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News Archive » 2015

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

Browse archives by year and month below.

Is Britain’s biosecurity being threatened by the risk of an ‘invasional meltdown’?

Britain’s freshwater ecosystems are on the brink of an invasional meltdown, a new study concludes. Examining 23 freshwater species from south-east Europe, researchers investigated whether individual species in the group would ‘pave the way’ for others, resulting in a rapid increase in establishment of invasive species. The results showed that 76% of the interactions between the species were positive or neutral, highlighting the possibility of severe consequences for Britain’s freshwater ecosystems.

Anti-depressant drug affects wild starlings’ feeding behaviour

Anti-depressant drugs can affect the behaviour of wild animals in ways which may reduce their survival, new research has shown. The researchers fed half a group of starlings fluoxetine (commonly produced as ‘Prozac’) at concentrations they would be likely to encounter in the wild, if they fed on invertebrates contained in the waste water at treatment plants. Those fed the anti-depressant showed reduced feeding rates compared to the rest of the group, possibly putting their survival at risk.

Pollution and overfishing are public’s biggest marine concerns

A pan-European survey has revealed the public’s awareness, concerns and priorities about human impacts on the oceans. The results show high levels of concern about marine pollution in particular, and that, generally, respondents were most concerned about the issues they felt most informed about. The study could help policymakers develop marine strategies that are more responsive to public preferences, its authors say.

Spanish farmers would pay more for guaranteed water supply

Farmers in one of Europe’s most water-stressed regions would be willing to pay double the current amount for irrigation water in order to ensure a reliable supply, new research from Spain suggests. The study also shows that they appear unsupportive of new policies proposed by the researchers, such as water markets and tighter controls on groundwater pumping, which could help enable a guaranteed supply of water.

Wind erosion risk mapped in first ever pan-European assessment

Over 8% of land in Europe could be at moderate-to-high risk of wind-driven soil erosion, a new study has estimated. In the first assessment of its kind, the researchers produced maps which show wind erosion risk across 36 countries. This information could help guide actions to tackle land degradation.

The impacts of large-scale Concentrated Solar Power on the local environment

Construction of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants – electricity generation which concentrates sunlight to generate heat – can have a range of negative effects on wildlife, but these effects are short lived, new research has found. Once in use, CSP plants can even have some positive effects, reducing soil erosion, for instance.

El Niño Southern Oscillation can be used to predict global flood risk anomalies

Unusually warm or cool Pacific sea surface temperatures, known as El Niño and La Niña, can be used to reliably predict anomalies in flood risk for river basins that cover 44% of the Earth’s land surface, a new study has shown. The researchers also quantified overall flood damage by combining information on flood risk with estimates of damage to economies and numbers of people at risk. This could help improve flood disaster planning, they say.

Soil biodiversity reduces nitrogen pollution and improves crops’ nutrient uptake

Increased soil biodiversity can reduce nitrogen pollution, improve nutrient uptake by plants and even increase crop yields, new research suggests. The two-year study found that levels of nitrogen leaching from soil with an abundant soil life were nearly 25% lower than for soil with a reduced level of soil life. Practices which enhance soil biodiversity such as reduced tilling, crop rotation and organic farming may therefore help reduce the environmental impacts of fertilisers and improve agricultural sustainability, the researchers say.

Eco-design for flat screens should ensure quick dismantling for maximum resource recovery

Flat screen televisions and computer monitors should be designed so they can be quickly dismantled for recycling, a recent study says. The researchers calculated that in order to ensure the recycling process remains economically viable, it must be possible to disassemble small screens in less than 11 minutes. Good design could lower the costs of recycling and enable near-total recovery of precious metals from the waste screens.

Public subsidies for electric vehicle fleets are important for adoption

Public subsidies are important in encouraging organisations to trial and expand electric vehicle fleets, according to new research. The study, based on interviews and reports from 17 organisations, found that the opportunity to test new technology was the most important factor in deciding to trial electric vehicles. However, some smaller independent companies chose not to expand their fleet because of the expense.

Citizen scientists help reveal effects of roads on frogs and toads

Roads reduce the species diversity and distribution of frogs and toads, a new US study reports. The large-scale study used data from a national citizen science programme in which members of the public help monitor amphibian populations.

Protected birds threatened by poisoned prey

Rodents poisoned by pest control substances may pose a threat to protected birds if the carcasses are not removed quickly enough. A new study found that dead water voles on farmland were scavenged rapidly by red kites and buzzards, suggesting that regular removal is needed to reduce poisoning risks.

Common European birds have declined more rapidly than rarer species

The number of birds in Europe has fallen by more than 420 million between 1980 and 2009, new research has found. The study, which examined 144 bird species across 25 countries, found that 90% of the lost numbers were accounted for by common species, such as house sparrows (Passer domesticus). The decline was steepest in the first half of the study (1980–1994), followed by a period of greater stability in the second (1995-2009). More needs to be done to conserve common, as well as rare species, the researchers say.

Almost half of EU freshwaters suffer from chemical pollution

The health of almost half of all European freshwaters is at risk from organic chemical pollution, finds new research. The study, a continental-scale risk assessment of the potential effects of toxic organic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems, based its conclusions on data for over 200 pollutants measured at 4000 monitoring sites across Europe.

Protecting against erosion after wildfire

Soil erosion after wildfire can be substantially reduced by using a combination of sowing grass seeds and protecting the soil with a layer of straw, a Spanish study suggests. The authors of the research found that, although seeding alone made little difference, the combination of straw mulch and seeding reduced soil erosion by 93%.

East Asian air pollution to have bigger global impact under climate change

Greater amounts of air pollutants emitted in East Asia will move around the globe under climate change, a recent study predicts. Changes to wind speeds and air pressure will mean that movement of pollution from this region is enhanced under a changing climate. These results highlight the need for globally coordinated efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change.

More needs to be done to halt global biodiversity loss and meet Aichi targets

The Aichi biodiversity targets, set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, are unlikely to be achieved by 2020, a new study suggests — despite some progress towards halting the global loss of biodiversity. The authors of the study call for policy responses to be strengthened if the ongoing loss of nature is to be stopped.

Baker’s yeast wastewater has limited effect on groundwater when used for irrigation

Untreated wastewater from the baker’s yeast industry can be used to irrigate crops without negatively affecting the chemical quality of the groundwater beneath, recently published research concludes. Although the wastewater increased concentrations of some groundwater contaminants in an area with a high water table, these levels would not pose a risk to human health even if this water was used for drinking.

Declining city populations could boost provision of urban ecosystem services

The decline of urban populations and abandonment of buildings and land could provide an opportunity to promote ecosystem services, a new study suggests. The researchers examined the relationships between the use of abandoned land and ecosystem services, providing insight into the pros and cons of different urban planning policies.

Plastic waste dominates seafloor litter in Mediterranean and Black Sea surveys

Researchers have trawled coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for waste and found up to 1211 items of litter per km2. Plastic bags and bottles were some of the most commonly found items. They present the results in a recent study, which they say supports Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) implementation, as well as efforts to discourage plastic carrier bag use.

Nutrient pollution in Dutch streams is falling, but further reductions needed

Nutrient pollution in The Netherlands is falling as a result of national and EU policies, new research has shown. However, many waters still routinely fail to meet environmental quality standards. The study, which focused on the headwaters of 167 rivers where agricultural fertilisers are the main cause of pollution, showed that up to 76% of these did not meet water quality standards.

European salamanders and newts under threat from fungus spread by wildlife trade

A new disease capable of devastating European salamander and newt populations was probably introduced via international wildlife trade, new research has found. The study shows that the disease is deadly for many European species of salamanders and its analysis of more than 5000 amphibians from across four continents suggests the pathogen spread from Asia to Europe via the pet trade.

Environmental sustainability in urban planning: a Finnish case study

The complexity of environmental issues and a lack of co-operation or shared objectives between parties involved in urban planning are preventing promotion of environmental sustainability, a new study suggests. The Finnish research, based on focus groups with 32 professionals in urban planning and environmental sustainability, suggests that the short-term economic goals of local authorities, the complexity of environmental sustainability, and a lack of co-operation between different decision-making groups in urban planning were creating barriers to achieving sustainability.

Neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides harm birds and fish and reduce their food supply

Neonicotinoid and fipronil insecticides have a range of impacts on birds, mammals and fish, a new review of scientific literature has found. A house sparrow would need to eat just one and a half beet seeds treated with a common neonicotinoid to receive a lethal dose, for instance. The insecticides may also have equally important effects on vertebrate wildlife, such as reducing insect prey and hence food supply.

Marine ecosystems at risk from multiple, interacting pressures

The combined effects of pollution and rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including CO2, may have effects on marine ecosystems that are more damaging than expected, warns new research. The study found that bacteria capable of breaking down oil pollution were far less abundant in sediment in acidified waters. Although increased ultraviolet-B (UV-B) light reduced these negative impacts, the researchers caution that deeper waters or other waters with less UV-B, may still suffer.

Pomegranate-inspired battery design doubles stored energy

A new pomegranate-inspired design is the basis of a longer-lasting lithium-ion battery created by US researchers. They designed a battery with an anode made from ‘silicon pomegranates’, which doubles the amount of energy that can be stored compared to a standard carbon anode.

Making nano-scale manufacturing eco-friendly with silk

Nanolithography — a way of making finely detailed patterns or structures, such as those found in advanced computer microchips, uses toxic and corrosive chemicals. Researchers have now shown that these could be replaced with eco-friendly silk proteins and water, eliminating the need to use and dispose of hazardous chemicals, while achieving similar levels of detail to conventional methods.

Low energy water purification enabled by nanomaterial-coated sponges

A low cost, low energy method to disinfect water using electricity has been developed by researchers by combining carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and silver nano-wires with existing materials. The technology has the potential to be used in portable disinfection devices in developing countries.

New quantum dot process could lead to super-efficient light-producing technology

Polarised light forms the basis of many technologies, such as computer monitors. However, current approaches for making polarised light are inefficient, as they produce more than is ultimately used or needed. Researchers may now have found a way to directly produce polarised light using tiny nanostructures, called quantum dots, opening the way for more energy-efficient technologies.

Solar cell efficiency boosted with pine tree-like nanotube needle

‘Dye-sensitised solar cells’ (DSSCs) are an alternative to traditional silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. They have a number of advantages over traditional PV solar cells, including greater flexibility and lower manufacturing cost, but they are less efficient at turning sunlight into electricity. Taking inspiration from nature, new research has doubled their efficiency using pine tree-shaped nanotubes.

Nanotechnology cuts costs and improves efficiency of photovoltaic cells

Researchers have summarised the most effective ways that nanostructures can improve the efficiency and lower costs of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells in a recent analysis. Sculpting ultra-thin solar cell surfaces at the nano-scale has been found to effectively boost their efficiency.

New energy-efficient manufacture of perovskite solar cells that rivals silicon solar cells

‘Perovskite solar cells’ (PSCs) are less costly than conventional silicon solar cells, but one of their key components is energy-intensive to manufacture as high temperatures are needed. Now researchers have identified new alternative materials for this component which cut energy demands as they can be produced at low temperatures.

Graphene’s health effects summarised in new guide

A guide has been published on the known and potential health and safety effects of human exposure to graphene. It is designed to help inform those working with graphene and graphene-based nanomaterials and could be especially useful as a growing number of industries begin to experiment with and use these materials.

Ultra-fine particles emitted by commercial desktop 3D printers

Desktop three-dimensional (3D) printers, available for use in offices and homes, can release between 20 and 200 billion ultra-fine particles (UFPs) per minute, finds new research. UFPs may pose a risk to health, and the study’s authors recommend caution when operating 3D printers inside unventilated or unfiltered indoor environments.

New 3D printing technique for environmental nanodevices

A nanoscale 3D printing technique could be useful for nanomanufacturing processes with environmental applications. The authors of a new study have found a way to control their printing process by incorporating a simple pattern into the printing surface. They say their technique could reduce costs for nanoscale printing.

