Green backyards help increase urban climate resilience: Here is how

Taking into account a variety of trees and green structures in four otherwise similar residential courtyards, a new study evaluates their effects on thermal comfort, biodiversity, carbon storage and social interaction. The authors show that those courtyards with more green structures yield considerably better results than those with fewer, and in their cooling capacity have a significant impact on people’s thermal comfort. The study was published in the open-access journal One Ecosystem.

Green spaces in cities have a number of positive effects: they’re good for our physical and mental health, they’re good for the environment, and they can even help fight off the effects of climate change.

To explore the impact of additional green structures in cities, Katja Schmidt and Ariane Walz, affiliated with the University of Potsdam, Germany, quantified their effects on different aspects such as thermal comfort, biodiversity, carbon storage and social interaction. Their study, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal One Ecosystem, combines knowledge from health research, ecology and socio-ecological research, and shows how the better we know a particular type of ecosystem, the better we can adapt to climate change.

Green residential courtyards in Potsdam. Photo by Jan Michalko, University of Potsdam

Pursuing a multi-method approach that ranged from local climate measurements to habitat and tree mapping, the authors compared four green residential courtyards in Potsdam. The spaces were similarly built, but had different ratios and sizes of features (lawns, flowerbeds, paths, playgrounds and allotments), as well as different tree and shrub population. 

While doing their research, Schmidt and Walz saw how even small differences in the green structure affect the provision of benefits, but one thing was clear: the greener courtyards yielded more benefits. Trees have the vital ability to cool down the environment and increase thermal comfort. Remarkably, the researchers report additional cooling effects of up to 11°C in the greener court yards. This means that residential green structures can prove of great value for human health during summertime heat, when asphalt and buildings make hot days even hotter. Considering the ageing demographic and the likely increase of heatwaves in the area, this is likely to have even greater health implications in the coming years. 

Microclimatic measurements in residential courtyards. Photo by Tobias Hopfgarten, University of Potsdam

Urban green spaces can also be an important factor in carbon storage, as urban soils and trees have the capacity to act as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. The residential yards with more and larger trees, logically, have the power to store more carbon. This is where proper maintenance comes in: when yards are managed sustainably, trees live longer and can store more carbon.

“Considering the trend of increasing quantity and magnitude of extreme weather events and the vulnerability of urban areas, green spaces are known to provide great potential to increase urban climate resilience. Our work highlights the widespread positive effects of additional green structures in residential open spaces, a type of urban green space that is frequently understudied,” points out Dr. Schmidt.

As a conclusion, the researchers point out that if land owners and leaseholders receive incentives to commit to climate adaptation, and neighbourhoods come up with deliberate management strategies, these benefits could be further enhanced, contributing to a more sustainable urban development.

Research article:

Schmidt K, Walz A (2021) Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change through residential urban green structures: co-benefits to thermal comfort, biodiversity, carbon storage and social interaction. One Ecosystem 6: e65706. https://doi.org/10.3897/oneeco.6.e65706

New rainfrog species named in honor of Greta Thunberg

The Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an auction offering naming rights for new-to-science species. The funds raised are to aid their conservation.

In 2018, Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary by hosting an auction offering naming rights for some new-to-science species. The funds raised at the auction benefited the conservation of the newly recognized species. It is estimated that about 100 new species are discovered each year.

The scientific article officially describing and naming the new species, Pristimantis gretathunbergae, was published in Pensoft’s scientific journal ZooKeys.

Greta Thunberg, Sweden at the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 25, 2019. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez

The international team that discovered the new rainfrog was led by Abel Batista, Ph.D. (Panama) and Konrad Mebert, Ph.D. (Switzerland). The two have collaborated for 10 years in Panama and have published eight scientific articles together and described 12 new species.

The team found the frog on Mount Chucanti, a sky island surrounded by lowland tropical rainforest in eastern Panama. Reaching its habitat in the cloud forest required access via horseback through muddy trails, hiking up steep slopes, by-passing two helicopters that crashed decades ago, and camping above 1000 m elevation. The Chucanti reserve was established by the Panamanian conservation organization ADOPTA with support from Rainforest Trust.

The Greta Thunberg Rainfrog exhibits distinctive black eyes—unique for Central American rainfrogs. Its closest relatives inhabit northwestern Colombia. Unfortunately, the frog’s remaining habitat is severely fragmented and highly threatened by rapid deforestation for plantations and cattle pasture. The Chucanti Reserve where the frog was first found is part of a growing network of natural parks and preserves championed by the Panamanian Government.

