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.

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.

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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