The potential of new building block-like nanomaterials: van der Waals heterostructures

A new review examines the potential uses and scientific, technical and manufacturing problems facing ‘van der Waals heterostructures’ - an emerging science which uses building block-like nanomaterials. Van der Waals heterostructures are nanomaterials built by layering different materials, each one atom thick, on top of each other, to create materials with unique properties and uses.

Potential health risks from different forms of nanosized cellulose crystals

A new study has found evidence for lung toxicity of different forms of ‘cellulose nanocrystals’ (CNCs) in mice. The study suggests that physical characteristics, such as length, of the CNC relates to the type of effect it has on the lung. These nanosized crystals, made from plant-derived materials, are increasingly being used in novel applications, such as cleaning up oil spills in water and flexible electronic displays, and consumer products, which raises concerns about their potential health impacts.

Climate change to shift global spread and quality of agricultural land

New areas of land suitable for agriculture will open up under climate change’s effects, new research predicts, particularly in far northern regions of the world. However, the overall quality of land for farming will decline and many regions, including Europe, could lose large areas of suitable land.

Oil spills could be cleaned up by bacteria from underground petroleum reserves

Bacteria taken from underground petroleum reserves could be used to effectively break down crude oil from spills at sea, new research has found. The study measured the breakdown of crude oil components in simulated seawater by four bacterial strains that had been isolated from petroleum reservoirs, as well as by four genetically modified stains. The findings raise the possibility of tailor-making organisms to clean up specific types of contamination.

Green walls show promise as sound barriers for buildings

Green walls, designed so they are covered in vegetation, could help cut the amount of noise that enters buildings, a new study has found. In lab. tests, researchers found that a modular green wall system reduced sound levels by 15 decibels (dB). This leads them to believe that it is a promising sound reduction device that could improve quality-of-life for city residents.

Radioactive particles from Chernobyl disaster may be re-released by wildfires

Fires in forests contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident could lead to areas of Europe and Russia being exposed to further radioactive fallout, new research has found. The study examined the spread of the fallout and the health effects on people and animals under three different scenarios: 10, 50 and 100% of the forests being burnt.

Waters acidified by air pollution have recovered as predicted

Back in 1999, a group of scientists predicted how changing air pollution levels would affect the acidity of lakes and rivers in Europe in 2010 using a computer model. A follow up study has now gathered actual measurements of these waters to see if the predictions came true. The observations show that most of the rivers and lakes did recover from acidification, as forecast by the model, and demonstrate the model’s value in predicting future water chemistry, the authors say.

Careful urban tree planting and pruning needed to reduce trapping of air pollution

Careful planting and pruning is needed to ensure that air pollution in tree-lined streets is minimised, new research suggests. While planting trees in urban areas can have many benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, trees can trap particulate matter pollution, say the study’s authors.

Sudden changes in marine ecosystems should be addressed through multi-targeted approach

The world’s marine ecosystems are at risk of sudden and damaging changes. The authors of a recent study say that co-ordinated management of the many drivers of marine changes, such as overfishing and pollution, is needed across international, national and local scales to help avoid the ‘regime shifts’ that affect ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Wild bees boost apple harvest

Orchards pollinated by a wide range of wild bee species grow more apples than those pollinated by fewer species, finds a new US study. Its authors suggest that farmers could consider investing in wild bee conservation to improve crop yield.

Controlling resilient plant viruses with steam

Combining steam with heat-producing chemicals could control pathogenic viruses in soil, finds new research. The study examined how effective different forms of heat sterilisation of soil were at inactivating three plant viruses. While steam alone was enough to eradicate two of the viruses, the highly resilient tobacco mosaic virus required the addition of exothermic chemicals to reduce it by 97%.

Chemical composition of fracking wastewater

Wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has been chemically analysed in the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. The researchers found that produced water from three US fracking sites contained a diverse array of chemicals including toxic metals such as mercury and the carcinogens toluene and ethylbenzene. However, a group of harmful chemicals, ‘polyaromatic hydrocarbons’ commonly found in mining and coal extraction wastewater, were absent.

Red List Index can measure conservation organisations’ effectiveness

The IUCN’s Red List Index (RLI) of threatened species can be used to measure the effectiveness of conservation organisations. This is according to a new study which used the index to assess an organisation’s conservation impact on 17 species. Eight of these species saw improvements in their threat status, whereas 16 would have seen no improvement at all, or even deterioration, if there was no conservation action.

New emissions certification test for cars could be improved, study concludes

A test currently under development for certifying levels of vehicle emissions may not adequately represent real world driving conditions, a new study suggests. The authors measured emissions during the new Worldwide Light-Duty Test Cycle (WLTC) compared with those in existing driving cycles and highlighted areas where the test could be potentially improved.

Fish farm parasite drug threatens wildlife

A drug used to treat parasite infections at fish farms can contaminate the surrounding environment and threaten local wildlife, a new study shows. Following a week-long treatment at a Norwegian salmon farm, the authors found concentrations of an anti-sea-lice drug that were high enough to kill some crabs, shrimps and lobsters. However, they suggest the drug is not likely to pose a risk to humans.

Citizen scientists map air pollution with smartphones

Citizen scientists have helped to map pollution across the Netherlands using their smartphones. Their results, produced by thousands of volunteers, are presented in a study which shows how a combination of mass participation and smartphone technology can be a powerful approach to environmental monitoring.

How to do river restoration on a budget

A step-by-step approach to planning cost-effective river restoration is outlined in a new study. The study describes a method that compares different combinations of restoration measures and could be useful in helping decision-makers meet ecological objectives on limited budgets.

European air quality in 2020: success story for PM2.5

Levels of the air pollutant PM2.5 in Europe will continue to fall in 2020, concludes a recent study. Furthermore, deposition of nitrogen from air pollution will also drop. The outlook seems less positive for ground-level ozone, however, as large amounts of this pollutant continue drift over to Europe from other continents.

Fracking: leaking wells cause gas-contaminated groundwater

Contamination of drinking water in areas close to several fracking sites in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, USA, is caused by structural problems leading to wells leaking natural gas into aquifers, a new study suggests. The researchers measured trace amounts of chemicals, called noble gases, which formed signatures of the sources of gas contamination in over 130 samples. These findings suggest that, rather than coming from natural sources, such contamination in the area of the investigation is an engineering problem to do with the wells themselves, the researchers say. They stress the importance of ensuring the structural integrity of the wells, which can be done in an affordable manner.

Dry soils exacerbated 2006 heatwave in Northern France

Dry soils and a lack of cloud cover help explain a major heatwave in France, concludes new research. The study indicates that the two drivers were separate, unlinked events that came together at the same time to worsen the 2006 heatwave. Its findings could allow heatwaves to be predicted more accurately to protect public health.

Fourteen days of poor air quality caused 4 000 extra healthcare visits in UK

Real time monitoring of public health during two periods of high air pollution in the UK showed that there were an estimated 3 500 extra healthcare visits for acute respiratory symptoms and approximately 500 for severe asthma during these spells in 2014. The results of this research are presented in a new study which demonstrates the value of such ‘syndromic surveillance’ systems for exploring air quality’s effects on human health.

A nation’s conservation success cannot be predicted by its wealth

Wealthier nations protect biodiversity no better than poorer nations, suggests new research. The study found no link between national GDP and the effectiveness of countries at conserving the species for which they have responsibility.

Carbon footprint of food waste not necessarily related to its weight

The carbon footprint of food waste should be taken into account alongside the the weight of food wasted, says a new study. The research examined three years of food waste data from six branches of a Swedish supermarket and calculated the waste’s carbon footprint. On the basis of their footprint, key products that could be targeted for waste reduction include beef mince, meatballs and cream, the results suggest.

Fishing boat wastewater shown to be potentially harmful

Wastewater emptied from commercial fishing boats is an overlooked source of marine pollution, a new US study shows. The researchers suggest that this type of pollution should be given further consideration when assessing the overall environmental impact of fishing, as it may pose a risk to human health and marine life.

Methane: satellite data may improve emissions estimates

Greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are significantly underestimating methane emissions from a region in the southwest of the United States, and potentially elsewhere, a new study has found. The authors of the study suggest that satellite data could be used to identify and quantify new sources of methane, such as fracking.

Large carnivores are making a comeback in Europe

Wolves, bears, lynx and wolverines are rising in number in Europe, new research shows. Thanks in part to pan-European legislation, at least one of these species is now present in most mainland countries. The researchers say their study confirms that humans and wild predators can successfully live alongside each other.

Neonicotinoids: may reduce crop yields by poisoning insects that eat slug pests

Beetles that are helpful to farmers can be poisoned if they feed on slugs that have eaten crops treated with neonicotinoids, a new study reports. The slugs themselves are not harmed by neonicotinoids. In American field trials, researchers found that plots planted with neonicotinoid-treated soybeans contained more slugs, fewer beetle predators and had 5% lower yields. The insecticide may be reducing the beetles’ effectiveness as a natural control of slug pests.

Parks and beaches may improve children’s behavioural development

City children who spend lots of time in green spaces, such as parks, and at the beach are less likely to have emotional and social difficulties, indicates new research from Barcelona. The study of over 2000 children supports theories that green and blue infrastructure have benefits for our health and wellbeing.

Solar panel silicon recovery methods tested

A three-step chemical process could successfully recover high-purity silicon from recycled photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, new tests show. The scientists behind the research say that recycling not only helps the PV industry meet regulatory requirements, but also reduces pressure on demand for raw materials.

Cultural ecosystem services: new valuation method tested in Turkey

A process to help identify and value cultural ecosystem services has been developed by researchers and is demonstrated in a recent Black Sea case study. This highlighted the value of anchovies to Turkish identity: respondents to a survey said that they would be willing to pay 135 Turkish lira (€49) per year in order to fund environmental management that protects this culturally important species.

Peak warming effects of today’s CO2 emissions may be as soon as 10 years from now

The benefits of CO2 cuts made now, such as avoided floods and droughts, will be felt within the lifetimes of most people alive today, new research indicates. The study’s authors say their work dispels myths that the main effects of CO2 emissions will not be felt for many decades. They estimate that it could take 10 years for the maximum warming effects of a one-off CO2 emission to occur.

Radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may have European origin

Ninety-eight per cent of radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may come from Europe, new research suggests. The study concludes that atmospheric transport of Iodine-129 from European nuclear fuel reprocessing plants is the most likely source.

Shipping oil pollution: new hazard mapping method developed

A new method for mapping the spread of oil released by ships is presented in a recent study, where it is applied to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas of the Mediterranean. The method pulls together a range of data, including information on shipping routes, oil particle behaviour, currents and climate. In this case study, it reveals pollution hotspots in the south-western Adriatic Sea and north-eastern Ionian Sea.

Flood strategies could be improved with help of socio-demographic data

Flood management could be improved by including socio-demographic information in the assessment of flood risk, suggests new research. The research combined traditional flood risk assessment with information on the ‘social vulnerability’ of people living in flood risk areas. The results show that there are almost twice as many people of high social vulnerability (e.g. low-income or elderly) in flood risk areas of Rotterdam as low social vulnerability people.

New beach database could help protect Black Sea shorelines

The damaging effects of sea-level rise on Black Sea beaches have been estimated in a new study. Diminishing river sediment supply caused by river dams is also an erosion threat. These new results suggest that erosion could cause over 90% of these beaches to retreat by at least 20% of their width. A publicly available database created by the researchers could be useful for developing coastal protection schemes.

Environmental Scenario Planning: what if marine conservation hotspots in NE Atlantic increase under climate change?

Marine biodiversity conservation in the north-east Atlantic needs a combination of more adaptable management strategies and international co-operation, a new study says. This is required to deal with a potential increase in marine conservation hotspots under climate change.

Two for the price of one: climate change mitigation measures also reduce air pollution

Effective greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measures to stabilise global temperature change to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures would also substantially reduce air pollutant emissions, recent research predicts. A variety of mitigation options are available, including switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. To achieve the necessary GHG emission reductions, one key option is to impose carbon taxes. However, these would need to be high to help achieve this target, according to the study’s authors.

