Putting a price on ecological restoration

Putting a price on clean water and soil fertility helps the UN set ecological restoration targets for degraded and deforested land.Forests provide essential ecosystem services for people, including timber, food and water. For those struggling with the after-effects of deforestation, the main hope lies in rebuilding forest resources through ecological restoration.Researchers at BU have shown that placing a monetary value on ecosystem services provides a mechanism for evaluating the costs and benefits of reforestation activity.”Ecological restoration initiatives are being undertaken around the world, attracting investment of $US billions annually,” explained Professor Adrian Newton. “They make a significant contribution to sustainable development but few attempts have been made to systematically evaluate their effectiveness.”To address this knowledge gap, Professor Newton and fellow BU researchers analysed 89 different types of restored ecosystem sites across the world. The results showed that, although restored land was not as productive as land that had not been degraded, restoration efforts increased biodiversity by 44% and provision of ecosystem services by 25%.What’s unique about Professor Newton’s research is that it also provides one of the first evidence-based assessments of how cost-effective ecological restoration initiatives actually are.Professor Newton developed this method as part of the ReForLan research project in the dryland forests of Latin America. ReForLAn brought together researchers from six countries to assess the environmental degradation and the potential for ecological recovery through restoration.The methodology assigns financial value to ecosystem services, such as the provision of clean water, carbon storage and soil fertility that would result from restoration, thereby demonstrating how cost effective these efforts are.”We examined whether ecological restoration can be cost effective, based on the value of ecosystem services provided by restoration actions,” he explained. “This was undertaken by analysing the value of the increased provision of ecosystem services that could potentially be provided as a result of ecological restoration actions.”So successful is the methodology that it was used to inform the United Nations Environment Programme’s restoration targets and specifically ‘Target 15’ of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets to restore 15% of the world’s degraded ecosystems by 2020.The UN say these targets can be achieved through Forest Landscape Restoration, which is an approach developed, tested and refined by Professor Newton during the ReForLan project.”We examined how Forest Landscape Restoration may be implemented in practice, and evaluated the cost effectiveness of this approach and its benefit to human communities,” he explained.Professor Newton has demonstrated that at the heart of successful forest landscape restoration is a flexible and adaptive approach. It should allow communities to participate in the decision-making process, and enhance ecosystem service provision for those living within them.The Forest Landscape Restoration method has been heralded as the solution to restoring 150 million acres of degraded and deforested land. This target is part of a global movement, known as ‘Bonn Challenge’, named from its inception in Bonn, Germany in 2011. Individual countries have so far committed to restoring 50 million hectares of forest, which is a significant step towards achieving the policy goals.”This initiative directly employs the Forest Landscape Restoration approach that we researched, developed, tested and refined,” explains Professor Newton.He conclude, “Ecosystems are a rich source of biodiversity and the services they provide are relied upon by local people. The approach developed through the ReForLan project allows policy makers to identify locations where ecological restoration is most likely to be cost effective.”ReForLan was funded by the European Commission and the full title of the project is ‘Restoration of Forest Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development’.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Bournemouth University. …

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Students on field course bag new spider species

As a spin-off (pun intended) of their Tropical Biodiversity course in Malaysian Borneo, a team of biology students discover a new spider species, build a makeshift taxonomy lab, write a joint publication and send it off to a major taxonomic journal.Discovering a new spider species was not what she had anticipated when she signed up for her field course in Tropical Biodiversity, says Elisa Panjang, a Malaysian master’s student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah. She is one of twenty students following the course, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands, and held in the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The aim of the one-month course, say organisers Vincent Merckx and Menno Schilthuizen, is to teach the students about how the rich tapestry of the tropical lowland rainforest’s ecosystem is woven.Besides charismatic species, such as the orangutans that the students encounter every day in the forest, the tropical ecosystem consists of scores of unseen organisms, and the course focus is on these “small things that run the world” — such as the tiny orb-weaving spiders of the tongue-twistingly named family Symphytognathidae. These one-millimetre-long spiders build tiny webs that they suspend between dead leaves on the forest floor. “When we started putting our noses to the ground we saw them everywhere,” says Danish student Jennie Burmester enthusiastically. What they weren’t prepared for was that the webs turned out to be the work of an unknown species, as spider specialist Jeremy Miller, an instructor on the course, quickly confirmed.The students then decided to make the official naming and description of the species a course project. They rigged the field centre’s microscopes with smartphones to produce images of the tiny spider’s even tinier genitals (using cooking oil from the station’s kitchen to make them more translucent), dusted the spider’s webs with puffs of corn flour (also from the kitchen) to make them stand out and described the way they were built. They also put a spider in alcohol as “holotype,” the obligatory reference specimen for the naming of any new species — which is to be stored in the collection of Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Finally, a dinner-time discussion yielded a name for this latest addition to the tree of life: Crassignatha danaugirangensis, after the field centre’s idyllic setting at the Danau Girang oxbow lake.All data and images were then compiled into a scientific paper, which, via the station’s satellite link, was submitted to the Biodiversity Data Journal, a leading online journal for quick dissemination of new biodiversity data. Even though thousands of similarly-sized spider species still await discovery, Miller thinks the publication is an important one. …

