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Global biodiversity is declining at an accelerating rate with a potential loss of millions of square kilometres of natural habitats to meet future demand for agricultural land and support a growing global population. Scientific models, must, therefore, identify the most at-risk species and landscapes to guide appropriate conservation responses. This study applies a geographically explicit model of future agricultural-land clearance to 19 859 species. The researchers project that 87.7% of these species are likely to lose habitat by 2050, the severity of this loss and whether proactive food- system policies could mitigate future biodiversity declines.
The Netherlands’ ‘Room for the River’ programme is recognised worldwide as an example of successful river rehabilitation. With the risk of flooding events rising due to climate change, understanding which interventions can lead to beneficial integrated flood-risk management is vital. This study analyses the mix of interventions (policy instruments) used in Room for the River projects — from contract start to construction finish — to learn from this example.
Sustainable soil is a foundation of environmental health, with soil offering a multitude of ecosystem services including climate mitigation and adaption, biodiversity, agriculture (food security) and nutrient cycling. This study offers a new framework for monitoring synergies and trade-offs of soil functions across Europe.
Marine plastic pollution has been found in the remote Antarctic peninsula and Southern Ocean since the 1980s, but microplastic pollution in this region is less well understood. To find out more about this emerging environmental hazard, scientists have analysed the deep-sea sediments of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean regions for the presence of microplastics.
Food security is a growing concern as crop yields are threatened by increasing climatic variability - periods of excessively hot weather, or heatwaves, specifically. This study examines the crop diversity of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) to understand which genetic variants flourish in response to climatic stress and to identify the crop traits that aid this success.
Restoring global ecosystems is an urgent priority in efforts to conserve biodiversity and stabilise our planet’s climate. However, the costs and outcomes of ecosystem restoration differ markedly by location and habitat type. A recent study has developed a multi-criteria cost-benefit approach to identify priority areas for optimal restoration of terrestrial cropland and pastureland back to natural ecosystems, considering the outcomes of biodiversity conservation, climate mitigation and cost minimisation.
Ground-nesting bird populations are more likely to be in decline than any other European bird species, finds a recent study, with 74% showing evidence of a long-term drop in numbers. The study analyses whether predation by generalist species helps to explain the widespread declines of ground-dwelling birds (such as waders, wildfowl and gamebirds) across Europe. It highlights a potential role for predator management in achieving conservation objectives, and points towards possible effects of different habitat management strategies in Britain, Ireland and Europe.
A recent sonar-sampling and photography-based survey reveals that the Atlantic deep seafloor may host more biological diversity than previously thought, due to the presence of large amounts of exposed hard rock - a type of habitat that supports a variety of marine life that is uncommon in flat, sediment-covered plains. A new research agenda focusing on these habitats could therefore help inform impact assessments for sustainable extraction of resources from the seafloor, while identifying deep-sea marine ecosystems that may be vulnerable to exploitation.
New research finds that a common agricultural fungicide can have toxic effects on honeybees at standard concentrations. This study uses a biomarker method to identify cell and chemical changes in honeybees after exposure to one fungicide, one toxic metal and one toxin known to cause genetic damage; with such changes indicating stress on their biological functions. This method has not previously been used to show these effects in honeybees after exposure to fungicide and highlights the potential for further research using biomarkers.
Forests with minimal history of human interference — ‘primary forests’ — provide vital ecosystem services and have high levels of biodiversity. These forests are being lost worldwide, even in regions where forests are expanding, and are particularly scarce in Europe. This study uses modelling and maps of forest cover in Europe to determine how primary forest is distributed across the region, with the findings highlighting areas of forest that should be prioritised for restoration and protection.
Human activity is causing global ecosystems to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Monitoring these changes often requires labour-intensive surveys, which may not identify rapid or unexpected environmental change. This study introduces a novel, faster technique - using automated soundscape (acoustic environment) monitoring - to predict habitat quality and provide real-time detection of noises such as chainsaws.
Coral reefs have been experiencing global decline attributed to human activity — including global warming, bottom trawling, overfishing and pollution. Certain UV filters, commonly found in sunscreens and cosmetics, are among the substances thought to have a potentially negative effect on corals. This study explores the effects of 10 UV filters on the coral Pocillopora damicornis under experimental conditions. The researchers identify a metabolomic ‘signature’ (i.e. a unique chemical ‘fingerprint’ created by specific cellular processes — whether in an entire organism, tissues or body cells) in corals and use this to deduce that three of the tested UV filters may trigger a coral stress response.
Marine fisheries provide a major source of food and livelihood for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. However, many fish stocks are being overfished, with major cascading impacts on marine biodiversity. Identifying effective strategies for fishery management is, therefore, a matter of urgency. To assess stock status and sustainability, this study models three ecologically and economically important coastal fish species inside and outside Mediterranean marine protected areas (MPAs).
Using eelgrass (Zostera marina) as a case study, researchers in Sweden have presented a new approach to help target conservation efforts for optimal effect. Combining insights from biophysical modelling and genetic analysis, they depict populations as an interconnected network and identify which parts of this network are most important to the survival of the regional population (and should be prioritised for protection). This approach could inform seascape management and designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) across Europe.
Researchers have shown how accurate, fine-scale maps of riverine biodiversity can be obtained using a method combining the trace genetic material (eDNA) found in rivers and streams and modelling based on hydrological principles. This non-invasive method can identify biodiversity hotspots to inform their management and conservation and could provide information on locations that are inaccessible (and therefore very difficult to monitor).
Based on information gathered under EU policies such as the Common Fisheries Policy and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), researchers present a new way to assess the capacity of the marine environment to provide ecosystem services. They apply the methodology to three case studies in the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas, across cultural, regulating and provisioning services. The assessment can be used to inform management decisions and evaluate the effect of associated policies.
To best protect ecosystems and human well-being, there is a need to prioritise how the scarce resources of time, funding and human labour should be allocated to be most effective. This study applies a prioritisation framework to 16 prominent environmental challenges in the areas of biodiversity and food security, based on three criteria: importance (scale), neglect (lack of research) and tractability (e.g. economic feasibility).
Many European freshwater bodies are unlikely to meet the 2027 targets of the Water Framework Directive. This Europe-wide study assesses multiple types of freshwater stressor (physical, biological or chemical constraints on an ecosystem) to quantify the frequency, interactions and impacts of these on freshwater plants and animals. By mapping stressors’ effects on scales — starting from single lake or river to an entire basin — such assessment can inform ecosystem management decisions.
Sustainable management of wildlife populations must account for natural dynamics and be able to make future predictions on desired temporal or spatial scales. This is increasingly important given the pace of current and future climate change. This study explores the efficacy of involving key stakeholders early in the management process, to define objectives, datasets, models and analyses in a participatory and collaborative way. The researchers use this approach to model and forecast the population density of the willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) in Norway.
Producing sufficient food supplies for our growing population is a major global challenge. Intercropping, an agricultural technique whereby multiple crop species are cultivated in the same field, may be more sustainable than mono-crop practices, resulting in a greater yield per unit of land and fertiliser than sole crops. This study analyses the effect of intercropping on yield gain, exploring the effects of different crop species combinations, temporal and spatial arrangements and fertiliser input.
With the current intensification in agricultural activity there has been an expansion in field sizes and the loss of permanent green field edges and other semi-natural habitats. From an economic perspective, the increase in field size improves agricultural efficiency - mainly due to cost savings. However, recent evidence suggests that increasing field size may decrease the ecosystem services provided by farmland biodiversity - but this trade-off is rarely considered. This study quantifies the economic and ecological effects of field-size changes for an agricultural region in Germany.
To mitigate the biodiversity loss driven by conventional intensive agriculture, EU policymakers are increasingly encouraging Member States to incentivise farmers to go organic. In 2006, the Swedish government introduced a Green Public Procurement (GPP) policy to encourage farmers to convert to organic practices. This study analyses the performance of the GPP and, according to the researchers, is the first to examine if its application has succeeded in increasing the amount of organic farmland in Sweden.
Using products from sustainably managed woodlands in place of fossil fuels, concrete and steel can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but it is crucial to understand how harvesting affects biodiversity. This study looks at the effects of thinning (selective tree removal) on bats and insects in UK woodlands. It finds that thinning may bring benefits for a few common bat species but recommends that operations retain old woodland characteristics, such as tree cavities, to avoid impacting rare or reliant species.
Pollinators are vital to our well-being and the survival of nature. We are at risk of losing their benefits, and many others, with the ongoing and dramatic decline of pollinators witnessed around the world. Our Future Brief presents an overview of research into the importance of pollinators for nature, food production and security, while our video presents interviews with pollinator, insect and citizen science monitoring experts, and highlights the important role of taxonomists in protecting pollinators.
Understanding the structure and distribution of biotopes — regions of habitat associated with a particular ecological community — is essential for marine conservation and spatial planning. An analysis of an extensive geo-referenced dataset has enabled scientists to estimate the structure, size and distribution of a threatened muddy biotope in the German North Sea, and to visualise the results in map format. This information provides a baseline for evaluating the biotope’s environmental status and contributes essential knowledge for environmental management and policy.
Ballast water in ships is a principal way in which alien species are introduced into new aquatic habitats. Commercial trading ships are, therefore, required to treat their ballast water to meet discharge standards and regulation. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has approved a range of methods for ballast water treatment, such as filtration, ultraviolet radiation and chlorination. A recent study used DNA metabarcoding-based1 analyses to explore the efficacy of the most widely adopted approach — chlorination — finding that it affects zooplankton organisms unequally and may potentially even increase the chances of introduced populations becoming established in new habitats.