Greta Thunberg’s rainfrog, Pristimantis gretathunbergae. Photo by Konrad Mebert

The Rainforest Trust auction winner wanted to name the frog in honor of Greta Thunberg and her work in highlighting the urgency in preventing climate change. Her “School Strike for Climate” outside the Swedish parliament has inspired students worldwide to carry out similar strikes called Fridays for Future. She has impressed global leaders and her work is drawing others to action for the climate.

The plight of the Greta Thunberg Rainfrog is closely linked to climate warming, as rising temperatures would destroy its small mountain habitat. The Mount Chucanti region already has lost more than 30% of its forest cover over the past 10 years. Deadly chytrid fungus pose additional threats for its amphibians. Conservation of the remaining habitat is critical to ensure the survival of the frog. The important work in Panama by ADOPTA and Rainforest Trust globally to protect rainforests is critical to the survival of this frog and many other endangered species.

Research article:

Mebert K, González-Pinzón M, Miranda M, Griffith E, Vesely M, Schmid PL, Batista A (2022) A new rainfrog of the genus Pristimantis (Anura, Brachycephaloidea) from central and eastern Panama. ZooKeys 1081: 1–34. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1081.63009

Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences

By 2020, losses of corals have been observed throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin in what turned out to be likely the most lethal recorded case of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. A Perspectives paper, published in the open-access peer-reviewed journal Rethinking Ecology, provides an overview of how Florida ended up in a situation, where the best that could be done is rescuing genetic material from coral species at risk of regional extinction.

Guest blog post by William F. Precht

A colony of the large grooved brain coral, Colpophyllia natans, infected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. The photo shows the progressive, rapid advance of disease, left-to-right, across the colony.
Image by William Precht.

Dredging projects conducted in association with coral reefs typically generate concern by environmental groups, resulting in careful monitoring by government agencies. Even though the aim of those dredge projects is to widen or deepen existing ship channels, while minimizing damage to coral reef resources, there are often the intuitive negative assumptions that dredging kills corals.

The recent Port Miami Dredge Project started as an uncomplicated case story. However, significant problems arose, caused by a concurrent and unprecedented coral disease epidemic that killed large numbers of corals, which was initiated following a regional thermal anomaly and coral bleaching event.

The coral disease, known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), was first observed in September 2014 near Virginia Key, Florida. In roughly six years, the disease has spread throughout Florida and into the greater Caribbean basin. The high prevalence of SCTLD and the resulting high mortality in coral populations, coupled with the large number of susceptible species affected, suggest that this disease outbreak is one of the most lethal ever recorded on contemporary coral reefs. The disease is still presently active and continues to ravage coral reefs throughout the region.

The initial response to this catastrophic disease by resource managers with purview over the ecosystem in Southeast Florida was slow. There is generally a noticeably short window of opportunity to intervene in disease amelioration or eradication in the marine environment. This slow response enabled the disease to spread unchecked. Why was the response to the loss of our coral reefs to a coral disease epidemic such a massive failure? This includes our failure as scientists, regulators, resource managers, local media, and policy makers alike. With this Perspectives paper, published in Rethinking Ecology, my intention was to encapsulate the numerous reasons for our failures during the first few years of the outbreak, reminiscent of the early failures in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, the Port Miami dredging project was ongoing when the coral disease epidemic began. Some managers and local environmental groups blamed dredging, rather than SCTLD for the coral losses, reported in the project’s compliance monitoring program. Second, this blame was amplified in the media, because dredging projects are intuitively assumed to be bad for coral reefs. Third, during this same time, the State of Florida prohibited government employees from acknowledging global warming in their work. This was problematic because ocean warming is a proximal cause of many coral diseases.

As a result, some managers ignored the well-known links between warming and coral disease. A consequence of this policy was that the dredging project provided an easy target to blame for the coral mortality noted in the monitoring program, despite convincing data that suggested otherwise. 

Specifically, the intensive compliance monitoring program, conducted by trained scientific divers, was statistically significant. SCTLD that was killing massive numbers of corals throughout the region was also killing corals at the dredge site. Further, this was happening in the same proportions and among the same suite of species. 