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Ants plant tomorrow’s rainforest

Tropical montane rain forests are highly threatened and their remnants are often surrounded by deforested landscapes. For the regeneration of these degraded areas, seed dispersal of forest trees plays a crucial role but is still poorly understood. Most tree species are dispersed by birds and mammals, but also by ants. A study published today in the Journal of Ecology by a team from the LOEWE Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and the University of Halle-Wittenberg demonstrates the importance of this hitherto neglected ecosystem function for the restoration of montane rain forests. Ants promote the regeneration of these forests by dispersing seeds to safe sites for tree establishment.The Yungas, a region on the eastern slopes of the Bolivian Andes near La Paz, are marked by elongated valleys with relicts of the original mountain rain forest. Due to land-use practices like slash-and-burn agriculture and the extension of coca plantations, the forests are highly fragmented. The forest relicts are surrounded by an open, largely degraded cultural landscape. In this context, the team conducted experiments to find out to what extent ants contribute to the dispersal of a widespread, primarily bird-dispersed tree (Clusia trochiformis) and tested whether this ecosystem function may contribute to the restoration of deforested areas.The red, lipid-rich aril, a fleshy pulp surrounding the seeds of Clusia, is highly attractive to many animals. Birds are the primary dispersers. They feed on the nutritious part of the fruits, the fleshy aril, and defecate the seeds. …

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Arctic biodiversity under serious threat from climate change

Unique and irreplaceable Arctic wildlife and landscapes are crucially at risk due to global warming caused by human activities according to the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), a new report prepared by 253 scientists from 15 countries under the auspices of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council.”An entire bio-climatic zone, the high Arctic, may disappear. Polar bears and the other highly adapted organisms cannot move further north, so they may go extinct. We risk losing several species forever,” says Hans Meltofte of Aarhus University, chief scientist of the report.From the iconic polar bear and elusive narwhal to the tiny Arctic flowers and lichens that paint the tundra in the summer months, the Arctic is home to a diversity of highly adapted animal, plant, fungal and microbial species. All told, there are more than 21,000 species.Maintaining biodiversity in the Arctic is important for many reasons. For Arctic peoples, biodiversity is a vital part of their material and spiritual existence. Arctic fisheries and tourism have global importance and represent immense economic value. Millions of Arctic birds and mammals that migrate and connect the Arctic to virtually all parts of the globe are also at risk from climate change in the Arctic as well as from development and hunting in temperate and tropical areas. Marine and terrestrial ecosystems such as vast areas of lowland tundra, wetlands, mountains, extensive shallow ocean shelves, millennia-old ice shelves and huge seabird cliffs are characteristic to the Arctic. These are now at stake, according to the report.”Climate change is by far the worst threat to Arctic biodiversity. Temperatures are expected to increase more in the Arctic compared to the global average, resulting in severe disruptions to Arctic biodiversity some of which are already visible,” warns Meltofte.A planetary increase of 2 C, the worldwide agreed upon acceptable limit of warming, is projected to result in vastly more heating in the Arctic with anticipated temperature increases of 2.8-7.8 C this century. …

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New primate species native of Madagascar, Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur, discovered

July 29, 2013 — The island of Madagascar harbors a unique biodiversity that evolved due to its long-lasting isolation from other land masses. Numerous plant and animal species are found solely on Madagascar. Lemurs, a subgroup of primates, are among the most prominent representatives of the island’s unique fauna. They are found almost exclusively on Madagascar. The only exceptions are two species of the genus Eulemur that also live on the Comoros Islands, where they probably have been introduced by humans.Thanks to extensive field research over the past decades, numerous previously unknown lemur species have been discovered. Dwarf lemurs in turn received relatively little attention to date and the diversity within this genus is still not well known. Researchers of the universities of Mainz and Antananarivo have investigated lemur populations in southern Madagascar. Based on fieldwork and laboratory analyses, they now identified a previously unknown species of dwarf lemur. The findings of the research project have recently been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.”Together with Malagasy scientists, we have been studying the diversity of lemurs for several years now,” said Dr. Andreas Hapke of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). …

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A Malaysian beauty: Newly described endemic herb species under threat of extinction