A honeybee is the most significant and economically important managed pollinator species worldwide; honeybees and thousands of wild pollinator species provide a pollination service to agriculture with an estimated value of $190 billion (USD) (€175.90) annually. However, exposure to contaminants, such as pesticides, can affect honeybee foraging behaviour and fitness. This study looks at the potential impact of urban air pollution on bee health.
In Sweden, 63% of areas designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for endangered birds are impacted by major roads or train lines, according to a new study. The research showed that 126 000 hectares (ha), or 4.2% of the SPAs, fall within 1 km of a road or train line, leading to a predicted 1% loss in bird abundance. The problem is greater in the south of the country, where 25.8% of land designated as SPA falls within 1 km of a road or rail line, representing an estimated 4 to 7% reduction in birds’ abundance within SPAs.
A survey of over 600 private boats docked in marinas throughout the Mediterranean showed that 71% are carrying non-indigenous species. In certain cases, non-indigenous species can become ‘invasive’ and have enormous and long-lasting impacts on ecosystems. The findings suggest that a common monitoring strategy may be necessary to prevent further disruptions to natural ecosystems.
Invasions of alien species are rising at an alarming rate, largely due to growing global trade and transport routes. Preventing the successful establishment of alien species by better understanding the factors determining success is a step toward limiting the threat of future biological invasions. Statistical modelling using observed bird invasion data — including location, event and species-level factors showed which factors were key to successful establishment by the alien species.
Considering the impact on soil carbon, biodiversity and ecotoxicity is important when assessing the environmental footprint of dairy products, suggests a new study, which explored the impacts of organic and conventional milk production in three types of system established in Western Europe. The study found that organic milk production had a significantly lower impact on ecotoxicity and biodiversity than conventional milk production, and suggests that including soil carbon changes in the assessment would result in greater reductions in the carbon footprint of organic, rather than conventional, milk — in some cases by up to 18%.
Free-flowing rivers (FFRs) support a complex, dynamic and diverse range of global ecosystems, and provide important economic and societal services. However, infrastructure built to use these services — most notably 2.8 million dams worldwide — has caused many rivers to become fragmented and disconnected, affecting river biodiversity and ecosystem services. This study constructed a global information system with which to map the fine-scale dynamics and fragmentation of FFRs and to determine how human pressures affect the world’s river systems.
The warmer, drier conditions expected under on-going climate change will reduce the rates at which soil fauna and microbes decompose plant litter, suggests new research from Germany. This may have important implications for agriculture and natural ecosystems worldwide, as litter decomposition is a key process in cycling and distributing nutrients throughout ecosystems.
Reconciling human development with conservation requires a comprehensive understanding of the current ecological condition and spatial distribution of land. Using recent and spatially explicit global datasets, this study quantifies the degree of human modification across all terrestrial lands, ecoregions, and biomes1. The results suggest that fewer unmodified lands remain than previously reported and that the majority of the world is in a state of intermediate modification, with 52% of ecoregions classified as ‘moderately modified’. The researchers state that these regions are highly fragmented due to human activities and fall within critical land-use thresholds2 — they require urgent attention. These regions, therefore, require proactive spatial planning to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem function before vital environmental resources are lost.
Ecosystems provide myriad services upon which human societies and economies depend. However, most efforts to quantify and conserve these ecosystem services (ES) focus more on service ‘supply’ (functions which potentially benefit humans) than on ‘demand’ (human desire for that supply). This study maps supply and benefit for three ES — flood mitigation, crop pollination, and nature-based recreation — in the state of Vermont, northeast USA, and finds that efforts to conserve ES could be more efficient if policymakers consider ‘demand’, whilst also decreasing trade-offs with biodiversity protection and conservation.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are used increasingly often in innovative technologies, causing these elements to enter the natural environment. They can be sourced via deep-sea mining, raising concerns about marine exposure to mining processes and waste products. This study examined how two REEs, lanthanum and yttrium, affected and stressed marine ecosystems, using young marine mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) as indicators of water quality. The researchers determine a parameter known as the ‘predicted no effect concentration’ (PNEC) for La and Y — the maximum environmental level of each of the two elements at which no effect is seen on the most sensitive organisms and which is, therefore, deemed safe for the environment.
Moss helps prevent soil erosion on fire-damaged land, a Portuguese study suggests. The researchers analysed water that ran off from post-fire hillsides. They found less sediment and organic matter in run-off from patches of land with high levels of moss than from those with low levels of moss. Moss quickly establishes itself on land after fires, so the study suggests that land managers could take advantage of its restorative effects by deliberately encouraging its growth.
To estimate the losses of wild pollinators across Great Britain, a study mapped records of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species, collected across the country from 1980 to 2013. It found that a third of species decreased, while a tenth increased. On average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species declined by a quarter, which equates to a net loss of 11 species from each 1km grid square (with uncommon species more harshly affected), highlighting a significant risk to biodiversity, pollinators, and their ecosystems.
Soil biodiversity, soil quality, and soil health are integral to protecting the natural environment. Soils are crucial to food production and human well-being, as highlighted by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The abundance of soil biota is of great importance for the provision of associated ecosystem services (ES) and fundamental driver of self-regulation in soil. This study explores how the presence, or absence, of earthworms affects aspects of crop health and productivity, focusing on their shielding of winter wheat from the toxic plant fungi Fusarium.
The impacts of climate changes can force animal- and, over a longer time period, plant species to shift their range. Forests in temperate regions, such as north-western Spain, will be increasingly exposed to drought over the next few decades, which is likely to cause geographical changes in their distribution and make-up1. New patterns of plant occupancy or plant extinction have a bottom-up effect on animal species dependent on them, which can significantly impact on isolated or endangered populations of animals. This study sought to assess the potential impact of climate change on the brown-bear (Ursus arctos) population in the Cantabrian Mountains.
Increases in woody plant and shrub cover render alpine livestock less efficient at using their landscape, finds a new study of the eastern Spanish Pyrenees. Changes in land use and climate will affect not only flora and fauna but also the futures of alpine farmers, says the study, placing them at a growing economic risk both throughout Europe and worldwide.
Wildfires are projected to become an increasingly common occurrence and are a major driver of habitat disturbance, yet little research to date has examined how the relationship between fire and landscape attributes affects large carnivores, such as the grey wolf (Canis lupus). The results of this study suggest that wolves are remarkably resilient to fire, persisting and breeding in a human-dominated landscape even under intensive fire regimes. However, burnt landscapes may induce higher exposure to human disturbance and persecution due to limited refuge conditions.
Energy demand is on the rise globally, and this is predicted to continue in coming decades. Increasing energy production to meet this demand requires materials — both metals and non-metal minerals — from a number of countries. As some materials are in short supply, it is important to consider material dependency and availability when developing national energy plans for the future. This study is the first to address material dependency effects on a nation’s energy development plans, with the UK and Turkey as case studies.
In order to manage its environmental footprint, Switzerland should act on a number of key issues identified by the ‘planetary boundaries’ framework, says a Swiss study, with priority given to the areas of climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and nitrogen loss. This quantitative framework identifies nine bio-physical limits of the Earth system that, if exceeded, may lead to societal and ecological changes unfavourable to human development and stability. These are upper thresholds rather than targets. The researchers suggest that the concept and their methodology could be used together to think differently about environmental issues, and change the way related assessments and policies are implemented at both global and national levels.
Nitrogen deposited from the atmosphere is in decline in Western Europe due to targeted policies on emissions, with emissions 25% lower than their peak in 1990. Policy measures to lower nitrogen air pollution — which damages plant diversity, buildings and human health — have made an impact and are forecast to continue to lower nitrogen levels in the future, offering an opportunity to evaluate their impact. This study uses the UK as a case study to answer the policy question: what is the economic impact on biodiversity of forecast reductions in nitrogen pollution?
Almost a quarter of the world’s non-polar land surface experiences light pollution, and there is concern that this adversely affects illuminated ecosystems. Currently there is a global move from yellow sodium lighting to white LED lighting, which emits different wavelengths of light. A recent study found that LED artificial light at night (ALAN) reduced the biomass of periphyton by 62% in a freshwater drainage ditch in Westhavelland Nature Park, Brandenburg, Germany.
Woody networks in agricultural landscapes are known to harbour high intrinsic biodiversity (i.e. diversity of plant species) and functional biodiversity (i.e. ecosystem services that arise from biodiversity). In order to clarify the drivers of intrinsic and functional biodiversity in woody networks, researchers analysed the plant species diversity, pollinator resource value (PRV), and potential edibility value (PEV) of a woody network in northern Belgium. The analysis confirmed that woody elements are a rich source of intrinsic and functional biodiversity and identified several important drivers. From a policy perspective, this research highlights the value of protecting existing woody elements and thoughtfully designing and locating new ones to maximise intrinsic and functional biodiversity in the countryside.
Invasive alien species (IAS) pose a threat to native European biodiversity and cost the EU annual damages worth EUR 12 billion as a result of IAS effects on human health, damaged infrastructure, and agricultural losses. IAS are the focus of Target 9 of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and Target 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy: ‘By 2020, IAS and their pathways are identified and prioritised… pathways are managed to prevent the introduction and establishment of new IAS.’ The EU framework for action against IAS is set out in a Regulation adopted in 2014. This provides for the adoption of a list of IAS of Union concern that will be subject to restrictions across the EU. The first step in order to consider a species for listing is to undertake a risk assessment.
