Friday, 30 August 2013

Hedgerows and hydrology - CEH paperblog 5

Our latest paperblog highlights some of the recently published scientific papers led by or involving researchers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

  • A new study in Global Change Biology describes results from a nine-year N perturbation, manipulation experiment carried out by CEH scientists on an ombrotrophic bog, Whim (a site in the Scottish Borders). Ammonium and nitrate were provided in rainwater spray in differing amounts, plus a rainwater only control, via an automated system coupled to site meteorology. The work was led by Dr Lucy Sheppard.

  • A study recently published in Biological Conservation examined changes over 70 years in hedgerow floral diversity, including the impacts of management. The paper, led by CEH's Jo Staley with colleagues James  Bullock, John Redhead, Danny Hooftman and Richard Pywell, used a unique botanical dataset for 357 hedge sites across a study area of 2600 km2 in Dorset, collected in the 1930s and again in 2001. 

  • Professor Mike Acreman of CEH and Profesor Joe Holden from the University of Leeds have published a new article on "How Wetlands Affect Floods". It was published in Wetlands, the official scholarly journal of the Society of Wetland Scientists, in mid-August. They focused on two example wetland types (upland rain-fed wetlands and floodplain wetlands) to demonstrate why there are differences in flood functions both within and between wetland types.

Open access publishing is increasingly becoming the 'norm' in scientific publishing in the UK. To end this month's paperblog, we highlight three papers, all open access, which involve CEH scientists.

Barnaby Smith - Media Relations Manager

Additional information

If you'd like a fuller picture of new papers from CEH, just follow the CEH Paper Alerts Twitter feed, which lists CEH peer-reviewed papers newly published online. Full details of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology science publications, including those published in peer-reviewed science journals, are eventually catalogued on the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA).

Those of you who follow the scientific literature will know some journal websites require registration and some are subscription-only. CEH, as part of NERC, is working with publishers and funders to make more of our output open access, and we have indicated above where this is the case.

We also publish lots of our other outputs including biological records atlases and project reports. More details can be found in the publications section of the CEH website.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

INTECOL news round-up: pollinators, citizen science and land use

As the INTECOL 2013 congress moves into its fifth (and penultimate) day, here is a brief round-up of some of the news from this week's event featuring CEH researchers:

  • Important results from a CEH-led project under the Insect Pollinators Initiative have been highlighted, which could help land managers and policy makers ensure the countryside is better suited to the needs of pollinators. You can read more about that in our news story, "Ecologists get first bumblebees' eye view of the landscape", on the CEH website.

  • Citizen science, although not particularly new, has been growing in popularity recently. On Wednesday, Dr Michael Pocock of CEH gave a presentation which looked at the diversity of environmental and ecological citizen science and how advances in technology, including social media and mobile phone apps, are transforming 21st century ecology.

    Today, Michael and CEH colleague Dr Helen Roy are leading a workshop that hopes to inspire new citizen science ventures - and are launching a Citizen Science Special Interest Group to help encourage efforts. Michael spoke to the British Ecological Society about this important area of engagement:

    "Citizen science has contributed to long-term data sets that have allowed us to understand the effects of things like climate change that would have been impossible otherwise."

    The new citizen science special interest group is designed to help the next generation of professional ecologists use citizen science effectively. Michael explained, "Many ecologists recognise the importance of engaging with people about science and citizen science provides a way for them to do that while undertaking real scientific research. There is lots of opportunity for creativity and innovation in this area, and you can have lots of impact with little financial investment, so the group will foster and promote this creativity in ecologists, especially those early in their career."
  • The Biological Records Centre at CEH recently launched a new citizen science resource 'Ecological Interactions' in association with iSpot. Ecological Interactions is a web tool allowing members of the public to explore and record ecological relationships between species. All organisms are part of a web of connections with other species, often formed by feeding relationships.

    Read more about citizen science coming of age in a news release from the British Ecological Society.

    • Prof James Bullock of CEH was among a group of ecologists discussing the challenges and tools for studying biological invasions on a European level during a workshop on Wednesday which was sponsored by the European Ecological Federation. They outlined the challenges Europe faces in understanding and controlling invasive species. More details can be found in this British Ecological Society blog post.

