, M., Rao, M., Reichelt, R., Rivas, J., Roux, D., Rutte, C., Schreckenberg, K., Sovinc, A., Sutyrina, S., Utomo, A., Vallauri, D.,, Vedeld, P.O., Verschuuren, B., Waithaka, J., Woodley, S., Wyborn, C. & Zhang, Y. 2018. Priorities for protected area research. Parks 24, 35-50.

A hundred research priorities of critical importance to protected area management were identified by a targeted survey of conservation professionals; half researchers and half practitioners. Respondents were selected to represent a range of disciplines, every continent except Antarctica and roughly equal numbers of men and women. The results analysed thematically and grouped as potential research topics as by both practitioners and researchers. Priority research gaps reveal a high interest to demonstrate the role of protected areas within a broader discussion about sustainable futures and if and how protected areas can address a range of conservation and socio-economic challenges effectively. The paper lists the hundred priorities structured under broad headings of management, ecology, governance and social (including political and economic issues) and helps contribute to setting future research agendas.


‘People and Nature’ launches

So, you have a great idea for a new paper. It looks at some aspect of the interactions between people and nature. It will have some ecological relevance, but may not be a pure ecology paper. It will also have a good bit of material drawn from one or more other disciplines – it could be economics, geography, history, law, literature, medicine, philosophy, politics, psychology, or sociology, to name just a few possibilities. But it is not a mainstream paper for one of those disciplines either. So, where will you submit your latest contribution? You will want a journal that not just considers outputs from this kind of cross/multi/interdisciplinary work, but really values them. You will want one that understands both the importance of your paper being promptly and fairly handled by people who are knowledgeable about the topic, and that takes seriously the challenges that can arise when reviewing work that crosses disciplinary specialisms. You will want one backed by a respected organisation, with a track record of publishing high quality journals.

Welcome to People and Nature – a journal of relational thinking.

The British Ecological Society is launching this new journal in recognition of the rapid growth in inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary research concerning the relationships between humans and nature. Much of this research addresses issues of vital importance.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Moving soil, moving plants

Robinson, B.S., Bennie, J. Inger, R., Early, R. & Gaston, K.J. 2018. Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste: anthropogenic dispersal of plants via garden and construction soil. Journal of Urban Ecology, in press.

Anthropogenic activities are increasingly responsible for the dispersal of plants. Of particular concern is anthropogenic dispersal of problematic invasive non-native plants. A common dispersal vector is the movement of soil containing seeds or rhizomes. Housing development and domestic gardening activities cause large quantities of soil to be moved, and understanding the role of these activities is critical for informing policy and management to reduce the spread of problematic plants. Here, by collecting soil samples being moved for housing development and domestic gardening, and observing the species that germinated from these samples, we determined the quantities and invasive status of plants moved. From our samples nearly 2000 individuals representing 90 species germinated. Our results suggest that given the quantity of topsoil needed to cover an average-sized UK garden (190m2), there could be 2.2 million and c.2 million viable seeds in soil sourced from housing developments and gardens, respectively. In both housing development and garden samples, native species were more abundant and species-rich than non-native naturalised and invasive species. Buddleia (an invasive) was the most common species overall and in garden samples; this is likely due to multiple traits that adapt it to dispersal, such as prolific seed production. The abundance of invasive and naturalised species was significantly higher in garden than in housing development samples, suggesting that informal movement of soil between gardens poses a greater risk of spreading invasive plants than commercial sources. Consequences for models predicting future distributions of plants, and strategies to mitigate anthropogenic dispersal of problematic plants are considered.

Throwing light on communities

Sanders, D. & Gaston, K.J. 2018. How ecological communities respond to artificial light at night. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology, in press [online early].

Many ecosystems worldwide are exposed to artificial light at night (ALAN), from streetlights and other sources, and a wide range of organisms has been shown to respond to this anthropogenic pressure. This raises concerns about the consequences for major ecosystem functions and their stability. However, there is limited understanding of how whole ecological communities respond to ALAN, and this cannot be gained simply by making predictions from observed single species physiological, behavioral, or ecological responses. Research needs to include an important building block of ecological communities, namely the interactions between species that drive ecological and evolutionary processes in ecosystems. Here, we summarize current knowledge about community responses to ALAN and illustrate different pathways and their impact on ecosystem functioning and stability. We discuss that documentation of the impact of ALAN on species interaction networks and trait distributions provides useful tools to link changes in community structure to ecosystem functions. Finally, we suggest several approaches to advance research that will link the diverse impact of ALAN to changes in ecosystems.
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Shifting norms

Soga, M. & Gaston, K.J. 2018. Shifting baseline syndrome: causes, consequences and implications. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, in press [online early].

With ongoing environmental degradation at local, regional, and global scales, people’s accepted thresholds for environmental conditions are continually being lowered. In the absence of past information or experience with historical conditions, members of each new generation accept the situation in which they were raised as being normal. This psychological and sociological phenomenon is termed shifting baseline syndrome (SBS), which is increasingly recognized as one of the fundamental obstacles to addressing a wide range of today’s global environmental issues. Yet our understanding of this phenomenon remains incomplete. We provide an overview of the nature and extent of SBS and propose a conceptual framework for understanding its causes, consequences, and implications. We suggest that there are several self reinforcing feedback loops that allow the consequences of SBS to further accelerate SBS through progressive environmental degradation. Such negative implications highlight the urgent need to dedicate considerable effort to preventing and ultimately reversing SBS.

