Category Archives: Climate change

Pollinator biodiversity and why it’s important: a new review just published – download it for free

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In a new review paper that’s just been published in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics I have looked at the question of just how diverse the pollinators are, and why pollinator biodiversity is ecologically important and therefore worthy of conservation.  I’ve taken a deep time and wide space approach to this, starting with what the fossil record tells us about when animal pollination evolved and the types of organisms that acted as pollinators in the past (the answer may surprise you if you’re unfamiliar with the recent paleontological literature on this topic).  Some of the most prominent biogeographical patterns have been highlighted, and I have tried to estimate the global diversity of currently known pollinators.  A conclusion is that as many as 1 in 10 described animal species may act as pollen vectors.

As well as this descriptive part of the review I’ve summarised some recent literature on why pollinator diversity matters, and how losing that diversity can affect fruit and seed set in natural and agricultural contexts.  Extinction of pollinator species locally, regionally, and globally should concern us all.

Although I was initially a little worried that the review was too broad and unfocused, having re-read it I’m pleased that I decided to approach the topic in this way.  The research literature, public policy, and conservation efforts are currently moving at such a fast pace that I think it’s a good time to pause and look at the bigger picture of what “Saving the Pollinators” actually means and why it’s so important.  I hope you agree and I’d be happy to receive feedback.

You can download a PDF of the review entitled Pollinator Diversity: Distribution, Ecological Function, and Conservation by following that link.

Pollination ecologists should also note that in this same volume of Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics there’s a review by Spencer Barrett and Lawrence Harder called The Ecology of Mating and Its Evolutionary Consequences in Seed Plants.  If you contact those authors I’m sure they’d let you have a copy.

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Filed under Apocynaceae, Bees, Biodiversity, Biogeography, Birds, Butterflies, Climate change, Ecosystem services, Evolution, Honey bees, Hoverflies, IPBES, Macroecology, Mammals, Moths, Mutualism, Neonicotinoids, Pollination, Urban biodiversity, Wasps

Have we broken the planet?

sea-ice-graph-november-2016

A graph showing this year’s figures for area of global sea ice, in comparison with the same data for the past c. 40 years, was widely shared on Twitter yesterday, resulting in a lot of discussion and consternation.  I’m not on Twitter (yet…) and picked this up from Terry McGlynn’s Facebook feed.  The graph shows an anomalously low extent of sea ice compared with what we would expect at this time of the year, in fact a drop of about 25%.

As you can see, something looks to be seriously wrong.  For more discussion about the graph, see this piece over at The Verge.

I’ve not discussed climate change much on this blog, it’s not my area of specialism and there are plenty of other good bloggers out there who are far more knowledgeable than I.  But graphs like this are hugely worrying because they not only suggest that aspects of our climate may be at a tipping point where they change from one state/predictable pattern to another.  That’s a concern on a global level, because it’s strong evidence for global warming.  However the reduction in sea ice also has huge implications for the biodiversity that depends upon the ice.

If I hear any more news on this I’ll post it, but in the meantime it’s worth pondering whether perhaps the UK’s signing up for the Paris Climate Agreement this week is a bit too late.  As my colleague Duncan McCollin put it: “we’ve broken the planet”.  I hope he’s wrong.

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The macroecology of animal versus wind pollination – a new study just published

In collaboration with colleagues in Brazil, Denmark, and elsewhere in the UK, we’ve just published a new research paper which looks at the global spatial distribution of wind and animal pollinated plant species, and the underlying historical and contemporary ecological causes of that distribution.  It’s a study that builds on my “How many flowering plants are animal pollinated?” paper in Oikos, and has been a long time in its gestation.  We’re very excited by its findings and plan to develop this project in the future.

As a bonus we made the cover of the journal with the amazing image below!  Big thanks to Pedro Viana and Jesper Sonne for the photos.

Here’s the citation with a link to the publisher’s website; the abstract is below.  If anyone wants a PDF copy, please ask.