Environmental pollution is putting amphibians and reptiles at risk, yet these animals are not included in regulations regarding the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pesticides. The extent to which other species already used in pesticide toxicity assessment (including fish, birds and mammals) can serve as effective surrogates is currently under debate. This study conducts a systematic review of the available literature. The results reveal a positive correlation between toxicity recorded on fish and aquatic amphibians, but indicate that birds and mammals are generally not good surrogates for reptiles and terrestrial amphibians. Moreover, some chemical-dependent trends were detected, with a number of insecticides found to be more toxic to amphibians or reptiles than to potential surrogates. These findings highlight an urgent need for further research to reduce uncertainties and contribute to future policymaking regarding the protection of amphibians and reptiles from potentially harmful pesticides.
A new study suggests that Earth’s ongoing mass extinction episode is more severe than generally perceived. Rather than focusing on the complete extinction of entire species, researchers analysed the losses and declines of populations in a sample of 27 600 vertebrate species. Population declines and losses are often a prelude to species extinctions. Researchers also conducted a more in-depth analysis of population losses between 1900–2015 in 177 mammal species. The results reveal that rates of population loss and decline in vertebrates are extremely high, even in common “species of low concern”. The data indicates that, in addition to significant species extinction rates, the Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population decline and loss, which will have a significant effect on ecosystem functioning and services. The researchers warn that the window for effective action is closing rapidly and emphasise the need for an urgent response.
Personal Care Products (PCPs) are of increasing global concern, as thousands of tonnes enter the environment every year. Similar to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some substances used in PCPs are toxic, persist in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of organisms that take them in. This study focused on the presence of ultraviolet filters (UV-Fs) (used in PCPs such as sunscreens and cosmetics) in the unhatched eggs of wild birds.
Satellite images taken over a 30-year period have shown that a French national park in the Alps has become greener with more vegetation, as snow cover disappears under a changing climate. These landscape changes have important implications for alpine biodiversity and ecosystem services, warn the scientists behind the study.
Insect numbers in west German nature reserves have fallen by more than 76% in just 27 years, according to a new study. The fall was even higher in the summer months, with 82% on average fewer insects being recorded. The reasons for this dramatic fall are unclear. The researchers ruled out changes in weather, plant cover and local landscape playing a significant role in the observed decline, but suggest that intensive agriculture and pesticides in fields near to the reserves could be responsible. Whatever the cause, the catastrophic fall in insect numbers will inevitably lead to knock-on effects on ecosystems in the long term, particularly due to their essential role as pollinators and their position in the food web. The researchers say that preserving and protecting insects should now be a priority for conservation policies.
Small streams are important refuges for biodiversity, yet knowledge of the effects of agricultural pesticides on these freshwater bodies is limited. Researchers have used national monitoring data to determine the number of small streams in Germany where regulatory acceptable concentrations (RACs) of pesticides are exceeded. An analysis of data covering almost 500 pesticides and over 2 000 small streams suggests that agricultural land use is a major contributor of pesticides to streams. Overall, RACs were exceeded at 26% of sampled streams, and exceedances were 3.7 times more likely if a stream was near agricultural land. This finding may have implications for environmental monitoring and agri-environmental measures.
Constructed wetlands serve as a cost-effective and multi-purpose option for storm-water treatment in urban landscapes, offering flood protection as well as wildlife habitat. However, a new study shows that when nearby land use includes industry, wetlands can accumulate high levels of pollution and potentially become toxic to wildlife. This new piece of research offers important insights for the planning and management of wetlands.
Researchers have compared the findings of a citizen-science project and a long-running butterfly monitoring scheme in the UK to gain insights into the reliability of data gathering by the public. They found that — contrary to the scepticism with which such projects are sometimes viewed — much of the citizen-recorded data agreed with the findings of more formal monitoring, particularly for species often found in gardens. This indicates that mass-participation sampling not only provides a valuable tool for public engagement, but, in this case, could also provide valid data to inform butterfly conservation.
The growing human population and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours are increasing the demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe Earth’s natural assets, including soil, air, water, and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. This In-Depth Report presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.
Results from a long-term study of fish communities in the Bay of Somme in the English Channel show that numbers of cold-water fish, such as dab and plaice, have been dropping since 1998, as sea temperatures have risen. The researchers say this is evidence of ‘tropicalisation’ in an English-Channel ecosystem. The findings may have implications for conservation policies in the Bay, which is a Marine Protected Area1 designated under the Natura 2000 programme, as well as other marine sites affected by warming.
Biological control agents are an environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests and diseases on crops and are advocated in the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive1. The authors of a new review of the current state of biological control refer to a recent UN report2 which states that it is possible to produce enough food to feed a world population of nine billion with substantially less chemical pesticides — and even without these pesticides if sufficient effort is made to develop biocontrol-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. The study suggests that policy measures can speed up the development and use of environmentally-friendly crop protection.
A new study has assessed the value of ecosystem-based approaches to mitigating climate changes and conserving biodiversity in Germany. The researchers highlight the trade-offs and synergies between climate adaptation and nature conservation and suggest that effective ecosystem-based climate policy requires improved coordination between different sectors, such as agriculture, forestry and energy.
Researchers have pinpointed hotspots for birds in an agricultural region of Italy. These show that hotspots for wintering birds are different to those for breeding birds — yet it is often only breeding birds’ locations that are considered in the design of protected areas. The researchers say their research highlights the importance of crop-dominated land for birds in the Mediterranean region.
Assessments of the effects on organisms likely to come into contact with genetically modified (GM) plants have been reviewed in a recent study. The researchers say such assessments help to understand the potential ecological impacts within the environment and are an important part of the risk assessments for GM plants.
Researchers have developed a new metric to predict the ecological impacts of invasive alien species. The metric was calculated for a number of known invasive alien species and successfully predicted their impact on native species. The tool could be used to help inform the global management of invasive alien species.
There are several types of wildlife-friendly farming scheme, some of which are more prescriptive than others. A recent study compared the effects of different wildlife-friendly farming approaches, including organic farming, on pollination. The findings suggest that organic farming practices enhance pollination services but may compromise crop yield. ‘Conservation Grade’ farming schemes — biodiversity-focused practices funded by sales of labelled food products — can support both pollination and yield.
Agri-environment schemes (AES) are a means by which farmers can ensure greener agriculture, but their success is based on many factors, including the effectiveness of the scheme and participation by farmers. In an effort to understand how different factors affect uptake of AES, this study assessed the attitudes and values of decision-making for a sample of UK farmers involved with bird conservation. The results indicate that effectiveness and participation rates could be improved by informing farmers about the state of bird populations in their region and highlighting the impacts of different management practices on bird conservation.
Isolating specific reasons for involvement in agri-environment schemes (AES) is a key step in the formulation of schemes that are more appealing to Europe’s farming community. Through a comprehensive exploration of the literature on AES across the EU, this study contributes to a better understanding of what drives farmers’ participation in such initiatives, revealing important factors, such as previous experience with schemes and flexibility in management.
Many would agree that the efficiency of agri-environment schemes (AES) could be improved, but how? A new study considers how AES could deliver ecosystem services better, using peatlands in the UK as a case study. The researchers suggest a number of approaches to improving the link between the payments given to farmers and the environmental benefits they deliver; these include methods of targeting payments to particular areas.
The cost-effectiveness of agri-environment schemes to conserve species and habitats under the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) has been assessed by a recent study. Cost-effectiveness was found to vary widely between schemes. Improvements in cost-effectiveness relative to specific conservation objectives might be achieved with increased geographical targeting, advice and monitoring of impacts.
Results-based agri-environment measures are an alternative to management-based measures that, in certain circumstances, could be both more effective and more cost-efficient, since their payment depends on the provision of the desired conservation outcome. This study reviews the success of a scheme, introduced in Germany in 2000, to preserve biodiversity in species-rich grassland.
This study assessed the implementation of the ‘Flowering Meadows’ agri-environment scheme in France, a results-based scheme which encourages farmers to conserve meadows in the Bauges, Haut Jura and Vercors natural parks. While there was limited change in agricultural practices, the scheme did help to maintain meadow habitats. Farmers also welcomed the results-based payments approach, which gave them greater responsibility for and flexibility in managing their farms.
The willingness of farmers to create wetlands within agri-environment schemes (AES) has been assessed as part of a new study in Sweden. Land-owning farmers and those with prior knowledge of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) were more likely to create wetlands than leasehold farmers or those with no prior knowledge of WFD. Common reasons for not wanting to take part in the scheme included the farmers’ senior age, that wetlands would not be suitable on the farm and high costs — leading the researchers to suggest that changes in subsidy payments may increase wetland creation.
A team of UK researchers has analysed interviews with a selection of farmers from across England in an effort to determine the sociocultural factors influencing their decisions to cooperate with each other on collaborative agri-environment schemes (cAES). Results from this study have significance for the success of AES in the region, as it may be that only by collaborating on such schemes can farmers adequately conserve crucial landscape-scale ecological processes. The study finds that cAES which provide greater flexibility, with opportunities for farmer involvement in scheme design and locally targeted and clearly defined aims, are more likely to gain support from farmers. Farmers might also be more receptive to environmental interventions if they could be partially involved in cAES.
Researchers have found that farmer experience, concerns and motivation influence environmental outcomes for agri-environment schemes (AES), in a study in southern England. Farmers with more environmental-management experience and/or concern for wildlife created habitats that provided more pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and winter seed for birds. The results suggest that supporting environmental learning among farmers may increase the success of AES.