    • Finally, news of an intriguing study that used maps made more than 70 years ago but which could help reverse pollinator decline today. This is the first study of its kind to look at the impact of historic land use changes on pollinator communities in Britain. It shows that the dramatic changes in land use since World War II, in particular agricultural intensification and urbanisation, have had a significant impact on pollinator communities.

      Using newly-developed statistical techniques, the team from the University of Reading, University of Leeds and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology analysed two sets of historical data: pollinator data from 1921-1950 based on more than half a million records collected by the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society since 1800 and now digitised; and the Dudley Stamp Land Utilisation survey from the 1930s, the earliest known land use map of Britain. By comparing this historical data for 21 sites across England with recent pollinator records and land cover maps, including the 2007 Land Cover Map developed by CEH, they found that 85% of sites had suffered declines in pollinator species richness of between 10 and 50% over the past 80-100 years.

    INTECOL continues at Excel in London until Friday 23 August. Read more about CEH's participation in our previous blog post.

    The hashtag to follow on Twitter for updates and reaction to talks is #INT13.

    Friday, 16 August 2013

    Making ecology count at the INTECOL Congress, London

    The 11th INTECOL Congress, the world's largest international ecology meeting, comes to London next week (18-23 August 2013) as part of the centenary celebrations of the British Ecological Society, and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology scientists and PhD students will be there!

    The theme of this year's Congress is "advancing ecology and making it count". It's a very significant event: the ecological science to be presented covers everything from aquatic ecology to island biogeography to species interactions, through a series of 43 symposia, 31 workshops, 56 oral sessions, 11 plenary talks, 500 posters, as well as social events and scientific trips. More than 2000 ecologists from 67 countries will be attending. Details of all the sessions can be found on the INTECOL website or with the very useful app produced for the conference.

    We highlight just some of the CEH participants below to give a little taste of our own ongoing research in the field of ecology.

    Stephen Thackeray, a lake ecologist based at our Lancaster site, is among those scientists who will deliver a keynote talk in one of the symposia. Stephen, who is currently coordinating the NERC-funded phenology project "Shifting seasons, climate change & ecosystem consequences", will present on Friday on trophic asynchrony: definitions, drivers and consequences in aquatic and terrestrial systems. The phenology symposium looks at perspectives from ecosystems across the International Long Term Ecological Network.

    Busy both organising and presenting during the week is ecologist Matt Heard. Along with Adam Vanbergen of CEH, who is science coordinator of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, and Simon Potts, University of Reading, Matt has organised a symposium for Thursday entitled "Threats to an ecosystem service: evaluating multifactorial pressures on insect pollinators". The keynote at the symposium will be delivered by Claire Kremen of the University of California.

    Pressures on pollinators are a global concern

    During the symposium, Matt will present results from a project led by Claire Carvell of CEH that is aimed at helping to understand the effects of land management and habitat structure on bumblebee behaviour and colony dynamics. Additionally, Matt is involved in a separate session on Wednesday on the theme of agricultural ecology, when he will talk about how agri-environment scheme management enhances wildlife diversity and abundance at different scales.

    Michael Pocock, co-author of the recent Guide to Citizen Science, is organising a workshop on citizen science to take place on Thursday afternoon. This will give participants the opportunity to hear about some of the leading technologies in citizen science and to try out some for themselves, maybe even be inspired to collaborate on some new ideas. Michael, who co-leads the Conker Tree Science project and who researches the complexity of ecological networks, will also be presenting a talk in a separate session that will look at the diversity of environmental and ecological citizen science.

    Helen Roy, coordinator of the UK Ladybird Survey and another co-author of the Guide to Citizen Science, will also be involved in the workshop. Helen also has a separate talk on scanning for aliens in a session on invasive species which she will also chair.

    Other CEH scientists presenting throughout the week include Owen Mountford on assessing the quality of agri-environment agreements, Ed Rowe on predicting effects of nitrogen pollution on soils, Danny Hooftman on mapping ecosystem services and biodiversity, Tom Oliver on impacts of climatic extremes, Gary Powney on species distribution change, Rosie Hails on population dynamics and Nick Isaac on trends in the status of UK biodiversity.

