Lake BESS new photographs

The Lake BESS website is being improved thanks to pictures taken by Ben Goldsmith and Tom Davidson (see Photo Credits) taken in Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads. We now have five stunning header pictures of lake landscapes and luxuriant aquatic vegetation.

These inspirational pictures were chosen to provoke thoughts on biodiversity, connectivity, ecosystem services and sustainability.

You will also note the exceptional aerial photographs of The Broads by Mike Page – visit his website for an aerial experience!

Speaking about pictures, we would like to set up a platform of exchange for anyone interested or concerned by the Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads. In particular, we plan to provide a space where to discuss photographs, whether old or recent, and life and activities around lakes in Upper Lough Erne region and The Broads.

So, watch this place and do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any picture to share or suggestion.

New Paper: Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology

Seddon A.W.R., Mackay A.W., Baker, A.G., et al. (66 other authors) (2014) Looking forward through the past. Identification of fifty priority research questions in palaeoecology. Journal of Ecology. 102, 256–267. Link.

Article first published online: 16 December 2013

This multi author, horizon-scanning paper presents the 50 priority questions in palaeoecology that were identified during a workshop that Alistair, Anson and I organised in December 2012 in Oxford.

PhD Thesis abstract, final version after revisions, February 2014

Tree cover in the early Holocene in temperate Europe and implications for the practice of re-wilding in nature conservation

This thesis addresses the methodological challenges of determining the variability of large herbivore populations through time and their impact on European vegetation.

Large herbivores are at the heart of conservation policy however, opinions widely diverge on whether we should aim for fewer herbivores and managed populations or, on the contrary (as advocated by the rewilding movement) more herbivores and self-regulating populations acting as ecosystem engineers. This controversy has roots in a debate regarding the nature of ecosystems before the prevalence of human activities. Baseline ecosystems are either described as continuous forest cover with passive large herbivores, or, in contrast, as mosaics with patchy forest cover driven inter alia by bison, aurochs and horses, now rare or extinct in Europe. The main obstacle in moving this debate forward is a poor understanding of large-herbivore densities in the past.

I analysed modern pollen and spore assemblages from known environmental settings to improve palaeoecological interpretation of fossil assemblages dating from the pre-human (baseline) period. The sites investigated are the rewilded grasslands of the Oostvaardersplassen (The Netherlands), the mosaic habitats of The New Forest (UK) and the old-growth closed-canopy forest of Białowieża (Poland).

I demonstrate that the common practice of interpreting pollen percentages fails to estimate past forest cover in situations with natural grazing. As an explanation, I suggest that pollen productivity fluctuates with biotic factors such as herbivory and canopy shading. As a result, new insights into the baseline debate require additional lines of evidence. In this thesis, I develop an existing methodology to reconstruct past herbivore presence using fossil dung fungal spores. I synthesise current knowledge of this method with an emphasis on spore identification and, finally, I demonstrate that dung fungal spore abundance in lake sediments can be translated into large herbivore numbers.

The evidence presented in this thesis contributes to the debate on re-wilding and addresses a fundamental challenge of nature conservation in the human-dominated landscapes of Europe.

LakeBESS start-up

Lakes are inspirational places for people enjoying outdoor activities and they are cherished by local communities and holiday-makers alike. However, lake ecosystems are threatened by environmental change and loss of biodiversity that can have cascading and catastrophic effects.

The LakeBESS project, run from the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) at UCL, is focussed on two lake districts, the Broads in East Anglia and the Upper Lough Erne district in Northern Ireland.

debarcadaireWe are looking into how biodiversity regulates ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services from lakes are extremely diverse: recreation, tourism, water purification, flood prevention, provision of fish for anglers and fisheries and other supporting services such as carbon storage for climate mitigation.

Because of this variety, changes in lake ecological functioning may affect the different services in different ways, rendering best practices for restoration and management difficult to establish.

One aspect we are particularly interested to develop in LakeBESS is the importance of ecological connectivity between lakes for their biodiversity. Connectivity may be a major factor determining lake ecosystem resilience because it counter-balances the negative effect of local extinction by increasing species re-colonisation.

Another aspect of interest is the consequences of biological invasions by organisms such as zebra mussel and Canadian pondweed.

We have just started this project as part of the Biodiveristy, Ecosystem Services and Sustainablility (BESS) research programme funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Our team is composed of Carl Sayer, Helen Bennion, Jorge Salgado and Ambroise Baker at UCL, Tom Davidson at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), Beth Okamura at the Natural History Museum and Nigel Willby at Stirling University. We are looking forward to a field campaign this summer and to presenting the result of our work to the numerous stakeholders in both lake districts.

We also would love to hear your take on how changes in lakes, or in a particular lake, can affect people’s lives.

December 2013: PhD Viva

December 2013: PhD Viva

Following a challenging, intense and very constructive discussion with the examiners, I passed my PhD Viva with minor corrections, University of Oxford. My examiners were Prof Richard Bradshaw, University of Liverpool and Prof Amy Bogaard, University of Oxford. Many thanks to them and to my supervisors, Prof Kathy Willis and Dr Shonil Bhagwat.

New paper: Do dung fungal spores make a good proxy for past distribution of large herbivores?

Baker, A.G., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J. (2013) Do dung fungal spores make a good proxy for past distribution of large herbivores? Quaternary Science Reviews 62, 21–31. http:/www.dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.11.018

Available online: 27 December 2012

Abstract: The importance of herbivory as a long-term driver of ecosystem change is a topic that has been hotly debated over the past few years. An understanding of the interaction between herbivores and ecosystems is particularly important for conservation policies aimed at re-wilding.

Dung fungal spores have been highlighted as an important potential proxy to reconstruct large herbivore densities across past landscapes. However, this proxy appears to have been used and interpreted in a variety of ways in addition to highly variable taxonomic identification of dung fungal spores.

Here we review studies that have utilised fungal spore assemblages to assess past herbivore presence and test the validity of this method. We aim to determine whether there is a set of identifiable dung fungal spores that can unequivocally track variation of large herbivore activity through time and across regions.

Our meta analysis identifies: (1) spore types that are commonly found to be indicative of large herbivores and their geographical ranges, (2) linkages between these spores and their biological origin, and (3) the most appropriate quantitative method to express their abundance for comparisons through time and across sites.