A new study has investigated the effects of set-aside management —when fields are taken out of agricultural production — on common invertebrate decomposers in soil. The diversity of woodlice species was higher in set-aside fields compared to neighbouring wheat fields and this effect increased in older set-asides. This study highlights the importance of set-aside areas as habitats for soil invertebrates, which are important for soil health.
Habitat fragmentation is a threat to biodiversity, especially in agricultural land where there are also many endangered species. Corridors between habitats are one way to counteract its effects. A study suggests that grassy field margins — established throughout Europe to improve water quality — could act as corridors. The study, which measured the effects of field margins on butterflies, concludes that agricultural schemes should include this corridor function.
The Natura 2000 network is the backbone of nature conservation in the EU, and agri-environment schemes (AES) are an important tool to protect biodiversity on European farmland. A recent study, which investigated the effectiveness of AES in relation to grassland birds in Poland, found that AES were not associated with species richness of target species, and proposed a number of reasons for this. The researchers recommend that AES management regimes should be diversified and customised to provide optimal habitat for a wider range of bird species.
A study of wildflower planting within agri-environment schemes has demonstrated that the practice can support a diverse array of economically beneficial insect species, not just prominent pollinators such as wild bees and hoverflies. The study demonstrates the high conservation potential of wildflower planting within agricultural landscapes and the value of insects outside the traditional focus of conservation efforts.
Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been implemented throughout Europe to mitigate against the negative effects of agricultural intensification. Although these schemes have shown positive effects on the abundance and richness of certain species and taxa, the impact of AES on reproduction of target species at the local and landscape scale is poorly understood. This large-scale study looked for the effect of selected AE measures on bumblebee reproduction. Results indicate that bumblebee reproduction is significantly higher on sown flower patches when compared to conventional management. Although the increase is most pronounced at the plot scale, higher reproduction was found in landscapes surrounding larger sown plots (at least one hectare) compared to smaller sown plots.
New research has examined three different categories of Ecological Risk 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. There is an inherent trade-off between increasing agricultural production and protection of biodiversity. This study models the effects of biodiversity conservation agri-environment schemes (AESs) and ecosystem service provider schemes, and shows that determining the aim of an agri-environment scheme is key to improving its efficiency. Such an optimisation could allow AES to be rolled out more generally to provide the backbone for both high yields and enhanced farmland biodiversity, say the researchers.
What has been the impact of Agricultural Environment Schemes (AES) on European farming? These schemes provide payments to farmers in return for the implementation of agri-environmental measures to encourage positive environmental outcomes and as a counterbalance to the profit incentive. The schemes might concentrate on low-intensity production, organic or integrated management or enhancement of biodiversity on farmland. This Thematic Issue presents recent peer-reviewed research examining the impacts AES have had on European farm ecosystems, biodiversity and farmers – and to what extent AES have benefited a range of animals and plants by increasing the number of individuals and species.
What has been the impact of Agricultural Environment Schemes (AES) on European farming? These schemes provide payments to farmers in return for the implementation of agri-environmental measures to encourage positive environmental outcomes and as a counterbalance to the profit incentive. The schemes might concentrate on low-intensity production, organic or integrated management or enhancement of biodiversity on farmland. This Thematic Issue presents recent peer-reviewed research examining the impacts AES have had on European farm ecosystems, biodiversity and farmers – and to what extent AES have benefited a range of animals and plants by increasing the number of individuals and species.
The influence of light-emitting diodes (LED) on grassland invertebrate communities has been assessed in a recent study. White LEDs increased the total abundance and changed the species of spiders and beetles recorded. Dimming lights and switching lights off during the middle of the night were the best ways of reducing the effects on beetle and spider numbers.
The black locust tree can be economically valuable and offer certain environmental benefits, but its dominant and invasive nature in Europe can have an adverse impact on biodiversity. A recent study, which presents an overview of this species’ ecological and socio-economic impacts in Central Europe, recommends tolerating the tree in some areas and eradicating it in others, in order to balance its co-existence with people and nature.
A survey of deepwater fisheries off the coast of Greenland which used traces of fish DNA has produced similar results to trawl surveys and fishing catches. The ‘environmental DNA’ (eDNA) technique can therefore complement trawl data, the researchers say. It may be particularly useful for surveying large species — which can often avoid bottom trawls — or cryptic species1 in inaccessible ocean areas.
Traditional, high-nature-value (HNV) grasslands are at risk of being abandoned by farmers in the future — in turn, risking the wildlife they support, warns a new UK study. Farmers interviewed by the researchers had weak motivations to protect grasslands, as they felt that financial incentives for conservation are low and that traditional management practices are inconvenient. More dialogue between farmers and conservationists could be part of the solution, the study suggests.
A common anti-parasitic drug used to control gastrointestinal worms in livestock has been shown to inhibit seed germination of three common grassland species. This recent study is the first to show that anthelmintics may negatively affect plant regeneration. The researchers say that treatments should be carefully timed in order to avoid the strongest impact of the drugs on germination and the consequential negative affect on grassland regeneration.
Traces of animals’ DNA in the environment, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), can be monitored to paint a picture of biodiversity, new research shows. This study used eDNA to assess biodiversity in an entire river catchment in Switzerland. Importantly, the eDNA technique allowed the researchers to detect both aquatic and land-based species in river water, making it possible to assess biodiversity over a broad scale.
Combinations of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine could harm the growth of algal communities when they pass into water bodies from treated livestock, according to recent European research. Algae play vital roles in ecosystems by cycling nutrients and producing energy from photosynthesis; veterinary use of antibiotics should, therefore, be monitored in the environment, including for any biological impacts on algal species, the study recommends.
This study is one of few to assess the genetic diversity of crops in an agroecosystem over several years. Researchers analysed the genetic makeup of oilseed rape plants within and outside crop fields over four years. They found similarity between cultivars of field plants in one year and those of feral plants (unplanted) in the following year. They also found persistence of the cultivars within the feral plants, which suggests that feral populations with genetically modified (GM) traits might result from persistent GM traits within field seed banks. The researchers say their findings could aid impact assessments of GM crops.
Natura 2000 sites have, on average, 10% more carbon in their topsoil than non-protected areas, according to new research. They also generally have lower economic value for agriculture. The results suggest that there is significant potential to develop win-win biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts within the EU.
The coverage of ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas’ (IBAs) in relation to Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds in the EU has been assessed in a new study. Overall, 66% of the IBA network is covered by SPAs. SPAs were found to cover 23% of the distributions of 435 EU bird species as well as 25% of the distributions of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
A range of legislation, including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), is designed to ensure the ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) of EU seas by 2020. Researchers have assessed the MSFD in relation to existing maritime policies, concluding that coordination between directives is important to achieve GES.
Climate change is having mixed — but mostly negative — impacts on ecosystem services, suggest data analysed by a new study. The research, which brings together the findings of over 100 other studies, found that 59% of reported impacts of climate change on ecosystem services are negative, while just 13% are positive. However, the method of research was shown to strongly influence whether impacts are reported as positive or negative, with expert opinion studies far more negative than other types of study.
The prominent role of EU countries in the international trade of reptiles for pets, including many rare and illegally traded species, is highlighted in a recent study. The researchers call for better enforcement and tighter legislation to control the trade, which is a major threat to global biodiversity. In particular the researchers appeal for legislation to be passed for species protected in their native range countries, which can currently be freely traded in the EU if they are not subject to international trade conventions such as CITES.
Plant diversity improves soil stability, the results of a greenhouse experiment and a long-term field study show. This study, which covered a range of different soil types, is one of the first to investigate the effects of plant diversity on soil structure, which is important for provision of ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and the mitigation of excessive run-off. The findings could help tackle the problem of soil degradation, the researchers suggest.
Biodiversity’s contribution to ecosystem services in grasslands — at different levels of the food chain (known as trophic levels1) — has been assessed in a new study. Higher species diversity across trophic levels — particularly for plants, insects and soil microbial decomposers — is important for the provision of multiple ecosystem services related to food production, recreational benefits, or climate regulation. Species diversity across different trophic groups was also found to be just as important in controlling ecosystem functioning as the management intensity of grasslands and environmental factors, such as climate or soil type.
Transport infrastructure is so widespread in Europe that half of the land area is within 1.5 kilometres (km) of paved roads and railway lines, researchers have calculated. The researchers found that in Spain, transport infrastructure has an impact on the abundance of birds in almost half of the country and is affecting the abundance of mammals across almost all of the land area.
A UK solar park has been found to change the local microclimate, reports recently published research. Moreover, the microclimate coupled with management activities had an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and plant-community diversity and productivity under the solar panels. The study’s authors say their research provides a starting point for considering how to improve solar-park design in order to deliver co-benefits for biodiversity and farming, and minimise any negative environmental effects.
The impact of ocean acidification — caused by increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dissolving in sea water — on Atlantic cod larvae has been assessed in a new study. The researchers estimate that, under scenarios which might be reached at the end of the century, ocean acidification could double the mortality rate of cod larvae, reducing replenishment of juvenile fish into cod fisheries to 24% of previous recruitment.
Maps of the risk of griffon vultures’ exposure to lead in north-eastern Spain have been produced in a new study. High-risk places are mountainous areas where there are high levels of bioavailable sources of lead in the soil, but also where game hunting is prevalent, and carcasses scavenged by the birds may contain lead ammunition.