    Dorset landscape. Ecosystem services and biodiversity changes in the
    county over 70 years were mapped for a CEH study.

    Importantly, an event like INTECOL also gives the opportunity for a number of our PhD students to present details of their projects in both talks and poster sessions. Those giving talks include Philip Martin, CEH and Bournemouth University, who will present "Carbon pools recover more quickly than plant biodiversity in tropical secondary forests", and Andrew Cole, CEH and Lancaster University, who will present on climate change and plant diversity effects on grassland function.

    Good luck to everyone taking part, especially those who are travelling long distances to share details of their work. If you're not at INTECOL itself, keep your eyes peeled for press coverage of some interesting new science. Meanwhile, the hashtag to follow on Twitter is #INT13.

    Monday, 12 August 2013

    Habitat quality, borehole insights & lake studies - CEH paperblog 4

    Our latest paperblog highlights some of the recently published scientific papers led by or involving researchers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

    • A study in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment examined relationships between habitat and breeding success for two of our common bird species, the great tit Parus major and the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus. The aim was to determine the potential of these species to act as indicators of food resource availability for birds in managed semi-natural habitats on farmland, thus acting as a measure of the effectiveness of specific management practices under agri-environment schemes. The paper, led by CEH's John Redhead with colleagues Richard Pywell, Richard Broughton and Shelley Hinsley, followed a four-year study of breeding success using 90 nestboxes on arable farmland in central England. Researchers from the RSPB and Bournemouth University also collaborated on the study, which found that habitat within 100m of the nestbox was the most influential on breeding success.
    • Dr Chris Huntingford of CEH led a recent study published in the journal Nature, with colleagues from the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter, which examined shifting patterns of temperature volatility in the climate system. The findings contradicted the sometimes stated view that a warming world will automatically be one of more overall climatic variation. Read CEH's press release and the Nature paper itself.
    • CEH scientists often collaborate with our NERC colleagues on particular projects and areas of research. A new paper in PLOS One led by British Geological Survey colleagues is a recent example, in which hydrogeology is used to tackle questions in groundwater ecology. In the study, the team used borehole imaging and invertebrate sampling to shed more light on groundwater ecosystems and their potential ecosystem services. (The paper is open access).
    • The Isle of May in the Firth of Forth is the location for one of CEH's most important monitoring projects, a long-term seabird ecology study. Puffins perhaps get the most column inches in coverage of this internationally recognised work, but several species of seabirds are actually monitored on the island. One such species is the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), and a new paper in Ibis reveals more about the dispersal rates and distances of shags colour-ringed as chicks on the Isle of May. The paper led by PhD student Emily Barlow represents a collaboration between CEH and the University of Aberdeen.
    • The discharge of pharmaceuticals into the aquatic environment from wastewater is a topical area of discussion for researchers, regulators and the water industry. Professor Andrew Johnson has led a new study evaluating the potential environmental concentrations of four drugs from a group often featured on lists of pharmaceuticals of concern that are discharged into our river systems - the results showed considerable variation in the popularity of the drugs across Europe, with such variations potentially having an effect on the detection of these compounds in sewage effluent or river water. Radboud University and Brunel University scientists collaborated on the paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
    • Finally for this edition, Dr Bryan Spears from CEH has led an international team of researchers, including from Wageningen in the Netherlands, the Institute Dr Nowak in Germany and New Zealand's National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research in a eutrophication management study. The team looked at the potential for negative ecological impacts following the use of a lanthanum-modified bentonite clay to control phosphorus release from lake bed sediments. The study, published in Water Research, examined 16 case study lakes and the findings have implications for water managers worldwide.

    Paulette Burns - Media Coordinator

    Additional information

    If you'd like a fuller picture of new papers from CEH, just follow the CEH Paper Alerts Twitter feed, which lists CEH peer-reviewed papers newly published online. Full details of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology science publications, including those published in peer-reviewed science journals, are eventually catalogued on the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA).

    Those of you who follow the scientific literature will know some journal websites require registration and some are subscription-only. CEH, as part of NERC, is working with publishers and funders to make more of our output open access, and we have indicated above where this is the case.