Air pollution modelling could help predict algal blooms

Models that predict how nitrogen from the air is deposited in the sea could be useful in predicting algal blooms. Based on the knowledge that excess nitrogen increases algal growth rates, researchers simulated nitrogen deposition in the North Sea and suggested that, using predicted weather data, it might be possible to adapt this approach to predict algal blooms.

Water management planning approach deals with deep uncertainties

More adaptive approaches to planning could help policymakers deal with deep uncertainties about the future of our planet. Researchers have developed a method for adaptive planning which they suggest could protect against failure when future predictions turn out to be inaccurate. They illustrate their approach using the case of water management in the Rhine Delta region of the Netherlands.

Rooftop gardens could grow three quarters of city’s vegetables

Rooftop gardens in cities could provide more than three quarters of the vegetables consumed in them, a case study from Bologna, Italy, suggests. If all suitable flat roof space was used for urban agriculture, rooftop gardens in the city could supply around 12 500 tons of vegetables a year whilst also providing a range of ecosystem services, the researchers say.

Bee and wasp extinctions in UK driven by historical agricultural changes

Changes in agricultural policy and practice, such as increased intensification and fertiliser use, are responsible for many historical extinctions of pollinator populations in the UK, suggests new research. The study looked at bee and wasp extinction rates in relation to agricultural practices since the mid-19th century.

Arctic ice melt affects seabird feeding behaviour

Virtually sea ice-free summers since 2005 have forced an important Arctic seabird species to change its foraging grounds and prey, new research shows. The body mass of the little auk — the most abundant seabird in the Atlantic Arctic — has shrunk by 4% in the past 20 years in one of its Russian breeding grounds, the study found. This change may be caused by its new foraging behaviour.

Four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’ exceeded

Civilisation has crossed four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’, increasing the risk of irreversibly driving the Earth in to a less hospitable state, concludes new research. These are: extinction rate, deforestation, atmospheric CO2 and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Trees in urban areas may improve mental health

Doctors prescribe fewer antidepressants in urban areas with more trees on the street, according to recent UK research. The study examined the link between mental health and wellbeing and the presence of trees in London neighbourhoods. Its findings support the idea that maintaining a link to nature, even in an urban area, may help provide a healthy living environment.

European migratory seabirds at risk from West African fishing

Conserving West African coastal waters is also important for conserving European seabirds, suggests new research. The study shows that both adult and juvenile northern gannets and Scopoli’s shearwaters migrate to coastal waters of West Africa for winter. However, they are at risk of death from unsustainable and illegal fishing activities in this region.

Citizen science could address impact of global change on biodiversity

Citizen science holds the potential to address some of the biggest concerns facing biodiversity researchers, according to a new study. The study found that volunteers already save biodiversity research huge sums of money, but that their contributions are underused.

Global health impact of PM2.5 air pollution assessed

PM2.5 air pollution can have a significant impact on human health, not only for local populations, but also in regions far from its source of emission, shows a new study. The study calculates ‘damage factors’ to human health of PM2.5 and in different parts of the world.

Seagrass worth €190 million per year to Mediterranean fishing

Seagrass meadows are worth around €78 million every year to commercial fishing in the Mediterranean, a new study estimates. Their annual value to recreational fishing is even bigger, at an estimated €112 million. The researchers say that marine policies should consider the socioeconomic effects of the loss of seagrass, which provides habitat for many fishery species.

New biodegradable waste management plans proposed and evaluated

Researchers have designed and proposed a new organic waste management plan for Catalonia, Spain, and presented it in a recent study. They say that the plan would reduce a number of environmental impacts that arise from landfilling biodegradable waste, including natural resource depletion, acidification, and eutrophication.

Bear hunting's hidden impacts on cubs is highlighted in new study

Hunting has obvious impacts on wild populations. However, new research concludes that for Scandinavian brown bears (Ursus arctos), it also contributes to the killing of cubs by adult males to increase the male's chances of mating with the cubs' mother. The researchers say that this indirect effect of hunting should be considered when developing sustainable hunting quotas and management plans.

Protecting seagrass from anchor damage: new recommendations

Damage caused by boats anchoring in seagrass meadows off the coast of Sardinia continues despite restrictions, new research shows. The study's authors provide a number of recommendations to help protect seagrass. These include creating special anchoring areas in seagrass-free locations, and limiting the number of boats that enter a marine protected area.

Waste incinerator impacts monitored via milk and vegetable quality

Emissions from well-regulated household waste incinerators do not reduce the quality of vegetables and milk produced nearby, a Dutch study suggests. Researchers found that levels of certain contaminants were similar whether vegetables and milk came from the area surrounding three incinerators, or from elsewhere in the Netherlands. They say biomonitoring programmes could offer a way to increase the understanding of the real impacts of waste incineration and to improve communication between waste management companies and local communities.

More scope for environmental NGOs to influence SMEs in Hungary

There is greater potential for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to influence the environmental responsibilities of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), suggests new research in Hungary. The study says that environmental policymakers should consider how they could enhance SME-NGO relations.

Urban planners' views on the role of scientific information in decision-making

Simply supplying more scientific information on the environment may not be enough to persuade urban planners to give greater consideration to the environment, suggests new research. The Dutch study suggests that environmental values also need to be made more important to municipal decision makers.

Manure and sewage can provide crops with more phosphorus than chemical fertilisers

Phosphorus in sewage and manure could be more available to crops than previously thought, suggests new research. The study found that some forms of sewage and manure treatment provided plants with more phosphorus than conventional inorganic fertilisers.

Latest emission control technology could eradicate harmful air pollution hotspots

Switching to the best available emission control technologies could eliminate 99% of particulate matter pollution 'hotspots', a new study suggests. The researchers reached this conclusion by expanding the local-scale capabilities of an existing computer model that estimates the effects of air pollution policies and control measures.

Flooding: what influences householders to protect their homes?

Householders who believe that climate change increases flood risk are up to 12% more likely to protect their homes against flooding than those who do not hold this belief, finds recent research from Germany. The national survey also found that previous experience of flood damage increased the likelihood of households introducing flood protection measures.

Microplastic pollution's effects explored for two key marine species: mussels and lugworms

Mussels exposed to high levels of microplastic pollution display signs of stress, new research has shown. However, levels of exposure were higher than found in the wild and no effect on the energy reserves of either mussels or lugworms was observed in the lab. tests. The researchers caution that longer experiments may be needed to reveal microplastics' full effects.

E-cigarette waste poses potential environmental risks

Disposable components of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and e-pens, could pose a potential environmental risk unless properly regulated, suggests new research. The study examined the levels of potentially toxic chemicals in disposable battery and 'cartomiser' ENDS components.

Polystyrene nanoparticles affect fish behaviour and metabolism

Fish fed polystyrene nanoparticles are less active and show changes to their brains and metabolism, according to a study by Swedish and Danish researchers. The findings suggest that nanoparticles in the environment could have a major impact on fish and aquatic ecosystems.

The effects of agricultural land use change on farmland birds in Sweden

The effects of changing agricultural practices on farmland birds are explored in a recently published study from Sweden. Overall abundance of 16 common species declined by 23% between 1994 and 2004, which may be partly caused by changes in land use, such as an increase in the amount of wheat cropland. However, effects vary between species, and some species increased or stayed stable in number.

Bees in the city: urban environments could help support pollinators

Urban areas may support higher levels of bee diversity than expected, new research has shown. The UK-wide study compared three different habitat types - nature reserves, farmland, and urban areas - and found a higher number of different bee species in urban areas than farmland. However, the overall pollinator diversity, which included species of bees, flies, hoverflies and butterflies, did not differ significantly between all three landscape types. The researchers call for more attention to be paid to the role of green spaces in cities which can be important habitats for pollinators.

Sustainable management of water in an arid region: water supply measures compared

Water shortages in water stressed regions can be alleviated by building large infrastructures, such as water transfer systems or saltwater desalination plants, which increase the supply of water. However, a new study, which compares the environmental impact of water supply alternatives in a region of Spain, concludes that reducing water use, rather than increasing supplies, is a more sustainable solution.

Agricultural ammonia emissions could be reduced without affecting crop yield

Ammonia released by nitrogen fertilisers in Spanish agriculture could be reduced by up to 82% with only a very minimal impact on crop yield, finds new research. This could be achieved by combining optimised management of manure with the use of non-urea synthetic fertilisers.

Increased oestrogen pollution in European rivers could affect development of brown trout

Brown trout (Salmo trutta) embryos exposed to oestrogen during development hatched earlier, grew more slowly and had a lower heart rate than unexposed individuals, according to a recent Swiss study. These findings may indicate that oestrogen pollution in some European rivers is contributing to the decline of wild populations of such species.

Antarctic ecosystems suffer toxic impacts of petrochemical lubricants over the long term

Petrochemical lubricants have toxic effects on Antarctic seafloor ecosystems even after five years of degradation, a new study suggests. Examining the impacts of a standard lubricant and one marketed as biodegradable, the researchers were able to show that algae, which form the basis of the food chain, remained affected even after five years. Furthermore, the biodegradable lubricant appeared to provide no environmental benefits, as it had greater impacts in the long term.

Pharmaceutical pollution levels in European rivers assessed

Concentrations of three pharmaceuticals (ethinylestradiol, oestradiol and diclofenac), have been mapped in a recent study of European rivers. The researchers predict that levels of ethinylestradiol, a contraceptive and hormone replacement drug, could exceed the WFD's suggested environmental quality standards in 12% of the total length of Europe’s rivers

Plant characteristics can predict ecosystem services provided by green roofs

Simple characteristics of plant species - such as height or leaf size - can be used to predict the ecosystem services provided by the green roofs they grow on, a new study suggests. The researchers suggest that their method could be used to screen the thousands of potential plant species in order to optimize green roof design.

Biodiversity offset policy: dangers that must be avoided

Biodiversity offset policies may inadvertently incentivise behaviours which actually accelerate biodiversity loss, new research has found. The study’s authors identify four ways this can occur and make recommendations for prevention.

Nanocoating on buildings releases potentially toxic particles to the air

Weathering and abrasion are reported to cause titanium dioxide nanoparticles to escape from a self-cleaning coating for buildings. These particles may be toxic to humans and wildlife. The researchers have developed three indicators from the test results to help predict levels of nanoparticle release from these coatings.

Drones can be used to study birds without affecting their behaviour — with some precautions

Drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — may be used in close proximity to bird populations without causing disturbance, finds a new study. Drones hold the potential to monitor species and areas that are difficult to reach. The authors advise that, when used with caution, drones could become a valuable tool in the monitoring of species, particularly in protected areas.

New tool developed to highlight and help prevent declines in freshwater biodiversity

Biodiversity is declining in freshwater ecosystems across the globe, a new study has shown. The researchers created a mathematical model, called GLOBIO- aquatic, which builds a picture of the threats to the biodiversity of rivers, lakes and wetlands that are posed by a variety of human activities. The most crucial of these are land-use changes, nutrient and chemical pollution, and disturbances to the water cycle — which could be from infrastructure such as dams, or from climate change. The authors hope that the model will help policymakers identify regions which are most at risk from these pressures.

Monitoring Nature: Research Developments – June 2015

Issue 50

This Thematic Issue provides a flavour of recent work by scientists in the area of biodiversity monitoring to highlight both up-to-date approaches to conservation and evaluation, and how long-term monitoring data could be used more effectively in management and policy decisions.

Agri-environment scheme cuts nitrogen pollution from beef farm in Ireland

Ireland's national agri-environment scheme can reduce nitrate leaching from beef farming, shows a recent study. Nitrate leached at an average rate of 17.3 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) on studied plots which complied with the scheme. This compares with 63.1 kg/ha on intensively farmed plots. The programme can therefore help Ireland meet requirements of the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Nitrates Directive, the researchers suggest.

Bumblebee survival and reproduction impaired by pesticide azadirachtin even at recommended concentrations

Bumblebees are negatively affected by the insecticide azadirachtin even at concentrations 50 times lower than the recommended levels used by farmers, recent laboratory experiments have revealed. No males hatched in laboratory colonies that were fed on recommended levels of the pesticide and, even at concentrations 50 times lower, the males that did hatch were deformed, and there were significantly fewer compared to an untreated colony.

