The Conversation article: Late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions in interior Alaska

In an effort to make my research more accessible to a wider audience, I have just published an article in The Conversation. The aim of this piece is to explain the relevance of my latest scientific article to nature conservation and as a support for rewilding initiatives around the globe such as Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe.

Link for The Conversation article.

Link to original research published in the journal Quaternary Research.

 

Guest blog by Laura Waistell: Relating habitat age to species richness

Laura writes: “I am currently entering my second year of study of Environmental Science BSc at Teesside University. During my first year, I carried out a Student as researcher position with Ambroise, which was a fantastic opportunity to develop my skills as a researcher. Below is a description of my project as presented at the Tees Valley Nature Partnership annual conference in June 2019 hosted by Teesside University’s Ecology and Environment group.”

“This project sought to determine whether there was a link between the age of freshwater habitats and the diversity of resident molluscs. Data was collected across Cumbria, Norfolk and Glasgow to analyse biodiversity while a variety of historical mapping software was used to determine the approximate age of said sites.”

[Please note that ponds and lakes of natural origin with no discernible age (those marked 0) have been removed from the data presentation as they provide no further information and could not be plotted accurately]
“Sources used were: Oldmaps.co.uk, GoogleEarth and GIS. National grid references (NGR) were used to access historical maps of the area, which were compared in a GIS to determine the appearance of the water body. The times in which the water body first appeared in historical mapping were compared to that of previous maps to determine approximate age. Man-made water bodies had specific build dates, which were found by contacting various land managers and local bodies. Any water bodies that existed without change from the oldest available maps were recorded as 0 and they were assumed to be of natural origin.”

[Please note that ponds and lakes of natural origin with no discernible age (those marked 0) have been removed from the data presentation as they provide no further information and could not be plotted accurately]
“I found that younger ponds have a higher species richness on average. The opposite result was found for lakes as there is a apparent decrease in species richness with younger lakes. The oldest lakes show some of the highest species richness throughout the sample group, suggesting that more mature lakes yield the highest mollusc species richness.”

A natural lake
A natural lake

“There are many potential reasons for this trend in mollusc diversity in relation to age. For example, eutrophication and accumulation of sediments may be the reason for the trend in pond mollusc species richness. As sediments build up over time, there may be less available habitat.
Over time ponds may also experience encroachment from vegetation, particularly trees which may lead to eutrophication; building up over time and leading to a poorer water quality of which some mollusc species may be unable to tolerate.”

A man-made pond
A man-made pond

“Whereas, it may be that the lakes that have been established for a longer period have accumulated more mollusc species over time. This could be for a number of reasons such as: colonisation, establishment of plant species (food source and habitat) as well as the quality of the water and the maturity of natural water purification systems. Younger lakes may not have developed these yet and so cannot support the same number of species; particularly those more delicate and vulnerable to sudden change.”

“These data suggest that there is a correlation between the age of a water body and the species richness of molluscs. While older ponds decrease in biodiversity with age, lakes behave in an opposing manner.
The implications of this is a call for increased protection of older lakes as these harbour the highest diversity. Findings also suggest a reduction in richness with age in ponds may be down to accumulation of pollutants as well as sediments. This, too, may call for increased management to regenerate ponds, maintaining diversity.”

“Further research will be carried out on other organisms such as aquatic plants, beetles and dragonflies to determine any wider correlations.”

“Thank you to LTE for funding this research project and to Dr Ambroise Baker, Dr Alan Law and Dr Carl Sayer for help with research. Thank you also to NERC Hydroscape research project for providing biodiversity data.”

New Paper: The effectiveness of aquatic plants as surrogates for wider biodiversity…

Law A., A. Baker, C. Sayer, G. Foster, I.D.M. Gunn, P. Taylor, Z. Pattison, J. Blaikie, N.J. Willby (2019) The effectiveness of aquatic plants as surrogates for wider biodiversity in standing fresh waters. Freshwater Biology.  https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13369

Article first published online: 15 July 2019

This is our first research paper based on of work conducted during my second postdoc part of the research programme Hydroscape.  We present some of the data Alan and I collected during two seasons of field work (some of it reported here, and here and here) as well as applying Structural Equation Modelling, aka SEM, a statistical methods we learned during a one-week long PR Statistics course.