Finally, when the agencies responded to the outbreak, their efforts were too little and much too late to make a meaningful difference. While eradication of the disease was never a possibility, early control measures may have slowed its spread, or allowed for the rescue of significant numbers of large colonies of iconic species. Because of the languid management response to this outbreak, we are now sadly faced with a situation where much of our management efforts are focused on the rescue of genetic material from coral species already at risk of regional extinction.

The delayed response to this SCTLD outbreak in Southeast Florida has many similarities to the COVID-19 pandemic response in the United States and there are lessons learned from both that will improve disease response outcomes in the future, to the benefit of coral reefs and human populations.

Publication:

Precht W (2021) Failure to respond to a coral disease epizootic in Florida: causes and consequences. Rethinking Ecology 6: 1-47. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.6.56285

New commentary on the famous ‘Warning to Humanity’ paper brings up global inequalities

Dubbed as ‘the most talked about paper’, the cautionary publication is suggested to have omitted a non-western view on inequality that impedes global sustainability

By pointing out the western lifestyle is not “the norm and end goal of societal evolution”, the research team of Dr Mohsen Kayal (University of Perpignan, France) contributes to the debate on the urgency of achieving sustainability, as ignited by the largely publicised article “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” published in BioScience in 2017. Their Response paper in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology emphasizes that societies in developing countries are often more dependent on natural resources, while least responsible for the ecological crisis.

While expressing explicit support and endorsement for the call made in the original paper, the team argue that several of its recommendations “address symptoms rather than root causes”, while steering away from historical patterns and underlying drivers of the global socio-economic system, namely those relating to wealth inequality, human demography, and food production.

According to the researchers, the desired universal sustainability cannot be achieved in a situation of inequitable wealth distribution. They highlight the link between the consumerism and neocolonialism in the western society and the environmental declines. Meanwhile, communities in the developing world are much more vulnerable to ecological disasters and their homelands are being overexploited and compromised for the production of a major part of the commodities sold around the world.

Inequitable distribution is also evident in the ecological footprint of the western world as opposed to poorer regions. The team of Dr Mohsen Kayal question the appeal made in the Warning to Humanity paper that restricting birth rates is of primary concern when it comes to mitigating the anthropogenic effect on the planet. Rather, they argue that it is the excessive resource consumption and ecosystem-destructive practices observed in the western lifestyle that need to be prioritized.

Citing the 2017 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the authors note that there is indeed enough food being produced to meet the needs of even more people on Earth than there currently are. However, it is again the unequal distribution of resources that results in both hunger and obesity. In the meantime, the replacement of the current industrial model of agriculture with a suite of environmentally friendly practices (e.g. cover crops, diverse crop rotations), the adoption of ecologically-based farming and well-managed grazing could preserve soils and their properties, while also increasing yields, resilience to climate change and socio-economic development.

“Sustainability can only be achieved through prioritizing global ethics, including universal equality and respect for all forms of life,” conclude the authors of the Response paper. “Sustainable solutions to Earth’s socio-ecological crisis already exist, however humanity still needs to realize that pursuing the same practices that created these problems is not going to solve them.”

Global Resource Trade

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Original source:

Kayal M, Lewis H, Ballard J, Kayal E (2019) Humanity and the 21st century’s resource gauntlet: a commentary on Ripple et al.’s article “World scientists’ warning to humanity: a second notice”. Rethinking Ecology 4: 21-30. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.4.32116

First-ever fern checklist for Togo to help decision makers in the face of threats to biodiversity

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum schweinfurthii) occurring in dense forests.

Ferns and their allied species, which together comprise the pteridophytes, are vascular non-flowering plants that reproduce via spores. Many of their species are admired for their aesthetics.

However, despite being excellent bioindicators that allow for scientists and decision-makers to monitor the state of ecosystems in the face of climate change and global biodiversity crisis, these species are too often overlooked due to their relatively small size and lack of vivid colours.

Spike moss (Selaginella versicolor) with a preference for very humid and shaded forests.

To bridge the existing gaps in the knowledge about the diversity of ferns and their allied species, while also seeking to identify the ways these plants select their habitats and react to the changes occurring there later on, a research team from Togo and France launched an ambitious biodiversity project in 2013. As for the setting of their long-term study, they chose Togo – an amazingly species-rich country in Western Africa, whose flora expectedly turned out to be hugely understudied.