Beneficial soil fungi boosted by organic farming with reduced tillage

The biodiversity and abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi — important soil organisms that can help plants to capture nutrients — is greater in organically managed soils with reduced tilling compared to conventional methods, a new Swiss study suggests. This illustrates the impacts that land management practices such as ploughing can have on soil biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides.

Severity of wheat diseases likely to increase as CO2 rises

Rising levels of atmospheric CO2 will increase the severity of wheat diseases, reducing yields and threatening food security, a new study suggests. Researchers found that levels of two common wheat diseases increased significantly when plants were grown with elevated CO2. Furthermore, disease levels were even worse when the plants and pathogens had been acclimatised to the higher concentrations of CO2 beforehand.

Exposure to fine particle air pollution during pregnancy may increase child’s risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder

The chances of a child developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are higher if the mother is exposed to high levels of fine particulate air pollution during pregnancy, a recent study suggests. This increased risk was associated specifically with exposure in the last three months of pregnancy, the researchers found.

Environmental Impact Assessments of developments should incorporate impacts on ecosystem services

Ecosystems services — the benefits that nature provides to people — are inadequately accounted for in Environmental Impact Assessments, a new study suggests. The researchers used a case study in France to illustrate the substantial economic losses that are incurred as a result of infrastructure development that goes ahead without sufficient consideration of the impacts on ecosystem services.

Beyond bees, butterflies and hoverflies: the importance of non-hover flies to pollination

Pollination studies have, to date, focused almost entirely on bees , butterflies and hoverflies; however, other kinds of flies also have an important role to play in this vital ecosystem service, a new study suggests. Using data from 33 farms, the researchers found that non-hover flies were in fact responsible for carrying 84% of the pollen transferred by flies between flowers in farmland.

Microbes that purify groundwater show resilience to drought

Microbes found in groundwater may be resilient to periods of drought. A new study measured the enzyme activity of microbes, which shows whether they are alive and active, in a groundwater well. No significant difference in enzyme activity was found between those microbes that had experienced drought for four months and those that had not.

Strong connections found between marine protected areas

Marine Protected Areas should be managed as integrated networks rather than isolated units because of the high degree of exchange between them, a new study suggests. The researchers found that the large majority of sea bream (Sparidae) and wrasse (Labridae) fish spawned in MPA study sites in the Mediterranean Sea were transported via currents to other MPAs and unprotected areas, highlighting their interconnected nature.

Reduced heavy metals and nitrogen in mosses reflect falling air pollution across Europe

Deposition of heavy metals and nitrogen is falling across Europe, a new study suggests. The researchers used the levels of these pollutants in mosses as indicators of how deposition has changed from 1990 to 2010. These reductions are likely to be the result of effective air pollution policies, they say.

Does conservation make a difference?

If all conservation measures had ceased in 1996 the conservation status of the world's ungulate species would have been nearly eight times worse by 2008 than they were in reality, a new study suggests. The researchers generated a hypothetical scenario without any protection measures to show the substantial impact that conservation has for wildlife.

Air pollution linked to increased incidents of stroke

Exposure to gaseous and particulate matter pollution have been found to increase the immediate risk of stroke, a review of medical studies has shown. The increased risk is most pronounced the same day as the exposure, and for fine particles the increased risk persists over several days. The authors hope information from this study will help policymakers to develop suitable controls to limit the risks posed by these harmful air pollutants.

Seaweed could effectively monitor metal pollution in coastal waters

Seaweed may prove to be a valuable tool to monitor metal pollution in coastal waters, new research has found. Spiral wrack seaweed (Fucus spiralis), which is common to rocky coastlines across western Europe, was found to contain concentrations of metals that rose and fell in line with concentrations in the surrounding seawater. This makes it a good candidate for inclusion in the European environmental specimen banks as part of an environmental monitoring network under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

How to improve the efficiency of public participation processes in coastal management

Public participation in developing coastal management plans can have numerous benefits, such as augmenting expert information with local knowledge and building trust, a new study has confirmed; however, challenges remain, say the researchers. They use the experiences of 10 case studies to make a series of recommendations regarding how to improve the efficiency of the process.

Growth of algae affected by ocean acidification and nutrient pollution

Ocean acidification and eutrophication may affect the growth of microscopic algae - phytoplankton - with knock-on impacts for marine food chains and fisheries, warns a new study. By growing phytoplankton under different scenarios the researchers found that phytoplankton species are affected differently according to the acidity and nutrient content of the water.

Individual and social costs of car travel more than six times those of cycling

Every kilometre travelled by car incurs costs to the individual and society that are more than six times those of travelling by bicycle, a new study suggests. The researchers presented a cost-benefit analysis developed for Copenhagen, finding that cars resulted in costs of 0.50 €/km in comparison to 0.08 €/km for bikes.

Life cycle study demonstrates the long-term costs of everyday crops

The environmental and economic costs of a selection of common crops have been determined by a new study, which hopes to improve agricultural sustainability assessments in Europe. The researchers used life cycle analysis on organically farmed tomatoes and pears, and intensively farmed wheat, apples, and lettuce to show the overall impact of agricultural methods.

Can managed introductions boost threatened populations?

Supplementing declining salmon populations with fish from other, genetically distinct populations may not be the best method of conservation, according to a recent study. The researchers found that for certain salmon populations in France such introductions resulted in offspring with lower body weight and length, possibly worsening their decline.

Managing wastewater treatment at the river-basin scale

The EU Water Framework Directive1 requires policymakers to consider the management of water e.g. in rivers, lakes and streams, at the scale of the river basin, but can wastewater treatment systems be managed at the same scale? To help policymakers answer this question, a team of Spanish researchers have created a method for assessing the integrated operation of wastewater treatment plants in a river basin. Uniquely, the method considers both local and global environmental factors and an economic assessment.

Post-communist countries may struggle more with Natura 2000 implementation

Natura 2000 sites may not be adequately protected in Eastern Europe, according to a recent publication. Researchers in the Czech Republic found that, despite being designated as a Natura 2000 site, environmentally damaging activities continued in the Šumava National Park. They recommend that good environmental education is needed to help post-communist countries implement Natura 2000 and better recognise its value and importance.

Risks of biodiversity loss posed by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in European freshwaters

The risk of eutrophication as a result of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Europe’s freshwaters fell by 22% in lakes and by 38% in rivers between 1985 and 2011, new research has shown. The researchers analysed data across 88 European river basins using a new statistical approach which could be used to help identify factors which increase eutrophication risks.

Resource-efficient Portuguese packaging waste management system brings multiple benefits

A Portuguese waste management system for packaging has brought a range of environmental, economic and social benefits, according to a recent study. One of the scheme’s main achievements was that it avoided around 116 kilotons (kt) of CO2 equivalent emissions in a single year, equal to the emissions associated with the electricity use of 124 000 households. These emissions were largely circumvented because the system recovers large amounts of energy and materials from the waste packaging.

Tools to reduce resource consumption identified by analysis of historical resource efficiency

Improving the efficiency of industries and products has not led to overall reductions in the consumption of goods and services, a new study has found. The research looked at the historical relationship between efficiency improvements and resource consumption across 10 different activities, including electricity generation and passenger air travel. However, shorter decade-long periods, where efficiency improvements outpaced resource consumption, suggested that legislation and price pressures could be effective at reducing resource consumption.

Energy efficiency measures in some EU countries could be backfiring

Policy efforts to decrease energy consumption by improving efficiency may be lessened by rebound effects. New research on household energy consumption indicates just under half EU countries (plus Norway) have rebound effects above 50%, and six are over 100% which means the efforts to increase efficiency backfire, i.e. they increase, rather than reduce, overall household energy consumption. There is a need to think critically about a policy response to the rebound effect and gain a better understanding of why it occurs.

Improving resource efficiency: new method identifies key areas of product improvement

A new five-step method has been developed for assessing the resource efficiency of products and improving the reuse, recycling and recovery of material at a product’s end of life. The Resource Efficiency Assessment of Products (REAPro) method allows the identification and testing of practical measures to improve resource efficiency at both the product and policy level.

Energy efficiency policies for home renovations and retrofitting should consider the social factors

Policies and programmes providing technological solutions to improve household energy efficiency alone may be insufficient to actually reduce overall household energy consumption, finds new research. The research examined home renovators’ motivations, behaviours and use of green technologies. Overall, reduced energy consumption was often undermined by other considerations, such as installation and maintenance costs, aesthetic considerations and daily routines or social concerns.

Energy efficiency in low-income households: study explores the role of feedback in reducing energy consumption

Although low-income households consume less energy than wealthier households, they are still keen to learn how to save energy, for both economic and environmental reasons. This is the conclusion of a recent Swedish study which explored the energy-related behaviour of residents on low incomes. It provides insights which could help inform energy-awareness campaigns targeted at this section of the population.

Household energy efficiency could help boost the economy

Improving the energy efficiency of homes could have positive economy-wide impacts, recent UK research suggests. It would allow householders to spend the money they save on energy on other products and services. Although this additional demand and the associated production in non-energy sectors would partly offset the energy saved in the home, this ‘rebound effect’ does not completely outweigh the household energy savings.

Overcoming the tendency of those living in energy efficient buildings to use more energy

Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) are a viable means to reduce global energy demand, a new study suggests. However, in response to the drop in energy costs for the household due to better energy efficiency, people may begin to consume more energy than they otherwise would. These so-called ‘rebound effects’ can undermine emissions reductions, the study says, and it proposes approaches that could lessen these impacts.

Invasive species: monitoring system aims to protect vulnerable Antarctic

Better monitoring is needed to safeguard the Antarctic against threats posed by invasive alien species, according to a new study. The authors developed ‘the Antarctic Biological Invasions Indicator’ (ABII) to help generate data for tracking trends in alien invasions and the measures taken to prevent them.

Conserving the critically endangered European eel

A number of policies have been developed to protect the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla anguilla). Italian researchers have developed a model of the long-term population trends of the eel to assess the effectiveness of these measures and prevent further decline of this ecologically and economically important species.

Cheaper alternatives to traditional hedge laying can still reap conservation benefits

Hedgerows are vital habitats in intensively managed landscapes, providing food and shelter for wildlife. How hedgerows are managed affects their structure, with dense, woody hedges being the most valuable for conservation. A recent study has found an alternative method of hedging that is cheaper than traditional hedge laying but offers the same benefits of dense new growth and berry provision for wildlife. Use of this method could double the length of hedgerows being rejuvenated in England, the authors estimate.

Minamata Convention will help China and India avoid mercury emissions in 2050

Under the United Nations Minamata Convention on mercury, China and India could avoid a combined 242 tonnes of mercury emissions in 2050 from coal-fired power plants, a new study predicts. This amount is equal to approximately 12% of total emissions in 2010. While the benefits will be mostly regional, lower mercury deposition in surrounding oceans is good news for Europeans who eat fish sourced from those waters.

Public perceptions of environmental risk: the role of journalists

Science not communicated is said to be science not done, but journalists’ portrayal of scientific findings can sometimes have a negative impact on public perceptions of science and even create false controversy. This study examined how presenting opposing scientific viewpoints affects public perceptions of environmental risk.

Rooftop farming: The next steps for development

Urban agriculture is becoming increasingly popular. A recent assessment of rooftop farming in Barcelona shows differing attitudes towards the practice, and provides important recommendations for the development of agricultural policy for the 21st century, such as including food production as a potential use of rooftops in planning legislation.

The social value of flood alleviation

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of flooding in coming years. For more effective flood alleviation, this study recommends schemes that consider the social impact of floods as well as the economic damages.

Nature in urban environments reduces stress

Contact with nature in urban areas can have numerous health benefits, a new study finds. The researchers found people whose homes had views of different kinds of vegetation had significantly lower levels of stress hormones, indicating that green spaces play an important role in healthy cities.

Recovering and recycling phosphorus from incinerated waste

Phosphorus can be extracted in viable quantities from fly ash, a by-product created when municipal solid waste is burnt in incinerators, according to research conducted in Sweden. Sufficient phosphorus could be recovered from the country’s incinerators to meet 30% of the Swedish annual demand for mineral fertilisers, say the researchers.