Declining nature experiences in childhood

Soga, M., Gaston, K.J. & Kubo, T. 2018. Cross-generational decline in childhood experiences of neighborhood flowering plants in Japan. Landscape and Urban Planning 174, 55-62.

People (especially children) are becoming less likely to experience nature, as we become an increasingly urban society. This progressive disengagement of humans from the natural world, “extinction of experience”, has been viewed both as a key public health issue and one of the most fundamental obstacles to halting global environmental degradation. However, while the existence and significance of the phenomenon are generally agreed upon, it remains surprisingly poorly documented, particularly at large scales and over the longer-term. Here, we report the findings from a web-based questionnaire survey (n = 1,147) to determine the extent to which levels of childhood experiences with neighborhood flowering plants have changed over the generations in Japan. Results showed that people’s levels of childhood experiences with neighborhood flowering plants were positively related to their age: older participants, compared to younger ones, reported higher frequencies of childhood experiences with neighborhood flowering plants. The reported number of neighborhood flowering plant species that participants have directly experienced during childhood was also higher for older participants. Among the 21 flowering plant species we investigated, temporal decline in direct experiences during childhood was observed for 9 species, particularly for those that depend on grasslands (an ecosystem that is in dramatic decline). Participants’ age and childhood environment (urban vs. rural settings) also had significant effects on their levels of childhood nature experiences. Overall, our results suggest that children’s direct connection to neighborhood biodiversity is indeed progressively dwindling, which can have serious implications for public health and biodiversity conservation.

Ecological impacts of light from vehicles

Gaston, K.J. & Holt, L.A. 2018. Nature, extent and ecological implications of nighttime light from road vehicles. Journal of Applied Ecology, in press [online early view].

1. The erosion of night-time by the introduction of artificial lighting constitutes a profound pressure on the natural environment. It has altered what had for millennia been reliable signals from natural light cycles used for regulating a host of biological processes, with impacts ranging from changes in gene expression to ecosystem processes.
2. Studies of these impacts have focused almost exclusively on those resulting from stationary sources of light emissions, and particularly streetlights. However, mobile sources, especially road vehicle headlights, contribute substantial additional emissions.
3. The ecological impacts of light emissions from vehicle headlights are likely to be especially high because these are (i) focused so as to light roadsides at higher intensities than commonly experienced from other sources, and well above activation thresholds for many biological processes; (ii) projected largely in a horizontal plane and thus can carry over long distances; (iii) introduced into much larger areas of the landscape than experience street lighting; (iv) typically broad ‘white’ spectrum, which substantially overlaps the action spectra of many biological processes; and (v) often experienced at roadsides as series of pulses of light (produced by passage of vehicles), a dynamic known to have major biological impacts.
4. The ecological impacts of road vehicle headlights will markedly increase with projected global growth in numbers of vehicles and the road network, increasing the local severity of emissions (because vehicle numbers are increasing faster than growth in the road network) and introducing emissions into areas from which they were previously absent. The effects will be further exacerbated by technological developments that are increasing the intensity of headlight emissions and the amounts of blue light in emission spectra.
5. Synthesis and applications. Emissions from vehicle headlights need to be considered as a major, and growing, source of ecological impacts of artificial night-time lighting. It will be a significant challenge to minimize these impacts whilst balancing drivers’ needs at night and avoiding risk and discomfort for other road users. Nonetheless, there is potential to identify solutions to these conflicts, both through the design of headlights and that of roads.

Where birds and people meet

Cox, D.T.C., Hudson, H.L., Plummer, K.E., Siriwardena, G.M., Anderson, K., Hancock, S., Devine-Wright, P. & Gaston, K.J. 2018. Covariation in urban birds providing cultural services or disservices and people. Journal of Applied Ecology, in press [advance articles].

1. The spatial distributions of biodiversity and people vary across landscapes, and are critical to the delivery of ecosystem services and disservices. The high densities of people, and often of birds, in urban areas lead to frequent human-avian interactions, which can be positive or negative for people’s well-being. The identities of the bird species providing these services or disservices tend to be quite different, however it is unclear how their abundance and richness covary with human population density, and hence with potential recipients of these services and disservices.
2. We surveyed bird populations in 106 tiles (500×500 m) across the 174 km2 of an extended urban area in southern England. From the literature, we identified two groups of species: those associated with positive interactions for human well-being, and those that display behaviours that are negative for human well-being. We estimated the abundance (adjusted for detection probability) and richness of each group, and modelled how they covary with human population density.
3. Aggregation of population estimates for the 35 service and nine disservice species observed revealed 593,128 (95% confidence interval: 541,817-657,046) and 225,491 (200,134-235,066) birds, respectively. Across the surveyed tiles there were 1.09 service, and 0.42 disservice birds per person.
4. There was a peaking quadratic relationship between service abundance and human population density, but a negative linear relationship between richness and human density. Conversely, there were positive linear relationships for both abundance and richness of disservice species with human density. The ratio of service to disservice birds shifted from 3.5 to 1 at intermediate human densities to 1 to 1 in more densely populated areas.
5. Synthesis and applications. Differences in the distributions of service and disservice species, and the extremely low ratios of birds to people particularly in socioeconomically deprived areas, mean that people there have few opportunities for contact with birds, and the contact that they do have is equally likely to be negative as positive for human well-being. We recommend spatial targeting of improvements in green infrastructure, combined with the targeted provisioning of food and nesting places for service species, to promote positive interactions between birds and people.

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