Having concluded their fern project in 2017, scientists Komla Elikplim Abotsi and Kouami Kokou from the Laboratory of Forestry Research, University of Lomé, Togo, who teamed up with Jean-Yves Dubuisson and Germinal Rouhan, both affiliated with the Institute of Systematics Evolution and Biodiversity (UMR 7205), France, have their first findings published in a taxonomic paper in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

In this first-of-a-kind checklist of Togolese ferns, the researchers record as many as 73 species previously not known to inhabit the country, including 12 species introduced for horticultural purposes. As a result of their 4-year study, the pteridophyte diversity of Togo – a country barely taking up 56,600 km² – now counts a total of 134 species.

Still, the authors believe that there are even more species waiting to be discovered on both national and global level.

“Additional investigations in the difficult to access areas of the far north of the country, and Togo Mountains are still needed to fill possible biodiversity data gaps and enable decision-makers to make the right decisions,” say the researchers.

The triangular staghorn species Platycerium stemaria living on a coffee tree branch.

In addition to their taxonomic paper, the authors are also set to publish an illustrated guide to the pteridophytes of Togo, in order to familiarise amateur botanists with this fascinating biodiversity.

 

Original source:
Abotsi KE, Kokou K, Dubuisson J-Y, Rouhan G (2018) A first checklist of the Pteridophytes of Togo (West Africa). Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e24137. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e24137

Citizen scientists discover a new water beetle and name it after Leonardo DiCaprio

New animal species are sometimes named after celebrities because of their trademark looks. That’s how we got the blonde-haired Donald Trump moth and the big-armed Arnold Schwarzenegger fly, to name a few. However, some well-known people are enshrined in animal names not for their looks, but rather for what they do for the environment.

This is exactly how a newly discovered water beetle, described in the open access journal ZooKeys, was given the name of Hollywood actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The tribute marks the 20th anniversary of the celebrity’s Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) and its efforts towards biodiversity preservation.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has become one of the world’s foremost wildlife charities, having contributed to over 200 grassroots projects around the globe devoted to climate change mitigation, wildlife conservation, and habitat preservation.

“We can all have an impact,” says DiCaprio in a special LDF video, “but we have to work together to protect our only home.”

Leo DiCaprio beetleGoing by the scientific name of Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi, the new water beetle was discovered at a waterfall in the remote Maliau Basin, Malaysian Borneo, during the first field trip initiated by Taxon Expeditions – an organisation which arranges scientific surveys for untrained laypeople with the aim to discover previously unknown species and bridge the gap in biodiversity knowledge.

Having identified a total of three water beetle species new to science, the expedition participants and the local staff of the Maliau Basin Studies Centre voted to name one of them after DiCaprio in honour of his efforts to protect untouched, unexplored wildernesses just like Maliau Basin itself.

“Tiny and black, this new beetle may not win any Oscars for charisma, but in biodiversity conservation, every creature counts,” said Taxon Expeditions’ founder and entomologist Dr. Iva Njunjic.

Maliau Basin Aerial - Photo by Sylvia Yorath

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Original source:

Freitag H, Pangantihon CV, Njunjic I (2018) Three new species of Grouvellinus Champion, 1923 from Maliau Basin, Sabah, Borneo, discovered by citizen scientists during the first Taxon Expedition (Insecta, Coleoptera, Elmidae). ZooKeys 754: 1-21. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.754.24276

Golden jackals might be settling in the Czech Republic, hint multiple observations

The first living golden jackal in the Czech Republic was reported by researchers from Charles University, Prague. The scientists captured the canid on camera multiple times over the span of a year and a half some 40 km away from the capital. Once considered native to northern Africa and southern Eurasia, the species seems to be quite rapidly extending its range towards the north of Europe. The study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

In June 2015, while doing a research project for her Master’s degree in Central Bohemia, Czech Republic, Klára Pyšková, a student at the Department of Ecology, Faculty of Science of Charles University in Prague, produced the first photograph of a living golden jackal individual captured by a camera trap in the country.

The aim of her study was broader, addressing common carnivore species composition in different habitats typical for central European landscape, about 40 km away from Prague. While the golden jackal capture was not completely unexpected, since several individuals of this species had previously been reported from the country, it was still a surprising discovery – all previously observed animals were either shot or victims of roadkill, and considered rather incidental records.

“The habitat, where the golden jackal decided to settle, resembles the landscapes which these animals prefer in their natural distribution area, the Balkans – an open grass-shrubland surrounded by a forest. It is one of the warmest areas in the country, with mild winters. The observed animal was mostly active at dusk and dawn, with majority of the sightings occurring in the morning hours,” explains Klára Pyšková. In a paper, she co-authored with a group of researchers from Charles University and Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, among them her supervisors Ivan Horáček and David Storch, they report on a long-term monitoring of the animal in an area of approximately 90 km².