Long-term exposure to aircraft emissions causes premature death

As well as contributing to the greenhouse effect, aircraft emissions have an important impact on air quality and human health. This study, which quantified the effect of civil aviation emissions across the globe, suggests they could be responsible for 16 000 premature deaths every year, at an annual cost of over €18 billion. The air quality costs of aviation were similar to its climate costs, and over 10 times larger than accident and noise costs.

Plastic found in stomachs of over 1 in 6 large pelagic fish sampled in Mediterranean Sea

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a growing problem. This study, which is the first to investigate the presence of plastic debris in large pelagic fish in the central Mediterranean Sea, found that over 18% of fish had ingested plastics.

Biodiversity slows spread of pesticide resistance

The ability of organisms to adapt to toxic chemicals like pesticides is essential for their survival, but also an agricultural annoyance. This study shows that interactions between different species can delay the development of pesticide resistance and therefore suggests that biodiversity supports effective pest management.

Banned contaminants can persist in environment for decades

The contamination of hazardous substances in estuaries can have negative effects on biodiversity. Using experimentally supported indicators, this study analysed the environmental risks posed by 22 different contaminants in UK estuaries and coastal waters, finding that substances banned over 20 years ago continue to persist in the marine environment.

Silage harvesting partly responsible for decline in skylarks

Farmland birds like skylarks are attracted to nest in agricultural grassland, but repeated harvesting for silage causes most nests to fail. This study showed that skylark breeding success in silage was too low to sustain local populations. The researchers say that grass silage is a hostile environment for breeding skylarks and conservation efforts should focus on making other parts of the landscape more attractive and productive for nesting birds.

Understanding the ‘why’ is key to effective energy-saving behaviour

To increase energy efficiency, many countries are encouraging their citizens to make individual energy-saving changes, such as changing the type of light bulbs they use. This study investigated the relationship between understanding of environmental issues and effective energy-saving behaviour and shows that informed citizens are key to successful policy.

Can the Dutch National Ecological Network meet its goals?

Ecological networks connect areas of habitat to prevent biodiversity loss and have been established across Europe. The ambitious Dutch National Ecological Network aims to span 728 500 hectares by 2025. In this study, researchers explored the feasibility of this goal in the context of climate and policy changes.

Methods to resolve conflicts between energy production and nature conservation

The drive to increase renewable energy production can sometimes be at loggerheads with the desire to preserve natural landscapes. In this study, researchers from across Europe assessed the environmental impacts of renewable energies in the Alps, making key recommendations to resolve conflicts between different users of habitats.

New controls recommended to reduce environmental risks of human pharmaceuticals

Controls on pharmaceutical production in the EU should be changed to guard against the spread of antibiotic resistance, protect wildlife and improve transparency in the industry, a team of scientists from Sweden and the UK recommends. The scientists propose 10 changes to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pharmaceuticals.

Internationally coordinated use of satellites needed for managing floods

Loss of satellites providing rainfall data could have a negative effect on global flood management, according to new research. However, this could be mitigated by improved international co-operation and the use of more modern satellite technology, the authors say. The study examined the consequences for flood management of the loss of four of the existing 10 dedicated rainfall measuring satellites.

The economic benefits of carbon storage in the Mediterranean Sea

Carbon storage in the Mediterranean Sea could be worth up to €1722 million a year, a new study has found. The researchers performed a combined ecological-economic assessment, finding that the sea takes up an estimated 17.8 million tonnes of CO2 every year, providing important climate change mitigation.

Marine governance across the English Channel lacks integration

The English Channel (La Manche) is one of the world’s busiest sea areas, and management of it is a challenging task. This study reviews governance across the Channel, finding poor integration between countries, sectors, policies and research. The study also considers management in terms of the ecosystem approach and suggests that linking research between the UK and France could be key to improving marine governance.

Compost and climate change: a novel mitigation strategy?

Native soils are thought to take up more of the greenhouse gas methane than land used for farming. This study shows that, while agriculture can exert an adverse impact on soil methane uptake, the application of soil conditioners like compost may compensate for loss of the methane sink function. The researchers propose new land management strategies based on this finding.

Benefits of marine reserves revealed for wider range of fish species

Mathematical models created to help design marine reserves have tended to focus on fish species where larvae are highly mobile but adults occupy relatively small areas. However, new research has extended these models to include fish species with different life histories, such as groupers and flounders, showing that they also benefit substantially from reserve protection.

Bees actively prefer nectar contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides

Honeybees and bumblebees prefer feeding on nectar laced with certain neonicotinoid pesticides to uncontaminated food, new research has shown. Far from the predictions of some, that bees would avoid food contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides if given the choice, a new study has shown that bees did not avoid any of the three most common neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, thiamethoxam or clothianidin. Furthermore, they showed a preference for imidacloprid and thiamethoxam over uncontaminated sugar solutions.

Fragmentation of brown trout habitat threatens freshwater pearl mussels in Sweden

The fragmentation of brown trout (Salmo trutta) habitat indirectly affects the threatened freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera), a new study has shown. Dams and weirs, which affect the migration of the fish, also have a knock-on effect on the mussels, because they rely on brown trout during the larval stage of their lives.

Aeration may remove antidepressant drugs from water leaked from landfill

Aeration is an effective means of eliminating antidepressants from landfill leachate, a new study finds. The concentrations of five different drugs were reduced by this treatment process, which could be an effective means of tackling the growing problem of pharmaceutical infiltration into aquatic environments.

Health effects of cruise ship air emissions in Greek ports

Over 2500 tons of the air pollutants nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) were released by cruise ships across the five busiest Greek cruise ports during 2013, a new study found. The researchers also examined the costs of the potential health impacts of this pollution, finding they could be as high as €24.3 million.

Overexploitation of fish stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas

The number of overexploited or collapsed fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea has been increasing at a rate of approximately 38 every 10 years between 1970 and 2010, a new study has shown. In the Black Sea, the equivalent figure is 13 stocks per decade, the researchers found. The study’s authors augmented traditional methods of stock assessments with a variety of other data sources on multiple fish species to give a more accurate overview of these marine ecosystems. These results should be used to improve conservation and management, they recommend.

Increasing energy efficiency in the home may boost life expectancy and health

Changes in the home that increase energy efficiency, such as improved insulation and ventilation control, have the potential to reduce indoor air pollution. This study assessed the health impact of interventions in the UK arising from changes to indoor concentrations of fine particulate matter and found that such changes could improve health and increase life expectancy for men and women by three and two months, respectively.

Decline in bees and wasps linked to land-use changes

The declining number of bee and wasp species in England has been linked to historic changes in land-use in a recent study. Researchers say that policies which promote diverse landscapes offer more opportunities for bees and wasps to nest and forage and are best for conserving these insect pollinators.

Increasing diversity through crop rotation boosts soil microbial biodiversity and productivity

Planting a variety of crop species in rotation in agricultural fields increases the diversity of soil microbes below ground, recent research has found. This in turn positively affects soil organic matter, soil structure and aids the healthy functioning of the soil. The researchers say that rotational diversity can help farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable way that promotes soil stability.

Floating litter in the Black Sea: abundance and composition

Reliable data regarding marine debris pollution in the Black Sea are lacking. This study provides the first account of the abundance and types of litter floating in the north-western part of the Sea. This information will help to develop effective solutions for marine litter in the region and therefore to achieve the EU objective of ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020.

Geodiversity information enhances biodiversity conservation

Geodiversity describes the diversity of the non-biological parts of the natural world such as rocks, soils, landforms and the processes which shape them over time. New research on how geodiversity information has been used to examine or inform conservation policy has been explored through eight different case studies. The research shows the variety and utility of geodiversity information to support biodiversity protection, both now and in the future.

High-nature-value grasslands can be maintained by alternating between mowing and grazing

Scientists recommend policies that alternate between mowing and grazing to manage Europe’s high-nature-value grasslands. This comes after a new seven-year study found that a high plant-species diversity helps grasslands to maintain productivity and to resist depletion of phosphorus caused by livestock grazing and depletion of potassium caused by mowing.

Noise from human activity can impair foraging in bats

Human-generated noise can reduce the foraging activity of wildlife and should be taken into account during conservation planning, a new study suggests. The test showed that traffic noise decreased the foraging activity of Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii) by inducing an avoidance response. The new experimental approach could be used to identify how noise disturbs any species capable of detecting noise.

Recognising synergies and trade-offs could slow world’s biodiversity loss

Amid efforts to reduce the loss of global biodiversity, a new study discusses how synergies and trade-offs between different conservation objectives should be researched and recognised in policy making. For example, by increasing protected areas, habitat loss and species decline could also be prevented.

Dispersants do not increase exposure of cod eggs and larvae to toxins in oil spills

Oil spills at sea can be catastrophic events, with oil and discharged toxins, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, threatening marine wildlife and coastlines, damaging healthy ecosystems and harming livelihoods. A recent study found that using dispersants moderately decreased the number of cod eggs and larvae affected by spills off the Norwegian coast.

Large-scale early flood warning systems provide high returns on investment

Continental-scale early flood warning systems in Europe can provide significant monetary benefits by reducing flood damage and associated costs. Specifically, a new study found that the return from the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) and available flood damage data has the potential to be as high as approximately 400 euros for every one euro invested.

Survey of attitudes towards marine protected areas gives mixed response

The views of organisations and industries affected by marine protected areas (MPAs) have been gathered by a new survey. 36 organisations from the UK and France responded to the survey, which asked about the perceived socio-economic and environmental impacts of multiple-use MPAs. Environmental NGOs, managing agencies and research centres gave a largely positive response, while fishers’, shipping, and other industrial organisations perceived an overall negative impact on them. Gathering stakeholders’ views on MPAs may help improve socioeconomic outcomes through informing the planning and management of these marine areas, the researchers say.

Persuading the public to reduce bottled water consumption

Despite tap water being freely available and safe in many countries, bottled water is widely consumed around the world. This has negative effects on the environment, including water wastage and pollution. This study assessed beliefs about purchasing bottled water and tested three strategies to change behaviour, showing that combining persuasive information and social pressure can create the most positive intentions to reduce consumption.

Indicators for more sustainable phosphorus management

Geodiversity describes the diversity of the non-biological parts of the natural world such as rocks, soils, landforms and the processes which shape them over time. New research on how geodiversity information has been used to examine or inform conservation policy has been explored through eight different case studies. The research shows the variety and utility of geodiversity information to support biodiversity protection, both now and in the future.

Mediterranean countries use more natural resources than their ecosystems provide

In the Mediterranean region the demand for natural resources and ecological services is two and half times greater than ecosystems’ capacity to provide them, recent research has found. To meet this demand, countries rely on imports, exposing themselves to price volatility and potential resource shortages. According to the authors, a 10% increase in global prices would particularly impact vulnerable countries such as Jordan, which would see its trade balance worsening by 2.4% of its gross domestic product.

Benefits of constructed wetland ecosystem services worth more than double the costs

The economic benefits of the ecosystem services provided by constructed wetlands far outweigh the costs of maintaining them, new research has confirmed. Analysis of a wetland that treats the third largest lake in Florida, US, shows that it provides ecosystem services worth $1.79 (€1.64) million per year, against costs of less than half that figure.

Link found between ‘algal blooms’ and liver disease

Cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — are found in water bodies around the world and can produce toxins with potential health risks. This US-wide study found a significant positive association between cyanobacterial bloom coverage and death by non-alcoholic liver disease. The researchers say their study suggests some evidence of a potential health risk and should be used to generate further investigation into the health impact of cyanobacteria.

Protected areas that allow access to local people also benefit wildlife

Protected areas that allow local people to use the resources in a sustainable way are better for biodiversity conservation than excluding people entirely, a new study suggests. In a review of over 160 scientific studies, the researchers found that protected areas which were managed to allow sustainable access yielded greater socioeconomic benefits. Importantly, those with greater socioeconomic benefits were also more likely to report biodiversity benefits.

