Managing and controlling wildlife species within Europe is an acknowledged part of conservation management, yet deciding and setting a population target in order to control a population is perceived to be conceptually very challenging. We interviewed stakeholders, within a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations, to evaluate their perspectives about setting population targets as part of waterbird management for controlling population sizes. We conclude that the setting of a quantifiable population target is beneficial as a measurable objective for monitoring and evaluating management actions. However, it must be recognised as just one possible measurable objective and there may well be multiple supporting objectives that encapsulate the management aims of different stakeholders. When considering wide-scale control of waterbirds species, where it is likely that population size matters, any population target should be coupled to the issues being addressed. We highlight that it is important to actively engage with stakeholders as part of the decision-making process, not only to gain consensus but to share knowledge. A clear understanding of the context and the rationale for controlling a waterbird species is needed to align the interests of diverse stakeholders. The provision of scientific data and the continuous monitoring of management actions is viewed as beneficial and demanded by stakeholders, as part of any decision-making process when setting population targets. This facilitates effective evaluation of management actions, helping managers make wise decisions as well as enabling the continued development of management plans.
Urbanization is widely presumed to degrade ecosystem services, but empirical evidence is now challenging these assumptions. We report the first city-wide organic carbon (OC) budget for vegetation and soils, including under impervious surfaces. Urban soil OC storage was significantly greater than in regional agricultural land at equivalent soil depths, however there was no significant difference in storage between soils sampled beneath urban greenspaces and impervious surfaces, at equivalent depths. For a typical U.K. city, total OC storage was 17.6 kg m−2 across the entire urban area (assuming 0 kg m−2 under 15% of land covered by buildings). The majority of OC (82%) was held in soils, with 13% found under impervious surfaces, and 18% stored in vegetation. We reveal that assumptions underpinning current national estimates of ecosystem OC stocks, as required by Kyoto Protocol signatories, are not robust and are likely to have seriously underestimated the contributions of urban areas.
The majority of the world's population now lives in towns and cities, and urban areas are expanding faster than any other land-use type. In response to this phenomenon, two opposing arguments have emerged: whether cities should ‘sprawl’ into the wider countryside, or ‘densify’ through the development of existing urban greenspace. However, these greenspaces are increasingly recognized as being central to the amelioration of urban living conditions, supporting biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision. Taking the highly urbanized region of England as a case study, we use data from a variety of sources to investigate the impact of national-level planning policy on temporal patterns in the extent of greenspace in cities. Between 1991 and 2006, greenspace showed a net increase in all but one of 13 cities. However, the majority of this gain occurred prior to 2001, and greenspace has subsequently declined in nine cities. Such a dramatic shift in land use coincides with policy reforms in 2000, which favoured densification. Here, we illustrate the dynamic and policy-responsive nature of urban land use, thereby highlighting the need for a detailed investigation of the trade-offs associated with different mechanisms of urban densification to optimize and secure the diverse benefits associated with greenspaces.
urbanization; ecosystem services; human population density; urban densification; urban ecology; urban greenspace
Soil compaction adversely influences most terrestrial ecosystem services on which humans depend. This global problem, affecting over 68 million ha of agricultural land alone, is a major driver of soil erosion, increases flood frequency and reduces groundwater recharge. Agricultural soil compaction has been intensively studied, but there are no systematic studies investigating the extent of compaction in urban ecosystems, despite the repercussions for ecosystem function. Urban areas are the fastest growing land-use type globally, and are often assumed to have highly compacted soils with compromised functionality. Here, we use bulk density (BD) measurements, taken to 14 cm depth at a citywide scale, to compare the extent of surface soil compaction between different urban greenspace classes and agricultural soils. Urban soils had a wider BD range than agricultural soils, but were significantly less compacted, with 12 per cent lower mean BD to 7 cm depth. Urban soil BD was lowest under trees and shrubs and highest under herbaceous vegetation (e.g. lawns). BD values were similar to many semi-natural habitats, particularly those underlying woody vegetation. These results establish that, across a typical UK city, urban soils were in better physical condition than agricultural soils and can contribute to ecosystem service provision.