Abstract below:

White water lily and pollinators in Norfolk
The diversity of aquatic plant appears to be tightly associated with invertebrate diversity: here native white water lily and pollinators in Norfolk
  1. Freshwaters are among the most globally threatened habitats and their biodiversity is declining at an unparalleled rate. In an attempt to slow this decline, multiple approaches have been used to conserve, restore or enhance waterbodies. However, evaluating their effectiveness is time‐consuming and expensive. Identifying species or assemblages across a range of ecological conditions that can provide a surrogate for wider freshwater biodiversity is therefore of significant value for conservation management and planning.
  2. For lakes and ponds in three contrasting landscapes of Britain (lowland agricultural, eastern England; upland, north‐west England; urban, central Scotland) we examined the link between macrophyte species, macrophyte morpho‐group diversity (an indicator of structural diversity) and the richness of three widespread aquatic macroinvertebrate groups (molluscs, beetles, and odonates) using structural equation modelling. We hypothesised that increased macrophyte richness and, hence, increased vegetation structural complexity, would increase macroinvertebrate richness after accounting for local and landscape conditions.
  3. We found that macrophyte richness, via macrophyte morpho‐group diversity, was an effective surrogate for mollusc, beetle, and odonate richness in ponds after accounting for variation caused by physical variables, water chemistry, and surrounding land use. However, only mollusc richness could be predicted by macrophyte morpho‐group diversity in lakes, with no significant predicted effect on beetles or odonates.
  4. Our results indicate that macrophyte morpho‐group diversity can be viewed as a suitable surrogate of macroinvertebrate biodiversity across diverse landscapes, particularly in ponds and to a lesser extent in lakes. This has important implications for the restoration, conservation, and creation of standing water habitats and for assessing their effectiveness in addressing the decline of global freshwater biodiversity. Management actions prioritising the development of species‐rich and structurally diverse macrophyte assemblages will be likely to benefit wider freshwater biodiversity.

 

New Paper: Connectivity and zebra mussel invasion offer short‐term buffering of eutrophication impacts

Salgado, J., C. D. Sayer, S. J. Brooks, T. A. Davidson, A. G. Baker, N. Willby,  I. R. Patmore, B. Goldsmith,  H. Bennion and B. Okamura (2019) Connectivity and zebra mussel invasion offer short‐term buffering of eutrophication impacts on floodplain lake landscape biodiversity. Diversity and Distribution. https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.12938

Article first published online: 16 May 2019
Picture credits: N. Willby

BES2018 Thematic Session: Advancing our understanding of long-term ecology

In addition to my talk at the BES annual meeting, Althea Davies from the University of St Andrews and I had organised a session for which we invited keynote speakers on the theme: “Advancing our understanding of long-term ecology”

The Line up:

Maria Dornelas, University of St Andrews, UK: Temporal change in biodiversity change in the Anthropocene

Lizzy Jeffers, University of Oxford, UK: Plant controls on Late Quaternary whole ecosystem structure and function

Will Gosling, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands: Advancing palaeo-fire ecology

Helen Bennion, University College London, UK: Assessing the potential for aquatic plant recolonisation after local extirpation

Alistair Seddon, University of Bergen, Norway: Assessing ecological resilience using long-term ecological data: perspectives and prospects

Sandra Nogué, University of Southampton, UK: Comparative ecology of the Laurel forest pollen rain from Tenerife and La Gomera

Jack Williams, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA: Ecological and Environmental Novelty

Pollen production review (in prep.) presented at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2018

I was so excited when I received an email from the British Ecological Society (BES) saying that the abstract submitted with Sandra Nogue (University of Southampton) had been accepted for an oral presentation at the 2018 BES Annual Meeting!

And here I am presenting our review paper in preparation – thank you Sandra for taking this picture and many thanks also to the PollerGEN project for providing the illustration for the slide captured here.

Abstract: Modification of pollen production in response to global change: a review

How pollen abundance and quality impacts human–environment system is a significant focal point in: i) public health, with pollen-born allergies and asthma, ii) ecosystem services with crop pollination and nutrient cycling in nutrient-poor wetlands iii) global change ecology and conservation with reproductive limitation and vegetation regeneration. Atmospheric dispersal and pollinators are key dispersal mechanism currently investigated to quantify and forecast pollen impacts. However, pollen production by plants from natural, semi-natural and urban vegetation can be extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, while being at the same time the ultimate driver of these pollen impacts. Despite this crucial role, it is currently un-clear how pollen production will be modified by global change in the future. As a result, longer-term forecast of pollen impact may be associated with extremely large uncertainty.

As a first step towards addressing this key knowledge gap, we reviewed the environmental factors governing pollen production, in terms of pollen quantity and quality. We focussed on factors directly modifying pollen production, given existing vegetation cover and composition; and therefore excluded factors such as habitat loss. Studies tended to focus on the response of a single, or a small set of species, to a single factor. There appears to be a dearth of research studying pollen response at the vegetation plot or ecosystem level. The principal factors driving pollen production in the species studied were nutrient enrichment, increased atmospheric CO2 levels, changes in UV levels, and climatic factors modifying water availability, seasonality and temperatures. Other factors, including biological interaction such as grazing were extremely under-researched. The studied factors often had effects in opposite directions but the outcome of interaction between factors was rarely quantified. In addition, we found a body of literature that concerned flowering response. However, there was only limited quantitative data linking flowering response to pollen production.