The effect on bats of the replacement of mercury lamps with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in street lighting has been investigated in a recent study. Artificial light affects bat species differently and the activity of species normally more sensitive to light were affected less by the new LED street lamps than by traditional mercury lamps. Use of LEDs may, therefore, help to reduce the impacts of outdoor lighting on light-sensitive bats, if used at an appropriate level.
The effects of climate change on the distribution of species can be predicted more accurately by considering the genetic differences between different groups of the same species, a new study suggests. The researchers found that a computer model which incorporated genetic information on different groups of a US tree species was up to 12 times more accurate in predicting tree locations than a non-genetically informed model.
Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) could be made better for biodiversity and local people with the help of two new evaluation methods presented by a recent study. The methods, which assess the value of SuDS sites for wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation and education, are described by the study’s authors as cost-effective, quick and reliable, and could help designers plan and retrofit SuDS that are wildlife-friendly and socially inclusive.
A recent study has found that bumblebees in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany are more successful at pollinating urban areas than agricultural land. Urban areas also had higher flower diversity and more potential nesting areas for bees compared to agricultural areas. However, the abundance of bee parasites was also higher in urban areas, although this was not found to negatively impact on pollination. This demonstrates the value of urban green spaces as habitat for pollinators.
Stakeholder support is essential to the success of environmental policies. A recent study has identified stakeholders that can promote biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes. The researchers found farmers were the most influential group of stakeholders, as they make the final decisions on land use. In turn, farmers are influenced in their decisions by a number of actors whose influence is perceived differently on a local and regional level.
A method for developing more cost-effective agri-environment schemes is outlined in a recent study. The procedure can be used over large areas, accounts for hundreds of management regimes and several different endangered species. The model is one of the first to account for the timing of measures and, when applied to Saxony in Germany, proposed savings of over €3 million, while also improving some conservation outcomes.
A method for developing ecological scenarios for assessing pesticides’ risks to aquatic wildlife has been developed. It is based on the selection of vulnerable taxa according to biological trait information, exposure conditions and environmental properties. The method should help decision makers define what to include in ecological models used for future pesticide risk assessments and is proposed as a way to increase the ecological realism of pesticide risk assessment.
A species of mussel has been used to investigate the connectivity of two marine protected areas (MPAs) along the central Portuguese west coast in a new study. The chemistry of mussel shells was used to trace the dispersal routes for larval mussels, demonstrating that the Arrábida MPA is an important source population in the area.
Agroforestry — managing trees alongside crop or animal-production systems — has been proposed as a means of protecting biodiversity and enhancing ecosystem service supply. A study bringing together evidence has confirmed that agroforestry does have an overall positive effect over conventional (separate) agriculture and forestry. Its environmental benefits, which should be considered in rural planning policy, include reduced nutrient run-off and soil erosion, and biodiversity protection.
Researchers have shown that in the Baltic Sea the abundance of common fish species, used as an indicator of ecosystem health, is influenced by climate-related oceanic conditions at a local scale, such as sea temperature. The researchers suggest, therefore, that the environmental status of coastal fish communities in the region should be assessed and managed at a local scale.
The importance of seagrass meadows in supporting fisheries has been highlighted by a new study in San Simón Bay, a Natura 2000 site in Spain. The research also demonstrates the benefits of stakeholder involvement in developing management plans to balance conservation with the use of natural resources.
A new study has analysed marine litter on beaches across the UK, indicating that the fishing industry is responsible for large quantities of marine rubbish. The researchers recommend a combination of better enforcement of regulations covering waste disposal, and incentives for fishing vessels to reduce marine litter.
The risk of alien species introduction via trade in plants is higher if the plants are from poorly regulated countries with high forest cover, calculates a recent study. For introductions via the vehicle and timber trades, the risk is higher if the exporting country is politically unstable. These findings could help border controls focus their surveillance efforts on imports from countries with risky socioeconomic profiles.
A new long-term monitoring study is the first to demonstrate that climate changes are having divergent effects on populations of bird species across Europe and the United States. The study identifies broad-scale impacts on the abundance of common bird species over a 30-year period, to show that, overall, populations of bird species across both continents are being affected by changes in climate. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is affecting biodiversity either positively or adversely, depending on species’ climate preferences.
Street lighting reduces the number of moths at ground level and increases flight activity at the level of the lights, shows new research. Less pollen was transported by moths at lit sites in the UK study as a result of the disruptive effects on moth behaviour. The study highlights the need to consider both the direct and indirect ecological impacts of artificial light.
Marine fisheries play a key role in feeding human populations, but are faced with the twin threats of overexploitation and climate change. Using a comprehensive database of global reef-fish communities, a team of researchers has found that the greater the diversity of fish in an assemblage, the less vulnerable that assemblage is to climate change. The researchers suggest climate change mitigation efforts should include a focus on maintaining a wide range of species in at-risk communities.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field and industry, with a growing number of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural and energy sectors. While it may propose solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the environment, such as climate change and scarcity of clean water, the introduction of novel, synthetic organisms may also pose a high risk for natural ecosystems. This future brief outlines the benefits, risks and techniques of these new technologies, and examines some of the ethical and safety issues.
A new study has assessed community perceptions towards a controversial wind-farm development in Cornwall, UK, following installation. The results indicate that a range of social, economic and environmental factors influence residents’ perceptions of wind farms. Although negative opinions of the wind farm were found both before and after construction, overall, community attitudes towards them became more favourable after construction, adding to evidence that fear of living near wind farms can reduce over time.
Pesticide exposure can have negative impacts on many species and is a major threat to biodiversity. A new study is one of few to assess the risks specifically for European reptiles. The results suggest that at least one third of European reptile species are at high risk of exposure, with lizards showing the highest sensitivity to pesticides.
Large carnivores play important roles in ecosystems by regulating populations of herbivores and other species. Understanding how human activities affect the role of predators, particularly within human-modified systems such as agricultural landscapes, is therefore important. This study investigated how predator and prey populations were distributed in Transylvania, Romania, and assessed them in relation to human activities. The research highlights how relationships between large carnivores and people need to be considered as part of biodiversity conservation efforts, especially considering the successful recovery of several large carnivore populations within the EU.
Urban gardeners in Barcelona, Spain, identified 20 ecosystem service benefits, from pollination to environmental learning, in a recent study. Cultural ecosystem services — mainly related to the opportunity for residents to interact with nature — were the most common and highly valued of the ecosystem services identified.
Governance of biodiversity is closely linked to social and economic processes and human behaviour, appreciation of which can enhance conservation outcomes. This study reviewed findings on the social aspects of Natura 2000, identifying research gaps and recommendations for improving the network’s implementation across the EU. The researchers say limited stakeholder participation, negative perceptions of the network and a lack of consideration of the local context hinder the network’s effectiveness. They recommend increasing public awareness and compensating private landowners.
Understanding the way fish use their habitat is necessary for a science- based approach to fisheries management, according to a new scientific review. The paper summarises the current state of knowledge and tools available to assess fish movement patterns in relation to freshwater fisheries, and recommends more systematic use of these tools to inform the management of fish populations.
Climate change and other environmental changes can have major impacts on plant communities. Researchers have assessed current methods of understanding the impact of these global changes on vegetation and outlined the implications for future research. Vegetation is highly dynamic and likely to respond in complex ways to environmental changes. Researchers should, therefore, use a variety of methods to predict vegetation change in order for findings to be useful for policymaking.
Scientists have developed a new way of monitoring Ponto-Caspian gobies, a group of widely invasive fish species, by detecting traces of the fishes’ DNA in river water. They say, in a recent research paper, that it offers a quicker, easier and cheaper way of monitoring the fish than conventional catching or sighting methods.
Poisoned bait is a major threat to endangered bird species in Europe. The LIFE+ VENENO project was set up to tackle this problem in Spain, developing an action plan for eradication of the illegal use of poison and protocols for law enforcement. As well as improving the prosecution of illegal poisoning in Spain, LIFE+ VENENO provides a useful model for other European countries.
Wildlife laws are important to protect animals from harmful human activity, and are largely enforced by state authorities, but occasionally by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). By reviewing academic literature and government legislation, this study explored the different perspectives and ideologies of NGOs and how they enforce wildlife law in practice, focusing on the UK and the US. The study concludes that environmental NGOs are vital for the effective policing of wildlife legislation.
How does the law protect the environment? The responsibility for the legal protection of the environment rests largely with public authorities such as the police, local authorities or specialised regulatory agencies. However, more recently, attention has been focused on the enforcement of environmental law — how it should most effectively be implemented, how best to ensure compliance, and how best to deal with breaches of environmental law where they occur. This Thematic Issue presents recent research into the value of emerging networks of enforcement bodies, the need to exploit new technologies and strategies, the use of appropriate sanctions and the added value of a compliance assurance conceptual framework.
Wild plants closely related to crops, or ‘crop wild relatives’, contain genes that could be useful for developing resilient crop varieties and are, therefore, important for food security. This global study quantified their conservation status and availability for breeding. The researchers found major gaps in gene-bank stocks, with over 70% of crop wild relative species identified as ‘high priority’ for conservation action. The researchers say systematic efforts are needed to protect crop wild relatives for future plant breeding, including both protection in gene banks and local conservation.
A new approach to modelling the spread of mammal populations under climate change has been developed. The method overcomes the problem of missing ecological data for most species by using information on species characteristics, or ‘traits’, associated with population demographic rates and individual movements to deduce which species move too slowly to escape climate change’s effects on their habitat. The model’s results suggest that around 30% of mammal species may not be able to disperse quickly enough to survive.