soil compaction; urbanization; greenspace; ecosystem services; urban ecology; land-use change
Ameliorating pressures on the ecological condition of the wider landscape outside of protected areas is a key focus of conservation initiatives in the developed world. In highly urbanized nations, domestic gardens can play a significant role in maintaining biodiversity and facilitating human-wildlife interactions, which benefit personal and societal health and well-being. The extent to which sociodemographic and socioeconomic factors are associated with engagement in wildlife gardening activities remain largely unresolved. Using two household-level survey datasets gathered from across Britain, we determine whether and how the socioeconomic background of a household influences participation in food provision for wild birds, the most popular and widespread form of human-wildlife interaction. A majority of households feed birds (64% across rural and urban areas in England, and 53% within five British study cities). House type, household size and the age of the head of the household were all important predictors of bird feeding, whereas gross annual household income, the occupation of the head of the household, and whether the house is owned or rented were not. In both surveys, the prevalence of bird feeding rose as house type became more detached and as the age of the head of the household increased. A clear, consistent pattern between households of varying size was less evident. When regularity of food provision was examined in the study cities, just 29% of households provided food at least once a week. The proportion of households regularly feeding birds was positively related to the age of the head of the household, but declined with gross annual income. As concerns grow about the lack of engagement between people and the natural environment, such findings are important if conservation organizations are successfully to promote public participation in wildlife gardening specifically and environmentally beneficial behaviour in society more generally.
There is an increasing need for conservation programmes to make quantitative predictions of biodiversity responses to changed environments. Such predictions will be particularly important to promote species recovery in fragmented landscapes, and to understand and facilitate distribution responses to climate change. Here, we model expansion rates of a test species (a rare butterfly, Hesperia comma) in five landscapes over 18 years (generations), using a metapopulation model (the incidence function model). Expansion rates increased with the area, quality and proximity of habitat patches available for colonization, with predicted expansion rates closely matching observed rates in test landscapes. Habitat fragmentation constrained expansion, but in a predictable way, suggesting that it will prove feasible both to understand variation in expansion rates and to develop conservation programmes to increase rates of range expansion in such species.
climate change; conservation; habitat fragmentation; landscape ecology; metapopulation; range expansion
Controlling vertebrate predators is one of the most widespread forms of wildlife management and it continues to cause conflict between stakeholders worldwide. It is important for managers and policy-makers to make decisions on this issue that are based on the best available scientific evidence. Therefore, it is first important to understand if there is indeed an impact of vertebrate predators on prey, and then to quantify this impact.
Using the UK as a case study, we use a meta-analytical approach to review the available evidence to assess the effect of vertebrate predation on animal prey abundance. We find a significant effect of predators on prey abundance across our studies. On average, there is a 1.6 fold increase in prey abundance in the absence of predation. However, we show significant heterogeneity in effect sizes, and discuss how the method of predator control, whether the predator is native or non-native, and aspects of study design, may be potential causes.
Our results allow some cautious policy recommendations to be made regarding the management of predator and prey populations. Meta-analysis is an important tool for understanding general patterns in the effect of predators on prey abundance across studies. Such an approach is especially valuable where management decisions need to be made in the absence of site-specific information.
Mitigation policy and regulatory frameworks are consistent in their strong support for the mitigation hierarchy of: (1) avoiding impacts, (2) minimizing impacts, and then (3) offsetting/compensating for residual impacts. While mitigation frameworks require developers to avoid, minimize and restore biodiversity on-site before considering an offset for residual impacts, there is a lack of quantitative guidance for this decision-making process. What are the criteria for requiring impacts be avoided altogether? Here we examine how conservation planning can guide the application of the mitigation hierarchy to address this issue. In support of the Colombian government's aim to improve siting and mitigation practices for planned development, we examined five pilot projects in landscapes expected to experience significant increases in mining, petroleum and/or infrastructure development. By blending landscape-level conservation planning with application of the mitigation hierarchy, we can proactively identify where proposed development and conservation priorities would be in conflict and where impacts should be avoided. The approach we outline here has been adopted by the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to guide licensing decisions, avoid piecemeal licensing, and promote mitigation decisions that maintain landscape condition.
Introducing species to areas outside their historical range to secure their future under climate change is a controversial strategy for preventing extinction. While the debate over the wisdom of this strategy continues, such introductions are already taking place. Previous frameworks for analysing the decision to introduce have lacked a quantifiable management objective and mathematically rigorous problem formulation. Here we develop the first rigorous quantitative framework for deciding whether or not a particular introduction should go ahead, which species to prioritize for introduction, and where and how to introduce them. It can also be used to compare introduction with alternative management actions, and to prioritise questions for future research. We apply the framework to a case study of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) in New Zealand. While simple and accessible, this framework can accommodate uncertainty in predictions and values. It provides essential support for the existing IUCN guidelines by presenting a quantitative process for better decision-making about conservation introductions.