Holistic approach needed to reduce consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags

Reducing plastic carrier bag consumption in different EU Member States requires different approaches and combinations of measures, according to a new study. The authors studied consumption and littering levels across Europe in relation to national plastic bag consumption reduction policy options, and found that there is not one specific solution for both of these factors, nor a single solution that can be used in all Member States. They suggest a holistic approach and additional research into consumer or stakeholder behaviour is needed.

Approaches to park management influence attitudes towards nature

Green spaces like urban parks can counteract the loss of plant and animal species caused by urbanisation. For many city dwellers, parks provide most of their experiences of natural spaces. Researchers have compared different methods of park management in Paris and Berlin, and assessed how they influence citizens' attitudes towards nature.

Personal experience with global warming drives mitigation behaviour

A number of studies have shown that the public misunderstand global warming. Taking a fresh approach, this study investigated the willingness of the public to take part in activities that mitigate climate change. An international survey of 24 countries revealed that this is strongly related to personal experiences with global warming. The authors say linking actions to benefits could encourage climate change mitigation behaviour.

Global variation in persistent organic pollutants in breast milk

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are priority pollutants that pose a risk to human health, and can be passed on to children via breast milk. This study investigated how concentrations of POPs in breast milk vary worldwide by reviewing studies published between 1995 and 2011. They found that levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins in breast milk are higher in Europe and North America, whereas pesticides are more prevalent in Africa and Asia. The authors call for harmonisation of methodologies to enable high quality comparisons between studies.

Framework shows potential for ‘rewilding’ abandoned European farmland

Rewilding, a process of passive management focused on restoring natural ecological processes and reducing human influence on landscapes, could be used to restore the increasing amounts of abandoned agricultural land in Europe to more biodiverse wilderness. A new study has designed a framework to measure potential for rewilding in areas across Europe, highlighting in particular the potential of Natura 2000 sites and suggesting specific aspects of wilderness that future policies could address.

Disease-causing bacteria made more resilient by standard water disinfection practices

Halogenated nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBPs) in water increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new research shows. The study found that a strain of bacteria which can cause disease in humans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, increased its resistance to a range of different antibiotics by an average of 5.5 times after the bacteria were exposed to chemicals which form as by-products of common water treatment procedures. The results highlight the risks to public health which these currently unregulated by-products may cause.

Reducing avian collisions with wind turbines

Wind is an important renewable energy source for Europe. The wind power capacity installed in 2014 could produce enough electricity to meet over 10% of the EU’s electricity consumption. However, wind power structures can also be harmful to birds, which can collide with turbines. This study assessed methods of reducing avian collisions with wind turbines and makes several practical recommendations.

Risk perceptions are essential in communicating about climate change

Experts and members of coastal communities possess both differences and similarities in how they perceive the risks associated with changes in sea level. A new study, based on interviews with both, has found that future communication about the risks should focus on specific adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Reducing global particulate matter pollution could save millions of lives

Globally, more than 3.2 million premature deaths per year are attributed to exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5). A new study estimates that 2.1 million premature deaths could be avoided if countries achieved the WHO guideline for PM2.5. Even meeting their closest WHO interim concentration targets could avoid 750 000 (23%) deaths attributed to PM2.5 per year.

Vegetation of coast dunes not changing due to climate change

Scientists did not observe changes in plant communities in the coastal dunes of Scotland due to climate change in the past several decades. The region’s proximity to the ocean and its patchy make-up may prevent it from experiencing rapid changes in species distribution.

First detection of novel flame retardants in Antarctic species

Groups of chemicals used as flame retardants were present in the bodies of Antarctic rock cod (Trematomus bernacchii), young gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), and brown skua seabird (Stercorarius antarcticus) collected from King George Island, Antarctica. This study is the first to find some of these chemicals in Antarctica, confirming that they undergo long-range transport and can reach isolated areas where they are not widely produced or used.

Recycling wastewater would bring economic benefits to Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area

The economic viability of wastewater reuse projects could be better determined using methodology from a new study. The authors developed a five-step cost-benefit analysis framework to assess a planned wastewater reuse project within the catchment of the Yarqon River, in Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area, Israel. It was found that the scheme could have a net present value of $4.83 (€4.34) million per year. The authors highlight the relevance of identifying external as well as internal economic, social and environmental costs of such projects.

Compost made by worms from livestock manure yields benefits when applied to maize

Vermicomposting livestock manure with maize can increase agricultural benefit by 304%, shows a new study. The combination of increased crop yield and the additional earthworms produced as a result of the process led to a substantial increase in output compared to a traditional composting system.

The global spread of alien plants

Driven by trade, the spread of alien species is increasing worldwide. This study combined 60 years of trade data with that on biodiversity and climate to model the spread of plant species across 147 countries. The model predicts significant increases in plant invasions in the next 20 years, especially for emerging economies. The authors say trade legislation must consider biological invasion and focus on regions at high risk.

Using revenues from congestion charging to expand green spaces increases public acceptance

Congestion charges are an effective means of reducing road traffic, but are often strongly opposed by the public. This study combined quantitative and qualitative methods to explore attitudes towards congestion charging in Spain, finding that opposition is reduced when revenues are spent on environmental improvements.

Simple method to estimate soil carbon stocks in grassland

Storage of carbon in soil helps to keep land fertile and regulates the climate, and is therefore an important ecosystem service. However, mapping of soil carbon stocks currently uses unreliable measures. This study used data from a national survey of English grasslands to show that soil carbon stocks can be accurately predicted using simple measures of soil and climatic conditions.

Migration in response to environmental change - September 2015

Links between environmental changes and migration are extremely complex. This Thematic Issue presents key pieces of research examining the causes of environmental migration and identifying policy options for Europe in dealing with forced and voluntary relocations. The sources also examine the current state of human rights for environmental migrants and how much evidence currently exists for action at local and regional levels.

Exploring interlinked drivers of human migration in the context of environmental change

A framework on the effects of environmental change on human migration has been developed by researchers. It makes clear that environmental change can influence migration directly but also indirectly through impacts on economic, social and political factors. The framework can be used to guide further research, evaluate policy options, or develop predictions for migration under global change, say the researchers.

Extreme environmental events and human migration: no simple link

While extreme environmental events — such as floods and tsunamis — may trigger migrations, the underlying drivers of migration are far more complex and diverse, says new research. The research reviewed the available evidence on population movements associated with extreme weather events and found that people could find themselves ‘trapped’ and vulnerable, whether they stayed at their homes or moved to new locations.

Human migration as a result of climate change: how should governments respond?

Human migration as a result of climate change is now a reality. People across Africa, Asia and Latin America are moving in response to unpredictable rainfall patterns. The governments of Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and small island states, such as the Solomon Islands, have already had to resettle people because of rising seas. A recent policy brief, published by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University, examines this issue and makes recommendations for policy.

Migration: an opportunity to integrate human mobility and climate change adaptation policies

The migration, displacement and relocation of people needs to be properly addressed in climate change adaptation plans, says a UN report. Among the report’s recommendations, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) should ensure that communities affected by climate change-induced hazards, such as flooding and drought, become more resilient. Migration can also be seen as an adaptation strategy in itself.

Environmental migrants need better human rights protection

A human rights ‘protection gap’ exists for people forced to migrate by environmental stress and climate change, according to researchers. The lack of a legal framework and practices to protect ‘environmental refugees’ stems from the historic and political context of migration issues — and land access rights more broadly — the researchers say in a recently published paper.

Time to act on climate change induced migration

A recent report presents a series of recommendations for how the EU could address the complex issue of climate change induced migration. There is now sufficient evidence to show that environment-related migration is occurring, and the time is right to put recommendations into practice, the report’s authors argue.

EU migration under environmental change: impact depends on current infrastructure

Environmental changes in the future, such as an increase in floods, land degradation and drought could result in changes in migration patterns in Europe, researchers write in a recent analysis. It is difficult to predict these exact migration patterns, however, as they are determined by a complex interplay of economic, political and social factors with environmental change, as well as adaptive capacity.

Device that emits natural warning calls reduces train-animal collisions

Animal-train collisions are an important cause of animal mortality. This study tested the ability of a device that emits natural warning calls to reduce risk of animals being hit by trains in central Poland. Animals, including roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and brown hare (Lepus europaeus) escaped in most cases. The authors say the device is an effective means of risk reduction as it allows animals to escape train tracks earlier and more often.

Collecting data to explore the ecological threat of nanomaterials

The overall ecological impact of 10 engineered nanomaterials has been modelled for the first time using toxicity data from multiple living species. These models will allow researchers to assess the effect nanomaterials may have on both ecosystems and people.

Mussels: Biomonitoring tools for pharmaceutical pollution in the marine environment?

Pharmaceutical pollution of marine environments has important biological consequences for aquatic organisms. This study investigated the effects on mussels of treatment with environmentally relevant levels of an antidepressant, fluoxetine, and a beta-blocker, propranolol, using biomarkers including DNA damage. The results showed that mussels are most vulnerable to these drugs in combination.

Climate-friendly meal options positively received by restaurant customers

Restaurants can influence consumer food choices by offering climate-friendly meals on their menus, a recent study concludes. In a trial at Finnish restaurants, customers and staff were receptive to selecting meals based on the carbon footprints of their ingredients. Appearance, taste and healthiness were priority factors in consumers’ choices. The research highlights the importance of planning communication strategies and the need for a carbon footprint food database.

Cloud-based flood risk learning tool engages multiple stakeholders

A pilot cloud-based learning platform that brings together multiple datasets, models and visualisation tools has been developed with the engagement of numerous stakeholders throughout the design process. This tool could lead to informed decisions about flood risk at the local level. These types of tools and frameworks are effective ways of facilitating better decision making.

Screening soil moisture conditions reveals an increased risk of drought in a Swedish drainage basin

The risk of drought in the Norrström drainage basin, Sweden, increased during the 20th century, a new study has found. As the frequency of the dry periods increased, less water was available in the landscape for agriculture and for the resupply of groundwater — despite an increase in precipitation in the area over the same period. The researchers reached this conclusion after screening soil moisture conditions in the basin over the course of the century.

Shore side electricity: key policy recommendations for uptake

A new study quantifies the economic and environmental potential of powering docked ships in European ports using local electricity networks. The authors give key recommendations on policy actions to enable implementation in European harbours.

Mining metals from heat-treated landfill proven to be economically viable

Mining metals from landfill sites can be economically viable, a recent project in the US has demonstrated. Approximately 34 352 tonnes of metals, conservatively valued at US$7.42 million (€6.67 million) were recovered from the 8 hectare ashfill site, according to researchers who analysed the project.

Presence of invasive American mink shifts the sex-ratio of the European polecat across Europe

The invasion of the American mink (Neovison vison) is linked to a shift in the adult sex ratio of the native European polecat (Mustela putorius) across its entire range, a new study has discovered. Through aggressive competition, the American mink has decreased the number of reproductive female European polecats. This is the first study to identify such an effect upon a native species across its entire range in Europe.

Some plants are more sensitive to herbicides during reproductive stages of life cycle

This study assessed the effects of herbicides on non-target plants in Denmark and Canada. The findings showed that some plants are more sensitive to herbicides in the reproductive stages of their life cycle and can experience delays in flowering and reduced seed production. The authors say future ecological assessments should consider reproductive outcomes.

Loss of soil carbon linked to climate change in England and Wales

Soil and plants store around 5% of the world’s carbon, but carbon storage in some soils is in decline. Recent research has found that climate change accounted for 9–22% of carbon declines in organic soils in semi-natural habitats throughout England and Wales from 1978–2003. The researchers say monitoring soils rich in carbon should be a priority to ensure that more carbon is not released to reinforce climate change.

Green spaces linked to improved cognitive development in schoolchildren

Exposure of primary schoolchildren to outdoor green spaces is linked to an improvement in their cognitive development, finds a new study, which is the first of its kind. The association may be partly explained by reductions in traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) near green areas.

How effectively does the Birds Directive protect birds?

Special conservation measures for bird species are required in EU Member States under Annex I of the Birds Directive. This study measured the efficacy of the Directive by comparing the population trends of these species to those of non-Annex I species. Annex I species had more positive trends in population from 1980–2012, despite extensive climate changes.