    We also publish lots of our other outputs including biological records atlases and project reports. More details can be found in the publications section of the CEH website.

    Thursday, 1 August 2013

    Biodiversity offsetting: the science behind the policy

    The Government's Ecosystems Markets Task Force has put biodiversity offsetting amongst its top five priorities, saying that "it is about regulation, developing a well-defined market which delivers 'net gain' for nature". Dr Bruce Howard, who specialises in Biodiversity Offsetting at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), explains how CEH provides the independent and impartial scientific advice needed by this increasingly important policy measure.

    Biodiversity offsetting is the term used for agreements that compensate, in measurable ways, for the losses to habitats and species that result from developments such as housing, railways and airports. It is being used or trialled in more than 20 countries worldwide. There is growing interest in the use of biodiversity offsets in the UK, especially in England. A voluntary approach to biodiversity offsetting was a commitment in the Natural Choice the Government's environment White Paper published in 2011. In response, here at CEH we are gearing up to ensure that our data and expertise in monitoring and restoring biodiversity play their part in informing decisions about the greater use of offsetting in the UK.

    New office development

    In its 2010 report on financing nature conservation, the RSPB's economists expressed similar aspirations when they said that a "strong biodiversity offset market has the potential to reduce environmental damage from development, simplify the planning system and increase funding for conservation". Nonetheless, the debate about how offsets might impact on the level of protection that the planning system provides for biodiversity is only just getting going. In a response to a 2011 Government consultation on biodiversity offsets, Wildlife and Countryside Link, a large coalition of conservation organisations, warned that "a poorly implemented offset system could have a negative effect on biodiversity."

    Given all the points of view expressed, the independent and impartial scientific analysis by organisations such as CEH should play an increasingly important role. In July 2013, I was awarded a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Knowledge Exchange Fellowship on biodiversity offsetting. Over the coming three years, I will be drawing together expertise from across NERC and beyond to address specific questions important for offset implmentation. These include:

    • Most nature conservationists are behind the goal of reversing trends in biodiversity decline, aiming for no overall loss of biodiversity in a particular area, or the country as a whole. Advocates of biodiversity offsetting are motivated by this too. But what role will offsets play in achieving this? The jury will be out for some time yet.
    • How can individual species be safeguarded within offset agreements based on habitat? It is not as easy as one might think to establish a population of anything, from adders to yellowhammers, even if an offset site is created and managed by the very best experts.

    Working alongside me, Dr Lisa Norton is piloting decision support tools that could be used to inform decisions about how and where to initiate biodiversity offsets. And from September 2013, CEH's Dr Tom Oliver will be developing an indicator of the 'ecological status' of parcels of land. This will consider species that are not on the Government's priority list of species and could help to inform choices about where biodiversity offsets can occur. CEH also has much experience in the area of how the biodiversity value of land can be improved this is an important requirement for offset creation.

    As the UK's Centre of Excellence for integrated research in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, CEH has a unique mix of datasets capable of informing the design and monitoring of offset schemes. For example, our Countryside Survey, which is due to be updated in the next three years, provides the most comprehensive record of the condition of the British countryside. The Biological Records Centre, hosted by us at CEH, holds 27 million records to provide information on the status of and change in UK biodiversity.

    Town and countryside

    If implementation of offsets is to deliver benefits for biodiversity in many years to come, scientific rigour will be required at every stage. This extends from the methods used to assess the biodiversity present at individual sites proposed for development, through to monitoring the long-term contribution that hundreds of 'offset' sites are making to our national biodiversity asset. After all, biodiversity is just part of a wider suite of ecosystem services which provide everyone in society with valuable natural capital a resource whose importance is recognised, including by Government.

    While the scientific rigour has its place, it should not be forgotten that nature down the street (and over the horizon) matters greatly to people. This is something that is recognised in many aspects of our work at CEH, such as our involvement in citizen science. It appears to me that there is a need to ensure that offset schemes will safeguard biodiversity (and the 'services' it provides) for people, rather than simply for the sake of meeting targets or advancing a new way of financing nature conservation.

    Dr Bruce Howard

    Additional information

    Biodiversity Offsetting activities at CEH