July 10, 2013 — A new species of rare and beautiful plant has been described from the biodiversity rich Peninsular Malaysia. Ridleyandra chuana is endemic to the region and only known from two small montane forest populations. The conservation status of this recently described delicate flower is assessed as Endangered due to its restricted distribution.The new species was described and illustrated in the open access journal PhytoKeys.Ridleyandra chuana is a perennial herb with a woody usually unbranched stem crowned by an asymmetrical rosette of dark green leaves covered in fine hairs. The beautiful and delicate cone-like flowers are white with dark maroon purple stripes. They rarely appear in more than two in one go usually flowering in succession. Ridleyandra chuana grows on moss-covered granite rock embedded in soil or on low moss-covered granite boulders, in extremely damp, deeply shaded conditions on steep slopes in valleys.Although the species is only formally described now, it was in fact first encountered as early as 1932 at Fraser’s Hill, Pahang. However, it was only in 1999 when another population was discovered by L.S.L. Chua on Gunung Ulu Kali, Pahang, that sufficient material was available for its description. Since then, both these localities have been revisited and the Gunung Ulu Kali population is now the focus of conservation.The new species is named in honour of Dr Lillian Swee Lian Chua, botanist and conservationist, who first discovered this species on Gunung Ulu Kali while making an ecological inventory of the summit flora. Under the IUCN criteria, this species is assessed as Endangered because it is known from two localities, one of which is threatened, and only 130 known individuals.”The population at Fraser’s Hill falls within a Totally Protected Area and consists of about 30 plants that grow in an undisturbed site away from tourist trails and is too remote to be affected by development. …

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How nature maintains diversity: Temporal niches are important, study finds

July 9, 2013 — By studying rapidly evolving bacteria as they diversify and compete under varying environmental conditions, researchers have shown that temporal niches are important to maintaining biodiversity in natural systems. The research is believed to be the first experimental demonstration of temporal niche dynamics promoting biodiversity over evolutionary time scales.The temporal niches — changes in environmental conditions that occur during specific periods of time — promoted frequency-dependent selection within the bacterial communities and positive growth of new mutants. They played a vital role in allowing diversity among bacterial phenotypes to persist.The research provides new insights into the factors that promote species coexistence and diversity in natural systems. Understanding the mechanisms governing the origin and maintenance of biodiversity is important to scientists studying the roles of both ecology and evolution in natural systems.”This study provides the first experimental evidence showing the impact of temporal niche dynamics on biodiversity evolution,” said Lin Jiang, co-author of the paper and an associate professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Our laboratory results in bacteria can potentially explain the diversity dynamics that have been observed for other organisms over evolutionary time.”The research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, was scheduled to be published July 9 in the journal Nature Communications.In experimental manipulation of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens, the researchers showed that alternating environmental conditions in 24-hour cycles strongly influences biodiversity dynamics by helping to maintain closely-related phenotypes that might otherwise be lost to competition with a dominant phenotype. The experiment followed the bacteria through more than 200 generations over a period of nearly two weeks.In the laboratory, Jiang and graduate student Jiaqi Tan established communities of the bacterium in test tubes called microcosms. In designing the experiments, they collaborated with Colleen Kelly, a senior research associate in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford.”You begin with one phenotype, and within two days, you might have two or three different phenotypes,” said Jiang. “The system can do this in a matter of days.”Through a 12-day experimental period, the researchers subjected one group of cultures to 24-hour periods in which they were alternately allowed to grow undisturbed and shaken vigorously. To control for the impact of starting conditions, cultures within those two groups were chosen to begin with a period of static growth, while others began with a period of shaken growth. Finally, groups of control cultures were grown under continuous shaking or continuous static conditions.During the study, the researchers periodically measured the population sizes of each phenotype present in each culture. …

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Bridge species drive tropical engine of biodiversity