Research linking rare aquatic plant distribution and palaeoecological data presented at IPA-IAL 2018 conference, Stockholm, Sweden.

Professor Helen Bennion presented some of our NERC Hydroscape research at the joint meeting of the International Paleolimnology Association and the International Association of Limnogeology, Stockholm, Sweden, June 18-21, 2018 (see site).

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Some of the research highlighted during this talk concerned the distribution of Elatine hydropiper (eight-stamen waterwort) in the Glasgow area. This aquatic plant is extremely inconspicuous and can grow at great depth underwater. Because of these characteristics it is believed to be very under-recorded by botanist and aquatic monitoring alike. It has also been hypothesised that it may be becoming more frequent, especially in Scotland. However our research demonstrates that in the Glasgow area, Elatine hydropiper was present in the 1850s at four lake sites out of eight investigated and became extirpated at two of these sites during the twentieth century. This shows that it was more widespread in the past and that more effort towards conserving suitable habitats for this aquatic plant should be undertaken.

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Underwater Elatine hydropiper lawn, with Elodea. This pictures shows how this rare aquatic plant thrives at the interface between water and soft sediments. Loch Bardowie, Glasgow, 2016.
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Elatine hydropiper on a clipboard. This pictures shows the green part of the plant to are located at the sediment surface and the green parts that grow buried in sediment.  Lochend Loch, Glasgow, 2017

Research on biodiversity in the Upper Lough Erne area presented at the 15th International Symposium of Aquatic Plants, February 19th 2018, New Zealand.

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It was exciting to hear that our abstract was accepted for an oral presentation at this conference dedicated to aquatic plants. The research presented attempted to explain the decline in diversity of emergent aquatic plants in the Upper Lough Erne area, Northern Ireland, UK and related change to landscape connectivity. This presentation was supported by NERC through my two postdoc projects, Lake BESS and Hydroscape.

 

Lake BESS results presented at the BES-BESS Symposium 2017, Cardiff, 24-26 April

BESS – Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services Sustainability – was a £15M 2011-2017 research programme funded by NERC, the UK research council concerned with the natural environment. This conference was a wrap up event co-organised with the BES, the British Ecological Society and hosted by the Water Research Institute at Cardiff University.

WP_20170425_010

It was a great opportunity to present results from our Lakes BESS project, my first postdoc, and interact with a fun bunch of researchers with similar interests. It was also a chance to learn about the tremendous research advances in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem services achieved by BESS researchers and others.

The most thought-provoking talk was delivered by Kai Chan from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He defended ideas published in his 2016 PNAS paper:

Chan et al 2016. Why protect nature? Rethinking values and the environment PNAS  113 (6) 1462-1465. doi:10.1073/pnas.1525002113

His talk aimed to demonstrate that relational values drive biodiversity and ecosystem services protection, in addition to the commonly accepted intrinsic and instrumental values of nature.

Was the audience convinced? His talked certainly sparked great interest and numerous questions. For sure there is an empty gap to be filled around the classic divide between protecting the environment for its intrinsic value or for very utilitarian reasons. This simplistic intrinsic-instrumental value scheme is simply not sufficient anymore.

However, I remain to be convinced ‘relational values’ completely fill this gap – and even I remain to fully comprehend what is meant by ‘relational values’ – a notion I am not familiar enough with, as an ecologist.

The other outstanding talk I would like to highlight here is that of Elena Bennett from McGill University, Canada. She demonstrated with practical example from work carried out by her lab how ecosystem services can inform multifunctional landscape management.

She also finished her talk by reminding us about the “importance of the contributions of both nature and human action to the provision of services”, i.e. the natural environment does not simply provide us with what we need, quite the reverse ecosystem services also strongly depend on us working with nature, in a co-production.

Many other contributions could be mentioned here, including a whole session dedicated to ecological resilience. Our Lake BESS presentation was well received judging by the positive comments people shared.

My talk title was: Landscape connectivity is important for lake ecosystem function and biodiversity and I am pleased to share slides from the introduction and conclusion:

Lake BESS talk Cardiff for blogpostLake BESS talk Cardiff for blogpost2Lake BESS talk Cardiff for blogpost3

Methods in Ecology and Evolution cover page

The Oostvaardersplassen, palaeoecology and dung fungal spores made the November 2016 cover page of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, with our paper:

Baker et al. (2016) Quantification of population sizes of large herbivores and their long-term functional role in ecosystems using dung fungal spores. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12580.

Follow this link for more information about this photo cover.

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