Biomonitoring study suggests exposure to environmental chemicals varies greatly across the EU

The framework for a Europe-wide biomonitoring programme has been established by a new study. The preliminary investigation of 17 European countries showed that monitored levels of toxic chemicals varied significantly between countries. Although the levels were mostly within recognised health-based guidance values, in a few cases these values were exceeded. The researchers suggest that a fully-fledged European biomonitoring programme would help to develop policies to avert public health risks presented by environmental chemicals.

Multiple datasets combined to make first global cropland and field size maps

A global cropland percentage map and a global field size map have been created for the first time to guide scientists and policymakers interested in global agricultural modelling and assessment. Both maps are for the baseline year 2005 and combined multiple data sets from global, regional and national levels to achieve a high level of accuracy and 1 km2 resolution.

Measuring emotional response and acceptance of wind turbines

Wind energy will likely continue to play a leading role in reaching the EU’s renewable energy targets. However, in some areas wind turbines face social opposition based in large part on the visual impact of wind turbines in the landscape. A new study outlines a novel methodology to measure emotional response to wind turbine visuals, which may assist wind farm planners in gauging public acceptance.

Microalgae sticks to microplastics and transports them to the seabed

Fragments of microplastics are readily incorporated into groups of microscopic algae, altering the rate at which the plastics move through seawater, a recent study has found. In laboratory tests, polystyrene microbeads, which usually sink to the bottom of seawater at a rate of 4 mm a day, sank at a rate of several hundreds of metres a day when part of microalgae aggregates.

Tests reveal toxic effects of a broad-spectrum herbicide on aquatic plants

Herbicides in aquatic environments can have negative consequences on local plant life. This study investigated the effects of glyphosate, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, on a marine plant species. The herbicide caused significant changes to the plant, reducing the number and chlorophyll content of leaves, and high concentrations were lethal. The authors say use of this chemical may be dangerous to plants in estuaries.

Techniques to reduce spray drift pollution from vineyards

Several mitigation techniques can greatly reduce spray drift pollution from pesticide spraying in agricultural systems, shows a new study. Researchers tested the effectiveness of several strategies; results ranged from a 38% reduction in spray drift using low-drift equipment to a 98% reduction when hedgerows are present alongside fields.

Curate your waste: improving the efficiency of waste recovery

Sustainable urban waste management has progressed over recent decades, with recycling of waste becoming a routine activity across the EU. However, the increasing volume and complexity of waste poses ongoing challenges for policymakers and municipal administrators. New research suggests that a rethink around how household waste is sorted could lead to more resources being recovered from solid waste.

Pesticides may harm wild bees but natural areas can mitigate effects

The use of pesticides in orchards may be threatening populations of wild bees, which are important pollinators that increase crop productivity, a new study concludes. However, the damage was mitigated in areas where the orchards were surrounded by natural landscapes, such as deciduous forests.

Titanium dioxide-water nanofluids enhance the performance of solar collectors

Adding nanoparticles to water in solar collectors, which are used to capture the sun’s energy, can considerably improve their performance, a recent study on nanofluids has found. The energy efficiency of the collector can be increased by up to 76.6% when using water containing 0.1% by volume of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, compared with water alone.

Quality of urban waterways found to affect bat populations and biodiversity

Urban waterways can provide foraging opportunities for a range of bat species. However researchers have found that bats in the UK are negatively affected by high levels of invasive plant species and urban development near waterways. The researchers highlight the value these often disregarded urban spaces can have for ecosystems, and suggest ways to improve the biodiversity of waterways.

Complying with emissions regulations: calculating the acid plume from ships’ desulphurisation equipment

Marine diesel contains sulphur compounds, which generate sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution and acid rain. Ships can use mitigating technologies to reduce their SOx emissions, but these can also have a negative environmental impact. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced stringent legislation to control these, aspects of which are incorporated into EU policy. This study examined the implications of the IMO’s policy and recommends a number of design solutions to help ships comply.

Speed of life linked to population decline in tuna

The numbers of fish in the world’s oceans are plummeting. Past studies have shown that populations of larger fish tend to decline more steeply. This study assessed the effects of both body size and speed of life (measured by growth rate) on population declines in the tuna family. Analysis of population trends and life history data showed that speed of life better explained population decline than body size.

District level heating could help achieve EU 2020 energy efficiency goals

Recycling of excess heat, via ‘district heating’, has the potential to improve energy efficiency in Europe. This study mapped excess heat and demands for heat in EU27 Member States to identify regions suitable for the large-scale implementation of district heating. The authors identified 63 ‘heat synergy regions’, generally large urban zones, which generated almost half of all excess heat generated in the EU27.

New method for detecting microplastic particles in fish stomachs

A novel approach for identifying and isolating anthropogenic – including microplastic – particles in fish stomachs has been devised by researchers in Belgium. The new method may enable scientists and policymakers to better assess the presence, quantity and composition of particles ingested by marine life, and improve understanding of the environmental effects of marine plastic pollution.

Habitat equivalency analysis reveals highest priority projects for damaged ecosystems

Adapted habitat equivalency analysis (HEA) may help decision makers select projects to restore damaged ecosystems under a limited budget. HEA, used to assess damages to natural resources, can help to clarify objectives and compare trade-offs between projects to choose the most cost-effective among them, according to this study’s authors.

Mobile carbon capture technology removes 1000 kg CO2/day from Polish coal power plant

Power plants are a major source of CO2 emissions and contributor to global warming. This study reports on a portable technology to remove CO2 from their combustion exhaust gases. Pilot testing on a coal burning plant in Poland captured thousands of kilograms of CO2 per day. This could be a viable future means of mitigating CO2 emissions from the power generation sector.

Reducing the environmental impact of construction tunnelling

The construction industry is among the top three drivers of resource use in the EU. This study investigated the environmental impacts of a common construction method, drill and blast tunnelling, using life cycle assessment. The researchers assessed 20 years of data on tunnelling in Norway to identify areas that could be targeted to reduce its environmental impact. They recommend reduced consumption of explosives and increased use of renewable energy.

New flood simulation tool improves collaboration on flood management

A new tool for flood simulation and visualisation is accessible for both experts and practitioners, allowing them to collaborate better on flood planning and relief. Among other features, the new system includes 3D simulations, rainfall simulation and water flow data.

Soil and Water: a larger perspective - November 2015

Land use changes over time have altered relations between soils and water cycles throughout the world. Soils have been lost and degraded, and the closely interlinked processes of soils and water have become an urgent issue for European policymakers. This Thematic Issue aims to provide a review of new research into the links between soil and water issues in Europe, including a message that the soil-water links must be considered at their proper spatial scales.

Land use changes in the Mediterranean may be triggering large weather shifts

Land use changes over the last century in the Mediterranean area may be sparking shifts in weather patterns locally, across Europe, and around the globe, suggests a new study. The findings bring to light new complexities that can be integrated into climate models and predictions.

Flood risk from modern agricultural practices can be mitigated with interventions

In the face of substantial evidence that modern land use management practices have increased runoff at the local scale, a new study reveals changes in local land use management practices can reduce the risk of local flooding. However, there is little evidence so far that these local increases in runoff culminate in large-scale flooding effects. To address this lack of evidence, the researchers present a model that maps the downstream rate of flow back to its source areas.

Artificial wetlands on farmland help to prevent soil loss and recapture agricultural by-products

Small field wetlands are a simple and effective way to reduce soil erosion and nutrient pollution, recent research suggests. The authors adapted Norwegian designs for the UK environment and created a series of small rectangular lakes on the edges of agricultural fields. After three years, the wetlands had prevented tonnes of soil from leaving the land, and helped alleviate some of the nutrient run-off that would have affected neighbouring waterways.

More than one third of soils studied in southwest England are highly degraded

An extensive field investigation discovered that 38% of soils in southwest England show signs of enhanced surface water runoff due to soil degradation. The study also revealed which types of fields and soils are linked to the most or least degradation.

Who should pay for best management practices to reduce soil erosion?

Worsening soil erosion in north-western Europe may be the result of a switch from traditional dairy farming to cash crops. However, even if all dairy farming ceased, reductions in runoff of up to 76% could be achieved if best agricultural practices are employed, at a cost of approximately €45 per hectare for the first three years, new research from the Austreberthe watershed in France suggests.

Integrating animal and crop production can reduce nutrient leaching from agricultural fields

Nutrient leaching, the movement of plant nutrients from soil to water, can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems due to eutrophication, which reduces the oxygen available in water, causing species and habitat loss. Ecological Recycling Agriculture (ERA), which is based on ecological principles and integrates crop production and animal husbandry, may limit this effect. This study investigated the impact of ERA on agricultural fields in Finland, showing that the practice can reduce nitrogen leaching and may help to achieve agricultural nitrogen-reduction targets.

New data on soil erosion by water reveals Mediterranean at highest flood risk

Comprehensive data analysed in a new study show how extensive rainfall can erode soils across the EU and Switzerland, revealing that Mediterranean regions have the highest risk for erosive events and floods. The resulting dataset can also be used for disaster planning and relief.

Research into root systems: key for long-term crop management

Water scarcity is an important cause of low crop yields worldwide. Yields could be significantly improved by focusing attention on unproductive water losses and improving retention of plant-available water in soils, and particularly the largely unexplored interactions between soils and roots. A new review of scientific literature sets out key soil management measures for crops under drought conditions.

Rejuvenating arid badlands: from barren slopes to living forest in 80 years

A reforestation project has revitalised its surroundings just 80 years after its inception. In the late 1920s, the Saldaña badlands in northern Spain were a barren region, with a thin layer of intensely weathered soil, and only 5% vegetation cover. Now that cover has increased dramatically to 87%, the soil quality is improving, and the water flow in the area has stabilised, bringing greater environmental security to the local community.

No-tillage management of olive groves can improve soil structure while maintaining yield

Non-conservative tillage techniques, such as milling and harrowing, are the most common way to manage soil in Mediterranean olive orchards. A new study confirms the value of alternative methods based on the use of spontaneous cover crops which can significantly improve soil structure and reduce erosion whilst maintaining yields.

Straw covering on soil can increase crop yields and improve the efficiency of water use

Straw from previous harvests can be used to help increase crop yields and improve the efficiency of water use in arid regions, finds a new study from China. By testing different techniques to improve water efficiency, the researchers found that the most effective method involved using straw to cover the soil when growing maize and wheat together in the same growing season.

Travelling slower reduces fuel consumption and nitrogen oxides emissions of ships

Ships that reduce their speed use less fuel, which lowers costs for shipping companies. The slow steaming practice also cuts nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions. A study found that ships travelling on four European routes lowered their NOx emissions by 12% during the economic crisis of 2008/2009. Shipping continues to be a major way of transporting goods, however, and as the global economy recovers the researchers and civil society call for additional measures to reduce NOx emissions from shipping and improve air quality in Europe.

Traffic pollution associated with risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Long-term exposure to traffic-related air particle pollution is linked with type 2 diabetes, a new study in Germany has found. Furthermore, the study found that people living close to busy roads were at greater risk of developing the disease than those living further away.

Economic incentives for bringing e-waste into the circular economy

An economic analysis of 14 common categories of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) has highlighted the economic value of bringing e-waste streams into the circular economy. The overall worth is calculated as €2.15 billion to European markets, with a potential rise to €3.67 billion as volumes increase.

Methods to increase indium supplies for the manufacture of thin-film solar cells

Shortages of indium, a key metal found in thin-film solar cells, could limit their large-scale deployment in the future. A new study has outlined four ways that indium supplies could be increased to meet future demand. For example, indium could be extracted more efficiently from zinc ores, or historic wastes containing indium could be processed to extract the element.

Extent of plastics in the Mediterranean Sea: a growing problem

The extent of marine litter in the Mediterranean Basin has been revealed by a new study. Researchers reviewed previous studies to show that the northwest Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot for plastic debris. They found that marine litter harmed 134 species in the Mediterranean Sea and call for more to be done to manage the growing problem of debris, especially plastics, littering the Sea.

Review of damage-reducing measures for floods

Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of flooding. This study reviewed damage mitigating measures at local, regional and national scales, and suggests that approaches including both spatial planning and private precautionary measures (such as building adaptations) are important for integrated risk management.