As global temperatures continue to warm, sea-levels are expected to rise, increasing the risk of saltwater inundating wetlands in low-lying coastal areas. A study in Wales, UK, describes how rising sea levels will result in a shift from a wetland rich in plant diversity to one dominated by saltwater and mud in 200 years’ time.
Pollination and pest control are essential to global food production. This study shows that — as well as their individual benefits — they have synergistic effects on yield. Their joint effect increased the yield of oilseed rape by 23%, and the economic benefit from their combined effects was almost twice that of their individual contributions. These findings have implications for sustainable agricultural policy.
The rise in intensive agriculture, and associated land-use change, is a major driver of biodiversity loss. This study evaluated these effects via international food trade, calculating estimates of species loss for 170 crops and 184 countries. The results show that the majority of biodiversity loss is due to growing crops for domestic consumption but that industrialised countries can ‘import’ negative impacts from tropical regions.
Biodiversity scenarios are a useful tool to help policymakers predict how flora and fauna will likely respond to future environmental conditions. Although changes to land use are a major driver of biodiversity loss, scenarios focus overwhelmingly on climate change, a new study shows. The researchers say this imbalance makes scenarios less credible, and make recommendations for developing more plausible projections.
Voluntary non-monetary conservation — where citizens implement actions without a financial incentive — is an emerging approach to biodiversity protection that could be applied in many countries and environments, a new study shows. This study makes recommendations for actions, such as being simple and affordable, and calls for conservation scientists to recognise their value as a complementary tool alongside traditional market-based and coercive approaches, such as payment for ecosystem services and national parks.
Eradication of invasive mammal species is a strategy used to help conserve biodiversity on islands and restore populations of native species. Researchers have now assessed the success of this strategy globally, highlighting the importance of controlling invasive species to protect biodiversity on islands and achieve global conservation targets.
Signs that the ranges of sub-mountainous forest plants in France have contracted in response to global warming have been detected in a new study. This pattern is likely to induce a splitting of these species’ ranges across Europe under future climate change, which could have serious consequences for plant genetic diversity and the capacity of plant populations to adapt to warming climates, say the researchers.
Land-use changes in the arid south-eastern Iberian Peninsula impact on the supply of various ecosystem services that support human well-being. Research into perceptions of the rapid expansion of greenhouse horticulture and the abandonment of rural and mountainous areas has highlighted trade-offs between conservation efforts and economic development.
Among the ecological effects of climate change are changes to the timing of natural events, such as flowering. To understand why these phenological changes affect reproduction, this study manipulated conditions in a spring herb to prompt premature flowering. This exposed the flowers to frost, and resulting damage caused dramatic reductions in plant reproduction, suggesting that climate change may threaten plant survival.
Assessing threats to biodiversity is necessary for effective spatial planning and balancing sustainable development with conservation. This study details a fine-scale assessment of the effect of a range of threats to coastline habitats within a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Mediterranean Sea. The study provides an example of how local-scale assessments can contribute to national conservation policy.
‘Favourable conservation status’ (FCS) is a critical but often misinterpreted legal concept in the EU’s Habitats Directive. Now, law and ecology researchers have teamed up to help clarify some of the most disputed aspects of this term for species. Correctly applied, the concept will help environmental managers, policymakers and scientists effectively protect biodiversity.
Constructed wetlands are used in many countries as green infrastructure to treat waste water, but may also be biodiversity hotspots, a new study suggests. This study reports on a constructed wetland in an urban area of Italy, which increased the number of plant taxa — including several plants of conservation concern — by over 200%. The researchers say the ability of constructed wetlands to enhance biodiversity could support local development.
Fish and shellfish farming are facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and how can the sector expand sustainably? Watch the video produced by Science for Environment Policy about how aquaculture could develop in greater harmony with environmental goals.
Artificial light — such as street lighting and passing car headlights — has an impact on plants. A new study suggests there could also be broader implications for the interactions of herbivores and pollinators. The study highlights that disrupting seasonal light cues with artificial light has far-reaching effects, including: mismatches in timing with herbivores; altering the development of agricultural crops; inhibiting flowering in wild species; decreasing periods of darkness necessary for plant repair from environmental pollutants; and causing barriers to nocturnal pollinator species.
Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.
Grasslands cover 30–40% of European agricultural areas. Agri-environmental schemes leading to even small changes in grassland biodiversity could elicit extensive benefits. A new study on working farms in southwest England highlights the contribution of the plant diversity of the grassland to the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators and their potential to increase crop yields. The researchers make recommendations for which species to include in seed mixes.
Although knowledge of biodiversity is increasing, it often receives less attention than other, more anthropocentric policy challenges. To ensure research is better used, scientists and policymakers need to interact more effectively. Through a literature review, interviews and a workshop with key stakeholders, this study provides recommendations for achieving a better dialogue.
Up-to date scientific and technological research is vital to allow humans to adapt appropriately to our changing global environment, and current rates of environmental degradation and resource depletion. Effective research policies are essential to maintain or improve the standard of life for future populations – in Europe and globally.
Invasive alien species pose a threat to biodiversity, human health and the economy. This study describes six alien species indicators for Europe, showing that the scale and impact of biological invasions are increasing across all indicators. The societal response has also increased in recent years. The researchers say their framework could serve as a basis for monitoring the efficacy of recent EU legislation.
Discarding – returning unwanted catches to the sea – is seen as wasteful, but banning the practice would remove an important food source for many marine organisms. This study modelled the effects of gradually reducing and abruptly banning discards using data from a protected bay in Australia. The researchers recommend gradual reduction of discards in order to maintain ecosystem stability.
Lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) populations survive equally well in grassland and artichoke fields in Italy, a recent study has concluded. Overall, however, populations are declining and the researchers recommend reducing pesticide use, growing alternative crops such as artichokes, and maintaining grasslands as part of the farming landscape.
Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) have been shown to adapt to local environments that are as little as 20 km apart, and these adaptations can be passed on to offspring. In this study, oysters that originated from less saline areas tended to be more resilient to extremely low saline conditions than oysters from more saline areas. Since episodes of reduced salinity are a predicted effect of climate change in the San Francisco Bay area under study, the authors say their findings could be useful for future conservation and restoration efforts.
The frequency and severity of flooding is expected to increase in the future. This study explored how these changes will affect rivers, in terms of structure as well as animal and plant life. The authors discuss the management implications of their findings and highlight areas for future research, including developing early warning systems for threats to ecosystems.
Conservation of wild plants related to important crops requires more concerted efforts, according to a new study conducted in Scotland. The study makes recommendations for improving conservation within Scotland, as well as outlining a process that could help other countries to prioritise their wild plants.
The preferred habitats of wetland bird species - including 12 that are endangered - have been identified by a new study. From conducting counts at 137 sites across Sweden, it was found that total species richness was highest in sites that had a tendency to flood; wet grassland areas that were grazed as opposed to mowed; and sites that were far from areas of woodland. The authors suggest this research could help determine the most suitable locations for future wetland conservation projects.
Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are likely being exposed to microplastics and associated toxic additives in the Mediterranean Sea, finds new research. The research analysed levels of microplastics and biological and chemical markers of exposure in whales from the Mediterranean Sea and the comparatively pristine Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Mexico. The results suggest that the vulnerable Mediterranean fin whale may be suffering as a consequence of microplastic pollution.
Human activity is transforming natural systems and endangering the ecosystem services they provide, which has consequences for human health. This study quantified the human health impact of losses to pollination, providing the first global analysis of its kind. The researchers say pollinator declines could increase the global disease burden and recommend increased monitoring of pollinators in at-risk regions, including Eastern and Central Europe.
Monitoring of at-risk sites is important for preventing the arrival and spread of invasive species. However, resources are often insufficient to achieve the level of risk reduction desired by authorities. This study presents a novel framework, based on the ‘acceptable level of risk’ construct, to align needs to reduce risk with available resources.
Pesticide-sparing approaches to farming do not have to compromise on crop yields, new research suggests. A study that explored the impact of reduced herbicide use across a variety of different farming contexts found that herbicide-efficient systems could be just as productive as conventional systems — and more so than organic systems — whilst having other important environmental benefits.
Social scientists have been advising on environmental issues for decades, but their contributions to policy remain unclear. This study analysed how social scientists interact with policymakers and provides recommendations for future engagement.
Ecological intensification, using land and resources in ways that minimises negative ecosystem impacts while maintaining agricultural productivity, has been proposed as a way to sustainably increase crop yields, but remains under debate due to a lack of evidence. This six-year study of a large commercial farm assessed how using land for wildlife habitat affected food crops. The study shows that it is possible to remove up to 8% of land from production and maintain (and in some cases increase) yield.
Expansion of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) across Europe has led to its designation as an alien species in some Member States. In the first continent-wide study of the species, researchers characterise the genetic structure of the European population and attempt to identify its origin. The results suggest the golden jackal was not introduced to European countries by humans and therefore should not be treated as alien.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of worldwide food production and is facing a new era of expansion in Europe. What are the environmental implications of this, and can the sector expand sustainably? This Future Brief presents an overview of research into aquaculture’s impacts, and considers how it could develop in balance with environmental goals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cereal fields provide a staple food, but are also home to a wide array of invertebrates. This study analysed over 40 years of data to investigate the effects of extreme weather, climate and pesticide use on invertebrates in cereal fields in southern England. As pesticide use had a greater effect on abundance than temperature or rainfall, the authors also recommend reducing pesticide use.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monitoring and assessment of habitats is essential to evaluate biodiversity policy and improve the condition of valuable ecosystems. A new study has reviewed the value of remote sensing — using information from satellite or airborne imagery — for this purpose, and the authors make a series of key recommendations, including the importance of tailoring remote sensing output for policymakers.