The golden jackal first reached the Czech republic in the late 1990s, probably coming from Austria. The first, albeit unconfirmed report of its presence is from May of 1998, of two individuals reportedly sighted in central Bohemia. Almost a decade later, in 2006, a carcass of an adult golden jackal was found by the side of the road in Moravia, the eastern part of the country. Since then, several verified and non-verified records have been made. The photographs captured by Klára Pyšková were the first evidence of a living individual that seems to have settled permanently in the country. The researchers have not observed any cubs or a mate, and although they cannot completely dismiss the occurrence of another individual, they consider it very unlikely. The sex of the animal could not be determined.

“While the golden jackal is a species that has historically never lived in the area, where the study was conducted, and, therefore, might not be appropriate to call it native, it cannot be considered invasive. Invasive species are those that have been intentionally or unintentionally brought to a new area by humans – this is not the case of the golden jackal here,” says Klára Pyšková.

“This being said, there are several factors that have likely facilitated the spread, including indirect human influence,” adds the researcher. “Ongoing global change is bringing about shifts in species distributions that include both the spread of populations of invasive species and range expansions or contractions of native biota. In Europe, this is typically reflected in species moving from the south-eastern part of the continent to the north-west, most often in response to increasing temperatures that allow organisms to colonize areas that were previously unsuitable. Other suggested factors are human-caused changes in the overall character of landscapes, the lack of natural predators, particularly wolves, and high adaptability of the species.”

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Original source:

Pyšková K., Storch D., Horáček I., Kauzál O. & Pyšek P. (2016) Golden jackal (Canis aureus) in the Czech Republic: the first record of a live animal and its long-term persistence in the colonized habitat. ZooKeys 641: 151-163 doi: 10.3897/zookeys.641.10946

Bee populations expanded during global warming after the last Ice Age

The Australian small carpenter bee populations appear to have dramatically flourished in the period of global warming following the last Ice Age some 18,000 years ago.

The bee species is found in sub-tropical, coastal and desert areas from the north-east to the south of Australia. Researchers Rebecca Dew and Michael Schwarz from the Flinders University of South Australia teamed up with Sandra Rehan, the University of New Hampshire, USA, to model its past responses to climate change with the help of DNA sequences. Their findings are published in the open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

“You see a rapid increase in population size from about 18,000 years ago, just as the climate began warming up after the last Ice Age,” says lead author Rebecca Dew. “This matches the findings from two previous studies on bees from North America and Fiji.”

“It is really interesting that you see very similar patterns in bees around the world,” adds Rebecca. “Different climate, different environment, but the bees have responded in the same way at around the same time.”

In the face of future global warming these finding could be a good sign for some of our bees.

However, the news may not all be positive. There are other studies showing that some rare and ancient tropical bees require cool climate and, as a result, are already restricted to the highest mountain peaks of Fiji. For these species, climate warming could spell their eventual extinction.

“We now know that climate change impacts bees in major ways,” says Rebecca, “but the challenge will be to predict how those impacts play out. They are likely to be both positive and negative, and we need to know how this mix will unfold.”

Bees are major pollinators and are critical for many plants, ecosystems, and agricultural crops.Image2

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Original source:

Dew RM, Rehan SM, Schwarz MP (2016) Biogeography and demography of an Australian native bee Ceratina australensis (Hymenoptera, Apidae) since the last glacial maximum. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 49: 25-41. doi: 10.3897/JHR.49.8066

New immigrant: Shiny Cowbirds noted from a recording altitude of 2,800 m in Ecuador

Two juveniles of Shiny Cowbird, a parasitic bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, were spotted in the Andean city of Quito, Ecuador, for the first time. This finding represents an altitudinal expansion of approximately 500 m.

Breeding populations might have been prompted by forest fragmentation and/or climate change, suggest the research team, led by Dr Verónica Crespo-Pérez, professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE). Resultingly, the ‘immigrants’ could be threatening native birds. The study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

“The Shiny Cowbird is native to the lowlands of South America but within the last 100 years, it has been expanding its distribution to higher altitudes and latitudes” says the lead author.