June 10, 2013 — Although scientists have known since the middle of the 19th century that the tropics are teeming with species while the poles harbor relatively few, the origin of the most dramatic and pervasive biodiversity on Earth has never been clear.New research sheds light on how that pattern came about. Furthermore, it confirms that the tropics have been and continue to be Earth’s engine of biodiversity.By examining marine bivalves (two-shelled mollusks including scallops, cockles and oysters), a model system for large-scale ecological and evolutionary analysis, the study shows that most evolutionary lineages started in the tropics and expanded outward.”This ‘out of the tropics’ dynamic is the major process that shapes the latitudinal pattern of biodiversity that we see today on land and sea,” said lead author David Jablonski, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago. His team focuses on marine bivalves because they combine a wealth of important biological patterns with a large but manageable number of living species (about 8,000) and a rich fossil record.The new research will be published this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents evidence that the “out of the tropics” process is driven mainly by bridge species, a new term referring to evolutionary lineages that straddle the boundary between the tropics and cooler neighboring regions.”We thought the ‘out of the tropics’ process would be driven by the formation of new species at the edge of the tropics, but that doesn’t seem to be true,” Jablonski said. “Whether bridge species really are the conduit, ‘out of the tropics’ for all those lineages still needs to be confirmed. We’ll tackle that next, by examining molecular data on species within these lineages, inside and outside the tropics, to see how they’re related.”As with the PNAS study, this follow-up research would require examining data on both fossils and living organisms. “Alas, it’s still rare for paleontologists to integrate the fossil record with data on present-day organisms, but for large-scale biodiversity studies like this, it’s a very powerful approach, often an essential one,” Jablonski said. “Biodiversity is a product of origination, extinction and immigration, and when the fossil record is adequate, as it is with bivalves, it provides the most robust window into the dynamics that produced present-day patterns.”Surprising findingsThe new research corroborates the “out of the tropics” model that Jablonski and others introduced in a 2006 publication. In fact, the new research documents this dynamic over the past 12 million years — even during the Ice Ages, when the temperature differences between the equator and the poles became more severe. …

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Bee and wild flower biodiversity loss slows

May 22, 2013 — Declines in the biodiversity of pollinating insects and wild plants have slowed in recent years, according to a new study.

Researchers led by the University of Leeds and the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands found evidence of dramatic reductions in the diversity of species in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands between the 1950s and 1980s.

But the picture brightened markedly after 1990, with a slowdown in local and national biodiversity losses among bees, hoverflies and wild plants.

Professor Bill Kunin, Professor of Ecology at the University of Leeds, said: “Most observers have been saying that the 1992 Rio Earth Summit targets to slow biodiversity loss by 2010 failed, but what we are seeing is a significant slowing or reversal of the declines for wild plants and their insect pollinators.

“These species are important to us. About a third of our food production, including most of our fruit and vegetables, depends on animal pollination and we know that most crop pollination is done by wild pollinators. Biodiversity is important to ensuring we don’t lose that service. Relying on a few species could be risky in a changing environment,” he added.

The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, found a 30 per cent fall in local bumblebee biodiversity in all three countries between the 1950s and the 1980s. However, that decline slowed to an estimated 10 per cent in Britain by 2010, while in Belgium and the Netherlands bumblebee diversity had stabilised.

The picture was better for other wild bees, with an 8 per cent reduction in diversity in the Netherlands and a stable picture in Great Britain turning into significant increases (7 per cent in the Netherlands and 10 per cent in Britain) over the past 20 years. While these solitary bees continued to decline in Belgium, hoverfly diversity improved there, shifting from stable diversity in the 1980s to significant (20 per cent) increases in recent decades. British wildflower diversity had declined about 20 per cent from the 1950s to the 1980s, but again the declines have ceased in the past 20 years.

Not all groups fared so well. Butterfly diversity continued to fall in all three countries at roughly the same rates as in the past.

Dr Luisa Carvalheiro, lead author on the paper, said: “It is possible that by 1990 the most sensitive species had already gone. However, that’s probably not the whole story, as there are still plenty of rare and vulnerable species present in recent records.

“There is a much more encouraging possibility: the conservation work and agri-environment programs paying farmers to encourage biodiversity may be having an effect. We may also be seeing a slowdown of the drivers of decline. The postwar emphasis on getting land into production and on more intensive farming has given way to a more stable situation in which the rate of landscape change has slowed and in which agrichemical excesses are regulated.

Dr Carvalheiro said: “If what we take from the Rio targets is that the investment in conservation gave us no results, then that is a counsel of despair. This study brings a positive message for conservation. But some important groups are undoubtedly still declining, so continued and increased investment in conservation practices is essential for guaranteeing the persistence of a diverse assemblage of species.”

Co-author Professor Koos Biesmeijer, who works both at the University of Leeds and Naturalis, said: “This paper builds on a widely-publicised study we published in 2006 that established that the diversity of bees and of wildflowers had declined. Our new work is based on a much bigger dataset and improved analytic methods, and it reveals much more detail about the scale and timing of biodiversity losses.

“However, while we can use biodiversity records to measure changes in the diversity of pollinators, we can’t tell what’s happening to their overall abundance or to the quality of the pollination services they provide to wildflowers or agricultural crops. To study these issues would require a long-term monitoring programme.”

The research team, including scientists from 18 institutions in Europe and the United States, used historical and contemporary records of species’ presence held by organizations including the European Invertebrate Survey, Butterfly Conservation, the Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society, the INBO Research Institute for Nature and Forest in Belgium and the University of Mons, Belgium.

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