All things bright and beautiful

by ariadnesthread101


The Tree of Life
Gustav Klimt, 1909

Over the last few sessions of Ariadne’s Thread, we’ve been trying to relate all the lectures and disciplinary insights of last term to key overarching global challenges. The aim of these discussions is to get a comprehensive overview of the challenges themselves, and to explore how the different discipline-specific lectures of the last term-and-a-half have illuminated the causes, consequences and solutions to these challenges.

The week before last, we covered climate change. The group put together a presentation, and then we tried to talk back and forth between the natural and social science aspects of the problem and possible solutions. ‘Tried’ was the operative word – it took us a while to get into it, and of course, with a subject so complex, we quickly ran into a number of unknowns and any number of confounding variables.

This week, we are going to use a different approach (we’re trying things on for fit) to explore biodiversity loss and conservation.

I’m posting here 3 papers on various aspects on this topic. We’re going to discuss these on Thursday, and I’ll come back here with a summary of our discussion.

At first glance I was quite tempted to come up with a crisply-edited list of references 20-items long. But that’s not going to happen, and given the scale of the problem, it’s absurd to think that 20 references would cover anything anyway. We might do a ‘further reading’ section later if we drill down to particular themes that are of interest.

So here goes. The following three papers make a good starting point for a broad discussion on the subject.

1. Hooper et al. 2005. Effects of Biodiversity on Ecosystem Functioning: A consensus of current knowledge. Ecological Monographs 75(1): 3-35

(Fulltext available from the University of Essex library)

From the abstract: “Humans are altering the composition of biological communities through a variety of activities that increase rates of species invasions and species extinctions, at all scales, from local to global. These changes in components of the Earth’s biodiversity cause concern for ethical and aesthetic reasons, but they also have a strong potential to alter ecosystem properties and the goods and services they provide to humanity. Ecological experiments, observations, and theoretical developments show that ecosystem properties depend greatly on biodiversity in terms of the functional characteristics of organisms present in the ecosystem and the distribution and abundance of those organisms over space and

time… The scientific community has come to a broad consensus on many aspects of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, including many points relevant to management of ecosystems. Further progress will require integration of knowledge about biotic and abiotic controls on ecosystem properties, how ecological communities are structured, and the forces driving species extinctions and invasions. To strengthen links to policy and management, we also need to integrate our ecological knowledge with understanding of the social and economic constraints of potential management practices. Understanding this complexity, while taking strong steps to minimize current losses of species, is necessary for responsible management of Earth’s ecosystems and the diverse biota they contain.”  

2. Tscharntke et al. 2012. Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biological Conservation 151(1):  53-59.

(Full-text available from the University of Essex library)

From the abstract: “Under the current scenario of rapid human population increase, achieving efficient and productive agricultural land use while conserving biodiversity is a global challenge. There is an ongoing debate whether land for nature and for production should be segregated (land sparing) or integrated on the same land (land sharing, wildlife-friendly farming). While recent studies argue for agricultural intensification in a land sparing approach, we suggest here that it fails to account for real-world complexity. We argue that agriculture practiced under smallholder farmer-dominated landscapes and not large-scale farming, is currently the backbone of global food security in the developing world… A major argument for wildlife friendly farming and agroecological intensification is that crucial ecosystem services are provided by ‘‘planned’’ and ‘‘associated’’ biodiversity, whereas the land sparing concept implies that biodiversity in agroecosystems is functionally negligible. However, loss of biological control can result in dramatic increases of pest densities, pollinator services affect a third of global human food supply, and inappropriate agricultural management can lead to environmental degradation. Hence, the true value of functional biodiversity on the farm is often inadequately acknowledged or understood, while conventional intensification tends to disrupt beneficial functions of biodiversity. In conclusion, linking agricultural intensification with biodiversity conservation and hunger reduction requires well-informed regional and targeted solutions, something which the land sparing vs sharing debate has failed to achieve so far.”

3. Turner et al. 2012. Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty. Bioscience 62(1): 85-92

(Full-text here)

From the abstract: “Poverty and biodiversity loss are two of the world’s dire challenges. Claims of conservation’s contribution to poverty alleviation, however, remain controversial. Here, we assess the flows of ecosystem services provided to people by priority habitats for terrestrial conservation, considering the global distributions of biodiversity, physical factors, and socioeconomic context. We estimate the value of these habitats to the poor, both through direct benefits and through payments for ecosystem services to those stewarding natural habitats. The global potential for biodiversity conservation to support poor communities is high: The top 25% of conservation priority areas could provide 56%–57% of benefits. The aggregate benefits are valued at three times the estimated opportunity costs and exceed $1 per person per day for 331 million of the world’s poorest people. Although trade-offs remain, these results show win–win synergies between conservation and poverty alleviation, indicate that effective financial mechanisms can enhance these synergies, and suggest biodiversity conservation as a fundamental component of sustainable economic development.”