Green innovations could cut carbon emissions from road projects by a third

Carbon emissions from Dutch road networks could be reduced by almost a third if more innovative materials and processes were used, a new study suggests. Researchers assessed the potential benefits associated with 10 innovations in road construction and maintenance, and compared them to conventional materials and processes.

Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: first nationwide survey in Spain

The BIOAMBIENT.ES project is the first human biomonitoring programme to estimate levels of environmental pollutants at national level in Spain. This study reports its findings on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment. The results will help to establish reference values, identify highly exposed populations and evaluate effectiveness of policies.

Land users are positive about long-term benefits of sustainable practices

The costs and benefits of sustainable land management have been collated in a new review. Data from a global archive was analysed for the costs of sustainable practices and technologies and for land users’ perceptions of cost–benefit ratios. Most respondents had a positive view of the short-term cost-benefit ratio, and a strongly positive view of the long term. Low upfront costs, long-term planning and security of land tenure were identified as important factors to facilitate these practices.

Shorter shipping routes not necessarily more climate friendly

For economic and political reasons, freight shipping has begun to utilise shorter routes across Arctic waters. This study assessed the costs, emissions and climate impact of trade using the Northern Sea Route between the Northern Pacific and Europe. It concludes that there are no overall climate benefits to using this route, even though it reduces voyage distance, due to the additional impact of emissions in the Arctic region.

Private land conservation in Poland lacks landowner support

Conservation on private land in Poland is supported by less than half of landowners, a new study suggests. The authors conclude that both conservation agencies and landowners could benefit from voluntary conservation schemes, financial incentives and more participatory decision-making processes, while civic organisations could play a vital coordinating role.

Orchard management practices may lead to changes in diversity of spiders

Different management practices using pesticides affect the diversity, number and ecological traits of ground spiders in apple orchards, a new study finds. Because spiders are viewed as good indicators of the quality of an entire ecosystem, the results reveal that organic orchard management may be better for local management and landscape characteristics when compared to those with pesticide use.

Risk of steep glacier collapse in the Alps will considerably increase due to climate warming

Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change. This study focused on hanging glaciers in the French Alps, where warming is increasing the risk of glaciers collapsing. The authors applied a state-of-the-art numerical model to a particularly hazardous glacier in Mont Blanc to simulate how it will respond to climate change. The results suggest the glacier may become unstable in the current century, posing a risk to the inhabitants of the valley below.

Can sustainable supplies of fish meet healthy eating recommendations?

For people in the UK to eat the recommended 280 grams of fish per week, the country would have to rely on aquaculture and increasingly on imports of both wild and farmed fish from poorer countries, a recent study has revealed. This can have social and environmental implications and the researchers urge governments, particularly in developed countries, to consider nutritional advice in a global context, to minimise the impact of fish exports from poorer countries.

IMPASEA: a new framework to assess marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have well-reported ecological benefits, but may also have important socioeconomic effects on local communities. Existing methods to assess these effects have been hampered by a number of limitations. This paper describes a new framework to monitor and assess the socioeconomic effects of MPAs, which overcomes many of these limitations to provide greater value for decision makers.

Anti-diabetic drug causes intersex in male fish

Intersex fish, in which male reproductive tissues become ‘feminised’, are increasingly being identified. This effect has traditionally been attributed to birth-control medications. This study exposed fish to a widely prescribed anti-diabetic, metformin. Male fish developed female sexual characteristics and reproductive rate decreased, which suggests that metformin may be a non-traditional endocrine-disrupting compound.

The German environmental specimen bank – a blueprint for EU chemicals management?

Environmental specimen banks (ESBs) first emerged in the 1960s and are now essential to environmental management across the globe. ESBs sample and archive environmental specimens and can be used to identify the distributions of chemicals within ecosystems and trace their exposure over time. This study uses the German ESB to illustrate their potential for chemicals monitoring in the EU.

Guidelines for restoring ecosystems: when, where and how?

Chemical contamination impairs ecosystem function and reduces biodiversity. Restoration of contaminated ecosystems is important to re-establish the ecosystem services on which society depends. This study provides recommendations to maximise the success of restoration projects by considering when, where and how contaminated sites should be restored.

Insect-eating bats save global maize farmers €0.91 billion a year from crop damage

Insect-eating bats are estimated to be worth US$ 1 billion (€0.91 billion) a year to maize farmers around the world, a new study has revealed. Not only do bats reduce crop damage by eating adult corn earworm crop pests, they also suppress fungal infections in maize ears. Bats and their habitats need to be better protected for their ecological and economic contributions, say the study’s authors.

Realistic renewable energy exceeds 2070 electricity needs in most countries

Wind and solar energy are effectively limitless resources, but construction of renewable power must compete for a finite amount of land. This study uses a constrained assessment of available land to see whether global energy demand could be fully met by renewable sources. The analysis predicts that by 2070, the world could produce between 730 and 3700 exajoules of electricity per year (EJ/a1) from renewable power, which, even at lowest available land estimates, could meet 2070 electricity needs in most countries.

Ozone pollution reduces tomato fruit yield and viability

Ozone harms pollen viability of tomatoes, leading to reduced fruit weight, size and quality, a recent study has revealed. The researchers suggest the effect of ozone on pollen could be a useful way to rapidly test for pollution-induced stress on crop plants in risk assessments.

Green roofs as flood mitigation measures: how to improve performance

Green roofs have been proposed to mitigate flooding in urban areas. This study combined field experiments and numerical simulations to investigate the ability of green roofs to absorb rainwater. The authors describe how green roofs can be most effective at mitigating flooding, providing findings which will be important for policy on green infrastructure.

From the ground up: local knowledge informing agri-environmental policy

Agricultural land use presents a number of environmental challenges, which the European Commission is committed to addressing through a range of agri-environmental policies. A new study points to the importance of aligning agri-environmental policies with farmers’ needs and operations. Using the case of land clearing in Finland, the research underlines the importance of incorporating input from grassroots stakeholders into policy design.

New map of soil loss by water erosion across Europe

Soil erosion is an important issue in Europe, with consequences for water quality, ecosystem services supply and crop production. In this study, researchers enhanced an existing model to estimate soil loss and create an updated map of soil erosion across the EU. The authors say the tool can simulate the effects of land use changes and management practices and will support effective policy decisions.

Household food waste: an individual and national issue

The main factors affecting household food waste in the EU have been identified by an analysis of the 2013 Flash Eurobarometer survey (n.388). On an individual level, the main factors include age, gender, income and environmental attitudes. On the national level, the most significant factor is median disposable income. The authors suggest their results could help develop campaigns targeted at groups that generate the most household waste.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with long-distance travel

Long-distance travelling accounts for a significant number of miles travelled per person, but estimates of its greenhouse gas emissions are lacking. Using data from Belgium and the Netherlands, this study estimates that long-distance journeys account for 40–50% of total mileage and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions of all people transport in Western Europe.

Afghanistan has the highest ‘water criticality score’; Finland the lowest

Increasing population, overconsumption and technological development have depleted many of the world’s natural resources, with profound impacts on the environment. This study applies the concept of criticality, which determines whether a resource may become a limiting factor to future development, to water.

Promising intervention to capture and degrade fuel spills in Antarctic soils

Bioremediation is a technique that harnesses the power of nature to treat contaminated soils and groundwater. This study explored a technology that is effective at capturing groundwater pollutants and shows promise in extreme environments — the Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB).

New method needed to estimate contamination in vegetables

The traditional method for estimating contamination levels of vegetables grown in contaminated soils may not be as reliable as previously thought, a new study finds. A new risk assessment technique showed that the daily intake of cadmium in lettuce grown in soils near Swedish glasswork sites was above the safety threshold for a fifth of the study population.

Integrating Environmental Risk Assessment – December 2015

Environmental risk assessment is challenging because of the complexity of the physical and ecological systems around us. Natural disasters, the spread of dangerous substances, ecosystem changes leading to food and health security issues, and the emergence of new materials, new events and new knowledge make it essential to update our understanding continually, to be able to identify threats and opportunities for timely action. This Thematic Issue presents some collaborative and integrated paths towards forward-thinking assessment and management of environmental risks.

A vision and roadmap for integrated environmental modelling

Integrated environmental modelling (IEM) is an organised approach to streamlining the movement of scientific information from its research sources to its application in problem solving, according to a study that envisions a global-scale IEM community. The researchers present a roadmap for the future of IEM, describing issues that could be addressed to develop its potential even further, such as how best to integrate diverse stakeholder perspectives and appropriate guidelines for ‘problem statements’.

Risk management: a dynamic approach with real-time assessment of new hazards

New research has combined two different techniques for identifying hazards and assessing risks into a single dynamic risk assessment process. The new approach fills a gap in many current risk assessment techniques as it can be applied throughout the lifetime of a process, not just during its design phase, taking into account new information to update risk assessments and calculations systematically.

Chemical risk governance in the EU: limits and opportunities to integration and harmonisation

Chemical risk assessment and governance can be integrated and harmonised, but only up to a limit, albeit a variable limit, finds new research. The study’s authors examined the socio-political processes and factors surrounding integrated risk assessment and governance associated with chemicals in the EU. The research suggests there are opportunities for improvement if different views and implications of risk integration are considered through open communication and negotiations.

A more comprehensive ecological risk assessment combines existing models

Assessment (ERA), each with different goals. The researchers find that overlaps between the three assessments could be combined to create a more comprehensive form of ERA, usable by regulators and environmental decision makers.

Bridging the gap between life cycle assessments and planetary boundaries: a cross-EU chemical footprint

A methodology for assessing ‘chemical footprints’ has been developed by researchers to evaluate human pressures and the impact of chemicals released by the production and consumption of goods. The study integrates a life-cycle approach with different methodologies, such as those developed in the context of environmental risk assessment and sustainability science, with the aim of assessing the extent to which chemicals impact on ecosystems beyond their ability to recover (i.e. surpass planetary boundaries).

Prospects for integrating chemical risk assessment

Chemicals regulation in Europe could be improved through integrated risk assessment, says an EU project. The project team presents a range of perspectives on how the integration of hazard, exposure and socio-economic assessments can be promoted and implemented.

Geodiversity should be better integrated into ecosystem assessments

Information about geodiversity — i.e. the variety of the material, non-biological parts of the natural world — could be better used and more integrated in environmental management in the UK, finds new research. The authors examined the inclusion of geodiversity information in UK assessments and identified a number of areas where geoscience knowledge is vital for informing ecosystem management.

Lithium accumulates in plasma and brains of fish after short-term exposure

Lithium production has increased dramatically during the past decade. A new study has found that exposure of rainbow trout to lithium results in fast accumulation in plasma and the brain, along with decreased concentrations of ions such as sodium.

Active pharmaceutical ingredients in wastewater: who are the major contributors?

Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) — responsible for the biological activity of drugs — have been widely found in the environment, yet the precise sources and relative importance of emissions via wastewater are not quite clear. This study assessed emissions from three health institutions in Germany — a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home — and found their contribution was low compared to that from households. However, more research is needed to understand the environmental effects of neurological drugs, emissions of which were in some cases relatively high.

Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution alter the mutual relationship between corals and algae

Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution change the relationship between the tropical coral Stylophora pistillata and the algae living inside its tissues, a recent study has found. The researchers say the pollutants, mainly from urban and agricultural discharges, affect algae photosynthesis and the essential transfer of carbon from algae to the coral.

Public participation in land use planning in Romania

Approximately 1000 km2 of agricultural or natural land is lost every year in the EU due to land-use change. When this occurs close to residential areas, it can lead to conflict with local people. This study explored the views of local people in Romania, and compared them to experts. The authors discuss similarities and differences, and say that participation, where both locals and experts communicate, is key to developing effective land use policies.

Modelling emissions of perfluorinated chemicals to the Danube River Basin

The emissions of two perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) into the Danube River Basin have been estimated in a test of four different hypotheses regarding the factors affecting those emissions. The results were used to simulate water concentrations for comparison with measured data. The researchers found that incorporating wastewater treatment information and wealth distribution alongside population data can improve the accuracy of emissions estimates.