Rech AR, Dalsgaard B, Sandel B, Sonne J, Svenning J-C, Holmes N & Ollerton J (2016) The macroecology of animal versus wind pollination: ecological factors are more important than historical climate stability. Plant Ecology & Diversity 9: 253-262

 

Abstract:

Background: The relative frequency of wind- and animal-pollinated plants are non-randomly distributed across the globe and numerous hypotheses have been raised for the greater occurrence of wind pollination in some habitats and towards higher latitudes. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive global investigation of these hypotheses.

Aims: Investigating a range of hypotheses for the role of biotic and abiotic factors as determinants of the global variation in animal vs. wind pollination.

Methods: We analysed 67 plant communities ranging from 70º north to 34º south. For these we determined habitat type, species richness, insularity, topographic heterogeneity, current climate and late-Quaternary climate change. The predictive effects of these factors on the proportion of wind- and animal-pollinated plants were tested using correlations, ordinary least squares (OLS) and logistic regression analyses with information-theoretic model selection.

Results: The proportion of animal-pollinated plant species was positively associated with plant species richness and current temperature. Furthermore, in forest, animal pollination was positively related to precipitation. Historical climate was only weakly and idiosyncratically correlated with animal pollination.

Conclusion: Results were consistent with the hypothesised reduced chance for wind-transported pollen reaching conspecific flowers in species-rich communities, fewer constraints on nectar production in warm and wet habitats, and reduced relative effectiveness of wind dispersal in humid areas. There was little evidence of a legacy of historical climate change affecting these patterns.

andre-capa-1

 

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“Progress in pollination and pollinator research” meeting – University of Reading – 20th April

Skipper on ragwort - cropped

There is to be a joint meeting of the Royal Entomological Society’s Insect Pollination and Insects & Sustainable Agriculture Special Interest Groups on “Progress in pollination and pollinator research” at the University of Reading, 20th April 2016.  Unfortunately I can’t make it (I have meetings at the university all that day and need to get myself organised before heading off to Tenerife for field work on the 22nd) but I thought I’d advertise what looks like a very interesting one day conference.

The programme for the meeting is below and registration is open.  Please register before the meeting via The Royal Entomological Society using the form which can be downloaded from the RES website:

http://www.royensoc.co.uk/content/joint-meeting-insect-pollination-sustainable-agriculture-special-interest-groups-20-april-20

The registration fee will be £20 and includes lunch and all refreshments.

Convenors are Mike Garratt (Insect Pollination SIG) and John Holland (Insects & Sustainable Agriculture SIG) so please contact them if you’d like further information.

Programme

9.30-9.55 – Registration & Coffee

9.55-10.00 – Welcome

10.00-10.20 – Ecological intensification, pollinator diversity, and crop yield gaps in small- and large-holdings (Lucas Garibaldi, Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural, Argentina)

10.20-10.40 – Welfare impact of pollinator decline on the international trade (Nicola Gallai, Ecole Nationale de Formation Agronomique, France)

10.40-11.00 – Conserving one beneficial at the cost of another; does success in promoting pollinators risk farmers ignoring other beneficial insects? (Mark Ramsden, ADAS)

11.00-11.20 – Coffee break

11.20-11.40 – Quantification of the floral landscape in agro-ecosystems and its effect on bumblebee colonies (Ellen Rotheray, University of Sussex)

11.40-12.00 – How many Bumblebees can our landscapes support? Using bumblebee colony models as a conservation management tool in agricultural landscapes (Grace Twiston-Davies, University of Exeter)

12.00-12.20 – Are current agri-environment schemes providing appropriate resources to the wider farmland bee community? (Thomas Wood, University of Sussex)

Short presentations:

12.20-12.25 – Pollination studies in the QuESSA Project (John Holland, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust)
12.25-12.30 – Pollinator initiatives and research at the Royal Horticultural Society (Andrew Salisbury, RHS Garden Wisley)

