Invasive species with The Naked Scientists

We recently caught up with BBC-syndicated talk show The Naked Scientists about invasive species and their impacts on natural ecosystems.  You can listen in below:


And, in case you missed it, we were on the weekly science and technology radio show Pythagoras’ Trousers last year to discuss our work on methane at the 15:40 mark:


Why are some places so species-rich?

Our newest paper is out in Science Advances – the culmination of 3 years of hard work on our biodiversity hotspots project.

The idea of biodiversity hotspots (you can see ours mapped below) came into the mainstream with Norman Myers’ now classic paper published in 2000.  He reported that nearly half of all vascular plant species and a little more than one-third of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are confined to 25 “regions” that comprise only 1.4% of the Earth’s land surface.  Recent estimates have raised this number to about 20% of the Earth’s land surface holding more than 50% of all vertebrate species.  While Myers’ paper has been tremendously influential for conservationists in guiding their interventions, much less thought has been given to how this remarkable pattern came to be in the first place.

hotspot_map (1)

Biodiversity hotspots for mammals estimated in 100 km by 100 km grid cells. Red cells are hotspots.

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Would elephants really replace the woolly mammoth?

Rewilding involves restoring nature at large scales, typically by reintroducing species that have gone extinct and have had important interactions with other organisms.  It has received a lot of popular attention lately, helped in part by George Mobiot’s 2013 book Feral and its growing number of success stories.  But the idea of rewilding remains highly controversial, particularly when it involves adding apex predators like wolves into places with people.  One the reasons for the controversy is the lack of empirical data to assess the effectiveness of its outcomes.  Conservationists are often relying on a handful of well-known examples, such as from Yellowstone National Park.

rewildcoverIn a new paper published last week in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, we now summarise the numerical data around whether rewilding works and identify the biases in experimental study.

The paper is part of a special issue on rewilding, organised by Elisabeth Bakker and Jens-Christian Svenning, to which we were kindly asked to contribute towards.  And we were even interviewed in last week’s issue of Science about the special issue and importance of trophic rewilding for the important task of keeping the Arctic cool.


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Digging into lake microbiomes

Two new papers have just been published from our RELATED project.  The work shows how future changes in forest cover around lakes will influence the contributions of inland waters to global carbon cycles.

The first paper published in ISME finds that the positive effects of microbial diversity on CO2 production depends on present and past environmental gradients.  Using a space-for-time substitution for forest greening, the study also finds that a doubling in the tree cover around lakes can increase CO2 production by five-times.  More broadly, the work highlights how widely reported biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships need to be contextualised with other ecosystem properties.

A second paper published in Global Change Biology sheds light on the mechanisms underpinning the decomposition of terrestrial organic matter in lake sediments.  Using the RELATED experimental platform, the study finds that identical organic matter additions to sediments have contrasting outcomes for carbon cycling depending on lake-specific characteristics.  In lakes with clear waters, future increases in terrestrial organic matter inputs can stimulate CO2 production because of photo-oxidation.  By contrast, bacteria in darker waters may possess functional genes for degrading organic matter, thereby priming their productivity.  I’m particularly proud of the teamwork on this one, which involved almost the entire group!

Farting lakes warm the world

Lakes release gas too.  In the latest paper freely available from our RELATED project, we show that the vegetation in and around lakes can play an important role in influencing how much of the potent greenhouse gas methane is produced by microbes.  The story, led by our former postdoc Erik Emilson, has been covered by BBC News.

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How do ecosystem engineers influence cross-ecosystem resource subsidies?

Congratulations to our former intern-extraordinaire Beth Smith who’s just published her undergraduate research on how mussels can both outweigh and interact with the effects of terrestrial to aquatic resource subsidies on nearshore lake biogeochemistry.  The work was part of our larger NERC RELATED project.


The results are summarised below.  Well done Beth!


How we can protect biodiversity outside of parks?

Protected areas deliver enormous benefits inside of their boundaries, but what is their contribution to the biodiversity of broader landscapes?  This is a really important question to answer because there are limits to how much land conservation can meaningfully protect.  Moreover, the 196 governments parties that have signed onto the Convention on Biological Diversity are aiming to protect 17% of the world’s land surface by 2020, but what about the other 83%?  Conservation outside of protected areas is critical to ensure that the spaces between parks aren’t devoid of life.


How do we get species from one side of the fence to the other?

In a new study, we provide among the first empirical evidence that protected areas may disperse biodiversity and ecosystem services into surrounding landscapes. Continue reading

When does saving nature make “cents”?

Fifty football pitches worth of forest were apparently lost every minute between 2000 and 2012 according to a recent paper by Matt Hansen et al.  And there is little reason to expect this to be different today.  This tremendous pace of forest loss is mostly driven by the clearance of land for agriculture, yet comes at a tremendous cost to the other benefits that people obtain from forests, including carbon sequestration, water purification, and biodiversity.

In a new primer for PLoS Biology – think tutorial more than review – we deliver an overview of the global challenge of reconciling forest conservation with land clearance for agriculture.  We explain how the economic valuation of ecosystem services can provide a way to choose between allocating land to either conservation or development, highlighting a new paper in PLoS Biology by Roman Carrasco and colleagues.  In their paper, Carrasco et al. test how different scenarios of global agricultural production might trade off against the multiple ecosystem services delivered by tropical forests.  They find that the value of those services destroyed by deforestation exceeds the economic benefits of agriculture, except in a few regions if greater yields of high-value crops are eventually realised.  Together, the analytical framework and results of Carrasco et al. should inform the spatial prioritisation of real-world interventions such as REDD+ and can help deliver better environmental and economic outcomes worldwide.  Definitely worth a read!