Examinations of the impact of land-use change on functional diversity link changes in ecological community structure driven by land modification with the consequences for ecosystem function. Yet, most studies have been small-scale, experimental analyses and primarily focussed on plants. There is a lack of research on fauna communities and at large-scales across multiple land uses. We assessed changes in the functional diversity of bird communities across 24 land uses aligned along an intensification gradient. We tested the hypothesis that functional diversity is higher in less intensively used landscapes, documented changes in diversity using four diversity metrics, and examined how functional diversity varied with species richness to identify levels of functional redundancy. Functional diversity, measured using a dendogram-based metric, increased from high to low intensity land uses, but observed values did not differ significantly from randomly-generated expected values. Values for functional evenness and functional divergence did not vary consistently with land-use intensification, although higher than expected values were mostly recorded in high intensity land uses. A total of 16 land uses had lower than expected values for functional dispersion and these were mostly low intensity native vegetation sites. Relations between functional diversity and bird species richness yielded strikingly different patterns for the entire bird community vs. particular functional groups. For all birds and insectivores, functional evenness, divergence and dispersion showed a linear decline with increasing species richness suggesting substantial functional redundancy across communities. However, for nectarivores, frugivores and carnivores, there was a significant hump-shaped or non-significant positive linear relationship between these functional measures and species richness indicating less redundancy. Hump-shaped relationships signify that the most functionally diverse communities occur at intermediate levels of species richness. Interpretations of redundancy thus vary for different functional groups and related ecosystem functions (e.g. pollination), and can be substantially different to relationships involving entire ecological communities.
Conservation of phylogenetic diversity allows maximising evolutionary information preserved within fauna and flora. The “EDGE of Existence” programme is the first institutional conservation initiative that prioritises species based on phylogenetic information. Species are ranked in two ways: one according to their evolutionary distinctiveness (ED) and second, by including IUCN extinction status, their evolutionary distinctiveness and global endangerment (EDGE). Here, we describe the global patterns in the spatial distribution of priority ED and EDGE species, in order to identify conservation areas for mammalian and amphibian communities. In addition, we investigate whether environmental conditions can predict the observed spatial pattern in ED and EDGE globally.
Methods and Principal Findings
Priority zones with high concentrations of ED and EDGE scores were defined using two different methods. The overlap between mammal and amphibian zones was very small, reflecting the different phylo-biogeographic histories. Mammal ED zones were predominantly found on the African continent and the neotropical forests, whereas in amphibians, ED zones were concentrated in North America. Mammal EDGE zones were mainly in South-East Asia, southern Africa and Madagascar; for amphibians they were in central and south America. The spatial pattern of ED and EDGE was poorly described by a suite of environmental variables.
Mapping the spatial distribution of ED and EDGE provides an important step towards identifying priority areas for the conservation of mammalian and amphibian phylogenetic diversity in the EDGE of existence programme.
Efforts to expand protected area networks are limited by the costs of managing protected sites. Volunteers who donate labor to help manage protected areas can help defray these costs. However, volunteers may be willing to donate more labor to some protected areas than others. Understanding variation in volunteering effort would enable conservation organizations to account for volunteer labor in their strategic planning. We examined variation in volunteering effort across 59 small protected areas managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, a regional conservation nonprofit in the United Kingdom. Three surveys of volunteering effort reveal consistent patterns of variation across protected areas. Using the most detailed of these sources, a survey of site managers, we estimate that volunteers provided 3200 days of labor per year across the 59 sites with a total value exceeding that of paid staff time spent managing the sites. The median percentage by which volunteer labor supplements management costs on the sites was 36%. Volunteering effort and paid management costs are positively correlated, after controlling for the effect of site area. We examined how well a range of characteristics of the protected areas and surrounding communities explain variation in volunteering effort. Protected areas that are larger have been protected for longer and that are located near to denser conurbations experience greater volunteering effort. Together these factors explain 38% of the observed variation in volunteering effort across protected areas.
Insect migration needs to be quantified if spatial and temporal patterns in populations are to be resolved. Yet so little ecology is understood above the flight boundary layer (i.e. >10 m) where in north-west Europe an estimated 3 billion insects km−1 month−1 comprising pests, beneficial insects and other species that contribute to biodiversity use the atmosphere to migrate. Consequently, we elucidate meteorological mechanisms principally related to wind speed and temperature that drive variation in daytime aerial density and insect displacements speeds with increasing altitude (150–1200 m above ground level). We derived average aerial densities and displacement speeds of 1.7 million insects in the daytime convective atmospheric boundary layer using vertical-looking entomological radars. We first studied patterns of insect aerial densities and displacements speeds over a decade and linked these with average temperatures and wind velocities from a numerical weather prediction model. Generalized linear mixed models showed that average insect densities decline with increasing wind speed and increase with increasing temperatures and that the relationship between displacement speed and density was negative. We then sought to derive how general these patterns were over space using a paired site approach in which the relationship between sites was examined using simple linear regression. Both average speeds and densities were predicted remotely from a site over 100 km away, although insect densities were much noisier due to local ‘spiking’. By late morning and afternoon when insects are migrating in a well-developed convective atmosphere at high altitude, they become much more difficult to predict remotely than during the early morning and at lower altitudes. Overall, our findings suggest that predicting migrating insects at altitude at distances of ≈100 km is promising, but additional radars are needed to parameterise spatial covariance.