The bird had already been noted from high altitudes in Bolivia and Perú, and in some localities in the Ecuadorian Andes. Since 2000, Juan Manuel Carrión, co-author and director of the Zoo in Quito, recalls observing Shiny cowbirds near his home in a valley near Quito at 2,300 m above sea level (asl). However, one has never before been reported from an altitude as high as 2,800 m asl.

Moreover, the fact that the observed individuals were juveniles means that the species is already breeding in the city.

“Such a significant expansion of reproductive birds, of approximately 500 m, could be related to human disturbances, like forest fragmentation or climate change,” adds Crespo-Pérez.

The observations took place at the PUCE campus about a year ago. Two juvenile Shiny cowbirds were seen parasitizing two different pairs of Rufous-collared Sparrow, one of the most common birds in Quito. The cowbirds displayed food-begging behaviors to adult sparrows, including chasing the sparrows on the ground and chanting intensely on bushes and tree branches.

“These observations mean that the birth mother of the cowbird laid her eggs in the nests of the sparrows, who inadvertently, became the cowbird’s foster parents and incubated, fed and cared for the it as if it were its own, even though the cowbird is almost twice as big,” says Miguel Pinto, co-author and professor at Escuela Politécnica Nacional, and former postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution.

“The sparrows were not feeding fledglings of their own species, which suggests that the Cowbird could be having some negative effect on the Sparrow, at least on their ability to reproduce,” points out Tjitte de Vries, co-author and professor at PUCE.

There are several published reports of negative effects of Cowbirds on other birds, especially on species that are already endangered or have restricted distribution ranges. Therefore, this report of an expansion of the Shiny Cowbird towards higher altitudes may be of concern, mainly for native, endemic or endangered bird species.

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Original source:

Crespo-Pérez V, Pinto C, Carrión J, Jarrín E R, Poveda C, de Vries T (2016) The Shiny Cowbird, Molothrus bonariensis (Gmelin, 1789) (Aves: Icteridae), at 2,800 m asl in Quito, Ecuador.Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e8184. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.4.e8184

A botanical survey to help understand change in our wild flora

Volunteers in the north-east of England have created a benchmark survey of common plants with which to identify change in the countryside, its result and causes. This survey will be used in future to monitor the effects of climate change on plants; assess the success of conservation measures and predict future change. Its findings are published in the open-access journal Biodiversity Data Journal, contributing an additional 35,000 observations to the 200,000 observations collected by local recorders since the turn of the millennium .

Many people remark on the changes that are occurring in the countryside, the disappearance of some species and the spread of others. Yet, these anecdotes cannot substitute for hard facts. There are also many suggested causes for all these changes such as warmer climate, different agricultural practices, eutrophication, or alien species. Botanical observations tend to be biased. For example, common species are often ignored in the interest of exceptional ones. Therefore, what was needed was a dedicated survey with a clear and repeatable methodology.

Common plant species are the mainstay of habitats, they create our woodlands, hedgerows and meadows. They also provide the food for herbivores and pollinators and create homes for birds and mammals. Changes in the abundance of rare species have little impact on other species, but change in the abundance of common species can have cascading effects on whole ecosystems of which we are a part.

For these reasons volunteer botanists in the north-east of England conducted a four-year survey to benchmark the abundance of common plants. Led by the Botanical Societies vice county recorders, John Durkin Ecology, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, and Botanic Garden Meise, the volunteers surveyed the plants in a randomly selected sample of 1km2 grid squares in the vice counties of Durham and South Northumberland.

They created a solid foundation that can be used to qualify the abundance of common species and compare against previous and future studies. The project was conducted over four years and required volunteers to go to various places. Some surveyed post-industrial brown-field sites, while others walked for miles across bleak moorland to reach sites high in the hills. Although these moors are arguably wilder and natural, the industrial wastelands turn out to be far more biodiverse.

Botanical surveying continues in the region despite the end of the project. Volunteers continue to monitor rare plants in the region and are currently working towards the next atlas of Britain and Ireland, coordinated by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

“Good biological conservation in the 21st century will have as much to do with sensitive adaption to change as it is about preserving what we have,” point out the authors. “Human memory is short and fickle and it is only with benchmark surveys, such as this that we can hope to understand and manage that change.”

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Original source:

Groom Q, Durkin J, O’Reilly J, Mclay A, Richards A, Angel J, Horsley A, Rogers M, Young G (2015) A benchmark survey of the common plants of South Northumberland and Durham, United Kingdom. Biodiversity Data Journal 3: e7318. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.3.e7318