Genetic identification of species through ‘metabarcoding’ offers a reliable, cost-effective way of producing biodiversity information for policymakers and managers, concludes an international study. The researchers show how the method can be used to help assess the impacts of environmental change and management on biodiversity.
Scientists have successfully monitored penguins across the east Antarctic over eight years using a network of remote cameras. The research team present their results in a recent study which describes their method of remote observation as a useful, low-cost tool for monitoring a range of isolated land-breeding marine species.
A new method for identifying forest sites to protect under the Natura 2000 network — as well as reviewing existing sites — is presented in a recent study. The modelling approach predicts the location of certain types of high nature value habitats using existing data on the distribution of key indicator species. The study demonstrates the method using the case of a German federal state, Lower Saxony.
Bat populations are showing signs of recovery in the UK, according to a citizen science programme. The authors of a recent study which reports the programme’s findings say that this shows volunteers can successfully monitor wild species and produce robust data suitable for policy purposes.
Citizen scientists are increasingly playing an important role in monitoring environmental conditions around the world. There have been concerns, however, that the quality of volunteer data might not match the reliability of data collected by professional scientists. A new study has found that both citizen scientists and professional scientists were able to identify widespread decreases in the cover of live corals and increases in rubble and sand, during two long-term monitoring programmes of coral reefs. These results show that volunteers can indeed play a meaningful role in the conservation of these reefs, say the authors of this study.
Long-term biological monitoring is key to effective, evidence-based conservation management, new research concludes. However, greater collaboration is needed to ensure that scientists understand what kind of information is needed by conservation managers. In this way the data can deliver answers for the most important management questions.
Monitoring and evaluation of conservation projects is vital to ensuring their success. However, there is currently a lack of clarity about the different methods available and the ways in which they can complement each other. For this study the researchers explore the characteristics of five approaches — ambient monitoring, management assessment, performance measurement, impact evaluation, and systematic review — and examine their strengths and weaknesses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Bottom trawling-dragging nets along the sea floor-reduces biodiversity most severely in deeper, species-rich habitats, a study suggests. New research in the Dutch North Sea has shown that this type of trawling had less effect on species richness in shallow areas with coarse sediments. These results suggest that efforts should be made to reduce trawling in these kinds of sensitive habitats, the researchers say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Research findings on the wildlife and habitat impacts of unconventional shale gas and oil developments in the US have been collated in a new review. Its authors stress the importance of collecting data on local ecosystems before such developments begin, to allow changes in nature be tracked and aid on-going improvements to management.
Milder winters under climate change could increase the extent of alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) decline in Europe due to the increased spread of the pathogen Phytophthora alni, a recent study has found. However, this may be offset by hotter summers, which reduce the severity of the disease.
Increasing temperatures and rising ocean acidification could reduce the health and survival of young sharks, new research has shown. Bamboo shark embryos incubated under ocean temperatures and acidity predicted for 2100 showed survival rates of 80% compared to 100% survival under present-day conditions. Once hatched, survival measured at 30 days was only 44% for those under predicted climate change conditions, again compared to 100% for those experiencing current temperature and acidity.
Only about two or three small birds are killed by wind turbines each year for every 225-300 houses supplied with renewable energy, new research suggests. The study collated data from 116 US and Canadian studies on 156 species of passerines (small birds). The study suggests some species are affected more than others, but that wind turbines generally have only a minor impact on these small-bird populations.
A new approach to predicting whether a degraded ecosystem can be successfully restored is presented in a recent study. The researchers who developed it show how it works with the case of peatland restoration. Their method uses a computer model to link restoration success or failure with plant species and management techniques on the sites.
Wild plants and animals consumed as food provide an important ecosystem service that deserves more policy attention, claims a recent study. To support their argument, the researchers gathered data which show the significance of wild food to European traditions, cultural identity and recreation.
With over half of Europe’s species dependent on agricultural habitats, protecting ‘high nature value’ farmland is vital to biodiversity conservation. However, the identification and assessment of such farmland requires careful co-ordination, concludes a recent study. The researchers present a framework to help with this process and make a set of key recommendations.
A potential new biopesticide, made of spider venom and snowdrop proteins, kills agricultural pests but shows minimal toxicity to honeybees, new research suggests. Learning and memory of honeybees exposed to the biopesticide were not affected, even at doses higher than they would normally encounter in the environment.
The future of oyster farming in Europe is threatened by disease. However, a recent study highlights the risk of importing oysters to improve or replace lost stock, as this could accidentally bring further disease and invasive species.
European emissions of sulphur and nitrogen pollution have fallen greatly in recent decades, a new report shows. However, even at present levels they harm sensitive ecosystems, and will continue do so for some years to come.
Peak levels of ozone pollution have fallen at rural and urban sites in both Europe and the US in recent years, a new study shows. However, the research also found that limits to protect health and ecosystems are still being exceeded.
Two metrics for informing farmers about the biodiversity on their land are presented in a recent Swiss study: average species richness and farm ‘uniqueness’. These are both easy to understand and comparable between farms, the researchers say.
Policies to manage marine ecological quality can be improved by combining economic and ecological concerns, finds a new study. Using this integrated perspective, researchers developed a model which identified the most cost-effective options for reducing nutrient pollution in the Baltic Sea within a 40-year time-span. The total cost of meeting the commonly agreed targets is estimated to be €1,487 million annually.
Mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) reduce albatrosses’ chances of successfully breeding, a recent study finds. These pollutants add to the list of environmental pressures, including climate change, disease and fishery bycatch, affecting this highly threatened species.
Intensive trawling could turn seafloor ecosystems into ‘deserts of the sea’, new research warns. The study found that continuous bottom trawling for shrimp in a deep-sea Spanish canyon has damaged the foundations of marine ecosystems by dramatically reducing seafloor biodiversity and nutrients in sediment.
‘Biodiversity offset’ schemes, which aim to compensate for the loss of unspoilt habitats to development, could lead to an overall loss in biodiversity, a recent study warns. Furthermore, the researchers highlight the considerable time needed, often hundreds of years, to fully recreate an ecosystem.
Monitoring biodiversity on farms is vital for conservation policies but how much does it cost? In a new pan-European study, researchers develop a standardised monitoring programme and estimate it will cost an average of €8 200 per farm to conduct. This cost could be dramatically cut if volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ or farmers help gather data for the programmes.
Increased plant biodiversity improves grassland soil quality by boosting its nitrogen levels, even in the absence of nitrogen-fixing plants, recent research has found. Previous research has shown that grasslands with higher biodiversity had higher levels of carbon and nitrogen. However, in the case of nitrogen it has been suggested that this was purely a result of increased numbers of nitrogen-fixing legumes, such as clover. This study was the first to show that, even without legumes, increased numbers of grassland species increased both carbon and nitrogen soil stocks.
Managing urban green spaces to ensure that they have a good mix of tree species, including some older and larger trees, can enhance species diversity of woodland birds, a new study has shown. The study, carried out in Prague, Czech Republic, also showed that the presence of water bodies increased the number of species of woodland birds.
Ecosystems are complex and managing them effectively can mean balancing conflicting conservation goals. In a recent US study in the San Francisco Bay area researchers examine the best strategies to eradicate an invasive plant while protecting an endangered bird that uses it for nesting habitat. They find that with a clear management plan both goals can be achieved, albeit over a longer timeframe.
Ash dieback in the UK is likely to lead to the extinction or decline of over 50 species which are reliant on or highly associated with this tree, including mosses, lichens and beetles, a new study suggests. The researchers recommend that the ash trees are not felled but left to die naturally and in time replaced with mixtures of species such as beech and sycamore which support similar woodland species.
How do offshore wind farms affect marine wildlife? A new study outlines a systematic approach developed for Swedish waters that could also be useful for assessing wind energy impacts on the marine environment more widely.
Species surveys should be standardised across Member State borders to assess conservation status accurately, a new study concludes. The researchers assessed the conservation status of the Eurasian otter across the Republic of Ireland–UK border, finding that it was favourable for the whole island of Ireland. This provides a case study of surveys designed to provide data that is comparable across borders, say the researchers.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) in which fishing is prohibited contain substantially more fish, including commercially valuable species, than either partially protected or unenforced MPAs, according to a recent survey of rocky reef fish in the Mediterranean Sea. This suggests that MPAs need to be highly protected to offer the best chance of recovery for fish stocks, say the researchers.
Small mammals clearly benefit from a UK agri-environment scheme (AES), a recent study concludes. Numbers and diversity of voles, shrews and mice were found to increase on and around farmland with 6 m wide field margins and patches of semi-natural habitat - features encouraged under the government-led AES.
A new decision-making aid to identify the best type of management plan for Natura 2000 sites has been developed by researchers. Using extensive data on different facets of biodiversity and human impacts, the researchers created two indices to show where conservation measures need to be integrated with socio-economic development. This study used sites in Italy as a case study but the method is widely applicable to all Natura 2000 sites, the researchers stress.
Oil spills can affect seabird populations for at least a decade after a major incident, a new study suggests. The authors studied the long-term effects of the Prestige oil spill on European shags and found that the numbers of chicks raised by breeding pairs were reduced in the ten years following the disaster.