12.30-12.35 – Collating evidence on plant traits and ecosystem services to inform multifunctional field margin design (Claire Blowers, Harper Adams University)

12.35-12.40 – Rare bee species and agriculture (Steven Falk, Freelance Entomologist)

12.40-12.45 – Fenland ditch banks as pollinator refuges: Environmental variable influence on pollination service measurements (Hilary Conlan, Anglia Ruskin University)

12.45-12.50 – What’s for dinner? Investigating the foraging preferences of honeybees using pollen DNA metabarcoding (Natasha de Vere, National Botanic Garden of Wales)

12.50-13.00 – Questions

13.00-13.45 – Lunch

13.45-13.50 – The National Pollinator and Pollination Monitoring Framework (Claire Carvell, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)

13.50-13.55 – Impacts of climate change on plant-pollinator interactions in agro-ecosystems (Ellen Moss, Newcastle University)

13.55-14.00 – Reproductive resilience through outcrossing: pollen movement by insects is more important when plants are under stress (Jake Bishop, University of Reading)

14.00-14.05 – DNA metabarcoding reveals pollen transport by Eristalis hoverflies in grasslands (Andrew Lucas, National Botanic Garden of Wales)

14.05-14.10 – Raspberry pollination (Anders Nielsen, University of Oslo)

14.10-14.15 – Interaction between pollinators and pesticide use in agricultural crops: An ecological-economical modeling approach in South West France (Giorgos Kleftodimos, University of Toulouse)

14.15-14.20 – Estimating the net economic consequences of losing pollination services: evaluating contributions from single protected areas (Fabrizia Ratto, University of Southampton)

14.20-14.30 – Questions

14.30-14.50 – Insect pollinators: utilisation of resources through space and time in an intensive grassland landscape (Lorna Cole, SRUC)

14.50-15.10 – Insecticides and pollinators – Are they really incompatible? (Lin Field, Rothamsted Research)

15.00-15.20 – Monitoring the effects of chronic, larval exposure to neonicotinoids on the solitary bee Osmia bicornis (Beth Nicholls, University of Sussex)

15.20-15.30 – Discussion and close of meeting

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Butterflies, Climate change, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Hoverflies, Pollination, Wasps

Nature Improvement Area final report published today by Defra

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, over the past three years my research group has been involved as a lead partner in the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area (NIA) project, one of 12 NIA schemes across England.  I’ve posted regular updates on the the Nene Valley NIA, for example see my posts entitled Angry Birds! (and startled bees), To Dream a River, and Biodiversity conservation pays its way.

Although our group still has work to do on writing up the results for our ecosystem services assessment of the Nene Valley, the NIA scheme has formally ended, and today Defra has issued a final NIA Monitoring and Evaluation Report, plus an accompanying press release.  Defra (and the government) judges the NIA scheme to be a resounding success and I have to agree with them.  To quote from the press release and from the final report:

  • Nearly 20,000 hectares of natural habitat – the equivalent of almost 23,000 football pitches – has been created, restored or preserved across England.
  • The Nature Improvement Areas have also helped people reconnect with nature, with volunteers contributing over 47,000 days, school children earning their green fingers by planting trees, and communities getting involved in decision making.
  • The NIA partnerships mobilised resources with an equivalent value of £26.2 million (including the financial value of volunteer time and services in-kind) in addition to the initial government grant funding. Of this total, £15.3 million was from non-public sources (e.g. private sector and nongovernmental organisations).
  • Learnings from the Nature Improvement Areas will now help to inform Defra’s 25 year plan for action on the environment which will be published later in the year as part of a comprehensive, long-term vision to protect the country’s natural heritage.

This last point is a critical one; much was achieved with the government’s initial investment of £7.5 million over three years.  Continuation of this type of funding, for the original 12 NIAs and additional projects, would achieve so much more, especially if it was tied in with upland and river restoration projects that focused on natural flood defences (which we know will work).  The potential savings from such investment could run into 100s of millions of pounds.  Let’s hope Defra has the strategic vision to make this happen.

