Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Tag: Biodiversity

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.”

Outside the Bubble: News from the Great Beyond

by ariadnesthread101

Yay to another contributor on Ariadne’s Thread! Jacob will be writing us a regular post on news relevant to the Environmental Masters courses at Essex. Without further ado – here’s the first! 
There’s a vast array of sources of stories and information relevant to the Environmental Master’s courses. I thought it would be really neat to bring a few of these together for us all to peruse, particularly as we each have our own favourite websites with unique slants and coverage.
If you have a new story, podcast, or programme to share, or would like to make a comment, please use the system at the bottom of this post. Alternatively, feel free to email me for inclusion in the next roundup.  
Best of luck for the week!

C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928)

‘Are Europe’s ash trees finished?’

Print News / New Scientist 
A fungus deadly to ash trees has just reached Britain and Ireland, after emerging 20 years ago in Poland. Already it has devastated ash trees in mainland Europe, sweeping through more than 20 countries powerless to prevent its spread. How did this fungus develop? And what, if anything, can be done to stop it in countries like the UK, where ashes account for around a fifth of all trees? By the sound of it, the outlook is not good. New Scientist investigates.”

The full story here.

This story has been worrying me this week, as I love ash trees. They have a fairly open canopy and so other plants can survive underneath. They also can grow to be quite old and gnarly providing, for example, nest holes for birds.
We’ve imported the fungus that’s causing this disease through the movement of saplings, but now it seems the spores have also blown over from Europe naturally; demonstrating that nature rarely respects borders.
The New Scientist article is very matter of fact, but as ash trees make up a key part of the English landscape I’m sure many people will be terribly sad if they are badly affected, not to mention the loss of biodiversity entailed. I wonder if losing ash trees would make the UK’s landscape any less therapeutically valuable? [See below]
‘Health Check: Eco-therapy’
Audio: (only 17 minutes 30 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
This radio programme from the BBC World Service discusses our connection with nature and focuses specifically on the value of natural environments as “Green Therapy” – treatment for mental illness. There are contributions from the hugely respected writer Richard Mabey and also Rachel Bragg, whom I’m sure you’ll all remember from her lecture last week on the value of nature.

Sandy from the International Space Station. 29th October, 2012.

‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’

Print News / Business Week.  
Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.”
The full story here.
The other big environment news story this week has been Hurricane Sandy, which as well as causing huge amounts of damage and disruption across its path from Jamaica and into parts of Canada, also stirred up the debate on the nature and reality of climate change. The Businessweek article to which I have linked is interesting because it discusses not only our perception that extreme weather events are becoming more extreme/worse because of anthropogenic climate change, but also links that change to our economic and political systems. Ultimately the article inadvertently highlights our own power to make a difference: “In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so.”. You don’t have to be an engineer or scientist to have a will, and exercise it.
The debate in the comments after the article offers an interesting/horrifying contrast to the piece itself.
‘Discovery: The Age We Made’
Audio: (also 17 minutes 30 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
Another BBC World Service programme, so also rather low-budget! But I found this to be a rather interesting discussion of the way our activities are actually changing the rocks that are being laid down now, and that these changes may be sufficient to produce a new geological age, the Anthropocene. 
And… just for fun, if you’ve got some free time and would like some more TV:
Human Planet: Surviving the Urban Jungle
Video: (58 minutes 13 seconds)
Available on iPlayer here.
This is an episode from one of the BBC’s hugely expensive documentary series. This one is an interesting look at our coexistence and conflict with the nature within our cities. It’s full of amazing footage, but it also encapsulates the way we as a people think about wildlife. Oh, and there’s a bit about the global market, food, consumption and waste too.  The first section is mostly conflict, and the second bit deals (ok, superficially) with sustainable cities and bringing urban populations into greater positive contact with nature.

All things bright and beautiful: How to value and conserve biodiversity

by ariadnesthread101

Noah’s Ark. Edward Hicks, 1846.

Biodiversity is the rock on which civilization is built.

In this talk, Pavan Sukhdev makes visible biodiversity’s contribution to the ‘world system’. He outlines the scale of the challenge and the steps we need to take to begin to meet it.

“When was the last time a bee sent you an invoice?”

And in this next one, John Kasaona outlines a case of community-based conservation in Namibia.

“This is the good news about Africa that we have to shout from the rooftops!”


Have a great week of learning 🙂