National bird conservation policies implemented in Eastern Europe in the 1990s have substantially benefited bird populations across the region, a new study has shown. Compared with the period 1970-1990, the population trends of species protected by national legislation improved during 1990-2000, particularly for those species receiving focused attention. Across the 306 species studied, the average rate of decline was much lower after protection than before. This suggests that modern conservation policies in the region were already taking effect.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is likely to have damaged large numbers of tuna and amberjack fish embryos, new research suggests. Fish embryos exposed to oil samples taken during the spill developed abnormalities in their hearts and, consequently, their spines, fins and eyes. This is likely to have caused population declines in these commercially important species, the researchers conclude.
The IUCN Red List criteria perform well as an early warning system for short-lived species threatened by climate change, according to recent research. Using the Red List criteria, the study identified Assa darlingtoni, an Australian frog, as being at risk of extinction up to 85 years before a model predicted it was likely to become extinct.
The pollination benefits of planting field margins with wildflowers can outweigh the costs of set-up and maintenance, a new study suggests. On US blueberry farms wildflower strips resulted in double the number of wild bees on adjacent crops and significantly increased yield, the researchers found.
Pieces of plastic litter outnumber fish larvae in the Austrian Danube River, new research has found. This is worrying, as some fish are likely to mistake the plastic for the prey they would normally feed on. This litter may also contribute to marine pollution; the researchers estimated that at least 4.2 tonnes of plastic debris enter the Black Sea via the Danube every day.
Synthetic oestrogens in wastewater from contraceptive pills can have effects on fish reproduction and survival that worsen over several generations, new research has found. The study suggests that some fish populations may not be able to recover from levels of oestrogen pollution found in many freshwater environments.
Farmers could help to maintain populations of bees and other pollinators by sowing inexpensive seed mixes on their land, a new study suggests. Researchers surveyed pollinators visiting study plots in Berkshire, UK, and explored how sowing different seed mixes and using different management techniques affected the flowers produced and the pollinators visiting them.
Costs of defending protected areas from poaching and other illegal activities could be reduced through spatial planning software, finds a new study. Using the tool, the researchers devised new patrol activities in central Africa which would reduce current costs of law enforcement by 35%, as well as providing more effective protection.
Nine areas in the Atlantic where leatherback turtles are at higher risk of bycatch have been identified in a recent study. To help protect this important species less damaging fishing practices could be used in these areas, the study concludes, and some could be candidates for marine protected status.
Planting early-flowering crops, such as oilseed rape, boosts the numbers of bumblebees available to pollinate late-flowering crops, such as sunflowers, according to recent research. Carefully managing the timing and coverage of flowering crops in the landscape could therefore ensure pollination services and increase yields, say the researchers.
Conservation partnerships that span geographic, biological and administrative boundaries are needed to deal with many global environmental problems. However, there are challenges to managing these complex, large-scale programmes that involve many partners and stakeholders. A new study examines the nature of these challenges and identifies the factors that lead to partnership success.
Although cities are typically low in biodiversity, they can provide important refuges for native species, new research shows. Urban planning making use of green infrastructure can enhance city habitats and may help reduce the loss of biodiversity that follows urban expansion, the researchers say.
Offshore renewable energy sites may provide new 'stepping stone' habitats for marine species, a recent study suggests. They could allow some species to spread beyond their present range and help vulnerable creatures survive in the face of climate change. However, they may also allow harmful invasive species to spread, the researchers warn, and the effects of such projects must be assessed by examining their impacts on the ecosystem as a whole.
Trawling's impacts on marine ecosystems can be assessed using simple metrics which characterise easy-to-obtain samples of fish, new research suggests. The Portuguese study shows that groups of fish become dominated by fewer species as fishing intensity increases, while their total biomass declines. Moreover, in the most fished areas there were other noteworthy changes, such as substantial reductions in the proportion of sharks and rays.
A framework to combine economically viable agriculture with effective biodiversity conservation has been described in a recent study. According to the researchers, their approach provides a simple guide designed to help planners and farmers achieve sustainable agriculture.
The importance of 'stepping stone' patches of habitat for biodiversity has been underestimated, a new study suggests. The researchers developed a new connectivity model, which better captures the effects of stepping stones on species movement.
Pollination by wild insects and honey bees improves soybean yield by 18%, new research has indicated. This equates to an extra 331.6 kg of seeds per hectare, boosting the value of the global crop by €12.74 billion. Encouraging insect pollination could therefore reduce the destruction of natural ecosystems to make way for soybean cultivation, the researchers say.
New research from central Italy shows that high nature value farmland in the region can be accurately identified by the presence of just four bird species. Once such groups of species have been identified for different regions, they can provide a quick and inexpensive tool for assessing the ecological value of farmland, the researchers say.
Ocean warming driven by climate change will reduce the amount of food reaching marine life on the seafloor, a recent study suggests. This would result in a 5.2% global reduction in seafloor biomass by the end of the 21st century and biodiversity hotspots, such as cold-water coral reefs, will be particularly badly affected, say the researchers.
Acidification of water bodies can have substantial impacts on aquatic wildlife, and even after chemical conditions improve, biological recovery may lag behind. A study of Swedish lakes shows that, although their chemical quality has improved as a result of international reductions of acidifying emissions, biological recovery has been much slower in some lakes.
Use of the rodenticide bromadiolone to control water voles in France may also result in population declines of the near-threatened red kite, a new study suggests. The researchers propose a range of alternative forms of controlling vole populations, limiting the need for environmentally-damaging poisons.
The land use associated with food imports to Germany outweighs that of exported food, leaving the country with a 'land debt', new research suggests. However, reducing the amount of animal products in the diet and minimising food waste could enable the country to achieve a positive land balance, the researchers conclude.
Researchers have developed a new risk assessment scheme for invasive alien species that not only predicts their direct effects on biodiversity, but also their impacts on ecosystem services. Furthermore, the scheme allows sources of uncertainty in a species’ impact to be identified, and can be applied to a range of different species.
Gold mining areas in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest expanded from under 10 000 hectares in 1999 to over 50 000 hectares by 2012, and now destroys more forest than agriculture and logging combined, new research has shown. Using high-resolution satellite imaging, researchers estimated gold mining areas to be twice as large as estimated by previous studies, which did not include the combined effects of thousands of small, mainly illicit, mining operations.
Endangered Mediterranean seabirds are suffering from ingestion of plastic litter, a recent study has shown. Overall, 66% of 171 seabirds studied were found to have plastic fragments in their stomachs and the critically endangered Balearic shearwater was among the worst affected.
Crayfish plague, spread by invasive North American crayfish, is currently devastating native European populations. However, while the disease is commonly diagnosed on the basis of diseased animals, free-living infective spores can contaminate water bodies. In the first study to test detection techniques for this disease in natural waterways, researchers found that invasive signal crayfish release low levels of plague spores, allowing it to spread undetected.
New research has provided the first conclusive evidence that microplastics ingested by marine wildlife can transfer toxic pollutants to their tissues. The researchers studied lugworms fed on PVC particles contaminated with either widespread marine pollutants or plastic additives and found that these 'earthworms of the sea' absorbed the chemicals into their gut tissue, which reduced their ability to perform essential functions.
The concept of the Ecological Footprint can be used to illustrate the balance between the use of a natural resource or an ecological service and its availability. According to a new study, the Ecological Footprint could be valuable as an indicator to help track progress towards the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Diverse agri-environmental schemes which combine flowering crops with semi-natural habitats, such as grasslands and hedgerows, will be best for bees, new research suggests. The researchers examined the foraging behaviour of honey bees, bumblebees and other wild bees and found that all bees used semi-natural habitats, which were particularly important for wild bees, in addition to crops, such as sunflowers.
Seagrass restoration projects could effectively mitigate climate change, capturing up to 1337 tons of CO2 per hectare after 50 years, new research suggests. If a carbon tax system was in place, the researchers add, these schemes would likely provide returns at least equal to the initial investment needed, assuming the tax was set at an appropriate level.
The drying of soils under global warming could disrupt the balance of nutrients in large areas of the Earth’s land surface, according to new research. The study focused on ‘drylands’ – arid areas with low levels of rainfall – which support over 38%% of the world’s population. Such nutrient imbalances could diminish the provision of ecosystem services, such as food production and carbon storage, the researchers say.
Cities located in biodiversity hotspots can provide valuable refuges for a wide range of plants, a recent study suggests. Of the 379 plant species and sub-species recorded in the city of Ioannina, Greece, 27 were of conservation interest. Town planners can ensure that cities play an important role in supporting regional biodiversity when designing future urban developments, the researchers say.
A case study in Sweden has shown that critically endangered European eels are being lost when they are sucked into the local nuclear power station’s cooling system. A process to pump the eels back into the sea could be beneficial to this species, the researchers conclude.
Two thirds of natural areas in the Netherlands suffer from at least one of four key environmental pressures including nitrogen pollution, drying, acidification and habitat fragmentation, a new study suggests. Possible solutions to enable the country to meet its commitments under the EU's biodiversity targets include moves towards sustainable farming and reduction of nitrogen outputs, the researchers conclude.
Connectivity between protected areas is vital for safeguarding many animals and plants. New research has shown that Natura 2000 sites are well connected across provincial borders in Germany, Italy and Spain. This is the result of strong coordination from central governments combined with good regional cooperation, the study’s authors conclude.
‘Critical levels’ of ozone exposure for plants, above which significant adverse effects may occur, are currently calculated by examining ozone's impacts on only a small number of species. However, researchers have now compared this measure with a new approach which examines all species in a group, and defines the critical levels as the concentration at which 5% of species are affected. These critical levels, which may be more suitable for semi-natural ecosystems, are stricter than current standards.