Following the previous post, this is just to let you know that our trip to Northern Ireland was very successful. It gave us a chance to discuss our research results with many partners, stakeholders and members of the public. The interest we met makes us hope that our research will find direct applications on the ground.
We would like to thank the many people who made this trip possible at the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Waterways Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency and Queen’s University Belfast.
We are organising two events in Northern Ireland to share our results with local stakeholders.
A workshop Tuesday November 24th 2015, from 6:45pm at Waterway Ireland HQ, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
A lunch time seminar Wednesday November 25th 2015, 12.30 – 13.30, NIEA HQ, Belfast.
For both events there will be a presentation of our results and plenty of time for Q&As and discussion.
We would like to share our research findings with local stakeholders working on and around Upper Lough Erne’s satellite lakes so our research can be useful to those most concerned.
Please let us know if you would like to come by email: ambroise.baker [ at] ucl.ac.uk or with a message at the bottom of this page; and do not hesitate to forward this invitation to anyone you think could be interested.
The BBC reported today that Fermanagh is the happiest place in the UK according to a recent survey by the ONS. Is there a link with the exceptional freshwater biodiversity levels we found during our work in the Upper Lough Erne region, part of Co. Fermanagh? Our Lake BESS work is only a preliminary step towards answering such fundamental question: a whole new research agenda lies ahead of us to better understand the value of nature and ecosystems in what is often referred to as coupled human-environment systems.
Our data was a compilation of lake surveys in both lake districts and for two time periods: the 1980 and recent time (thanks you to all our partners who were willing to share their data, by the way!). Each lake survey comprises of:
Extensive botanical work, recording aquatic plants from the open water and the marginal zone, and
Collecting water samples that are later analysed in the lab for phytoplankton abundance, concentration of nutrients such as phosphorus and water chemistry in general.
Our data shows that nutrient pollution drives ecosystem functioning in both regions and during both time periods. This reminds us on the importance of good policies to protect freshwaters while maintaining thriving agriculture.
The situation with biodiversity is a bit different as it appears to be influenced both by the local conditions (lake size and shape, nutrients status) and landscape-wide connectivity. One main difference between the Upper Lough Erne lakes and the Broads is that flood connectivity in the Upper lough Erne is a major factor structuring in the aquatic plant communities there. Does this induce greater resilience? remains a pending question we are working on.
All these results are being written up into a scientific article, so please get in touch if you’d like to discuss or report them!
The 100th ESA annual meeting was a great experience! It was an opportunity to present our work, of course, but what I really enjoyed was the breadth and depth. The breadth of ecological topics represented was exceptional – speak about biodiversity!- and the depth of the talks and of the understanding within each subfield was phenomenal.
I would like to highlight three researchers and their talks. There were many other remarkable ones but these actually tie well together in what I would call a list obstacles for our societies to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis and with ecological issues in general.
Stephen Jackson from the University of Arizona, USA, presented five major challenges for ecology. Among those, three could be labelled as governance challenges within ecological research – whether within academic institutions or in the way academics interacts with decision makers and land managers.
Two others were more directly related to our science. Stephen notably put an emphasis on the difficulties related to defining nature in a context of ever-changing conditions – and in a context of omnipresent human pressure.
This last point was further developed by Jens-Christian Svenning from Aarhus University, Denmark. It was divided into three categories: disequilibrium dynamics, novel ecosystems and trophic cascade. These three ecological phenomena remind us how much ecosystem function in a complex way. As a result of this complexity, ecosystems have futures that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict.
Jens-Christian presented several compelling examples to illustrate his talk and I would refer anyone interested to his publication list.
Shannon’s work focusses on the values underlying expert opinion in biodiversity science and claims that today’s novel impact created by human activities not only threatens biodiversity in a direct way (as we all understand it) but it also deeply questions the values that have hitherto guided conservation actions.
It can be postulated that this crisis of values within the field of conservation at large creates obstacles for us to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis itself and with ecological issues in general.
This is a very simplified synthesis of these three talks, that certainly does not do them justice, and the opinions expressed are mine. Ambroise, Sheffield, UK, August 27th 2015
I got familiar with this species on the continent, where it became very abundant but seeing it near Doncaster on the railway tracks was quite a surprise – I had not seen it for quite a while now: it was like meeting up with a good old friend!
Senecio inaequidens, the narrow-leaved ragwort, is a fast spreading plants from Southern Africa that is mainly found in ruderal situations in Europe. It’s identification is relatively easy because it has the flowers of a ragwort (well, no wonder as it is one…) but it has very narrow leaves without any lobes (see picture below) and it has a stout fibrous stem. Keep your eyes peeled as it is likely to be under-recorded!
Transport networks such as railway and roads are often vector of spreading species. This is not only because vehicles transport seeds and other propagules but also because the transport network creates continuous novel habitats whose physical and disturbance conditions can strongly differ from the surrounding landscape.
Yet another interesting urban plant. I found Cystopteris fragilis, the brittle bladder-fern, thriving on old walls in the city of York. It is possible that improved air quality in the recent decades and a drastic reduction of acid rains is increasingly favouring this species and other alkaline-substrate-loving ferns such as Ceterach officinarum – rustyback – to grow on mortar in urban situations.
Urban flora fascinates me. One of the reasons is that the exceptional floristic diversity found in urban habitats challenges my ideas about wildlife and conservation. We tend to think of urban development as intrinsically adverse to biodiversity, however, re-colonisation can be quick and novel habitats can be rich and surprisingly biodiverse.
This positive aspect needs of course to be weighed up against irreversible loss of some habitats such as nutrient poor mires that can disappear and are never replaced.
But I also enjoy urban floras because so many unexpected plants turn up! and because it transforms my weekly trips to the supermarket into genuine botanical expeditions. Above and below are pictures of Filago vulgaris, the common cudweed, in a waste ground in (SK337889) Walkley, Sheffield, UK, near home. I had spotted the hundreds of tiny rosettes early this spring but couldn’t work out whether it would turn out to be a Filago or Gnaphalium uliginosum, the marsh cudweed.
When I saw the roads signs for West Malling last week I knew I had to make a small detour and look for the largest known population of Chaenorhinum origanifolium in Britain and Ireland. I first encountered this rare alien plant on a wall in Oxford – see my new-to records page. It did not take long to locate the West Malling population on Swan Street (TQ682577). There is a very large number of mature plants, that were in full bloom, and a large number of seedlings:
There is more information about the workshop and how BESS people can take part here.
This will be a unique occasion to develop ideas around resilience, biodiversity and ecosystem services and a good chance to network with like-minded people who think resilience is an important notion to better communicate our science.