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Filed under Climate change, Ecosystem services, Nene Valley NIA, University of Northampton

Six Kingdoms for Christmas: the cultural biodiversity of a winter festival

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Since beginning this blog in 2012 I’ve traditionally posted one or two Christmas-themed items around this time of year, including a piece on “Thanking the pollinators for Christmas” and a true story from 2013, “A Christmas vignette“.  The role of pollinators in producing much of the traditional Christmas fare has subsequently been picked up by others (last year the University of Bristol, this year a blog from Trinity College Dublin) so I’ve decided to break with tradition and consider the ways in which biodiversity (both wild and farmed, though the latter of course originated as the former) adds to the cultural experience of Christmas through its traditions and rituals.

In this regard I’m coming at the topic as a north-European agnostic who values Christmas as an opportunity to relax and unwind at the darkest, coldest* part of the year, rather than as a Christian.  And because I’m a British scientist much of what I say relates to British customs, though I’ve tried to include non-British examples where I’m aware of them – feel free to let me know about examples I’ve missed by commenting below.

I’ve decided to structure this post taxonomically and focus on a Six Kingdom Classification** of life on Earth as that’s been the theme of my first year undergraduate teaching since October.  Four of the six Kingdoms can be dealt with fairly quickly as their significance to Christmas is marginal or non-existent.  The two “bacterial” Kingdoms (Archaea and Eubacteria) contribute little to Christmas other than providing much of the gut flora that’s going to help us digest our Christmas dinner. Important but not specifically festive.  Likewise the protists and algae (Kingdom Protoctista) add nothing specific to Christmas unless there are traditions associated with seaweed of which I am unaware.

The other three Kingdoms are the ones where cultural biodiversity associations are more apparent.  The Kingdom Fungi (yeasts, mushrooms and moulds) provides us with several Christmas traditions including (in Germany) hanging mushrooms on the Christmas tree for good luck, and in parts of Scandinavia hanging strings of dried mushrooms around the house as decorations and as a source of winter food.  There is also the association between the red-and-white colour scheme of fly agaric magic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) and the robes of Santa Claus, though I’ve seen that idea debunked in a few places and it appears that the “traditional” interpretation of Santa’s suit originated in the USA in the 19th century.

The Kingdom Animalia (both invertebrates and vertebrates) affords us a host of cultural connections to Christmas.  Birds include the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) which in times past were famously walked to London from Norfolk; the domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus); and much of the song Twelve Days of Christmas refers to birds, including the turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) one of the UK’s most declining and threatened bird species.  Mammals we associate with Christmas include of course reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) pulling Santa’s sleigh, led by the nasally-advantaged Rudolph, but also domesticated farm animals.  For example in Denmark in osme households it’s more traditional to eat pork (Sus scrofa domesticus) for Christmas dinner than goose.

Staying with the vertebrates, in our house it’s traditional to have smoked salmon (Salmo salar) with scrambled eggs for breakfast on Christmas Day, and (again in Denmark) sild (Clupea harengus) is also traditionally served as a starter, but I don’t know of other fish traditions.  Likewise I’m unaware of any invertebrates that are specifically associated with Christmas, though there have been recent reports of sustainably-sourced lobsters (Homarus americanus and H. gammarus)  becoming “traditional” in Europe.  There are also some local traditions such as honey bees singing in their hives on Christmas Eve.

The last of the Six Kingdoms is the Plantae, which, whilst the least taxonomically diverse, provides us with a wealth of cultural associations to Christmas.  These traditionally include evergreen plants that have been used to decorate homes, probably since the earliest pagan Yuletide festivals, such as: Christmas trees (various conifers in the genera Picea, Abies and Pinus); European ivy (Hedera helix); holly (Ilex aquifolium); and mistletoe (Viscum album).  However such traditions evolve and adapt to local needs and availability of plants.  For example in North and South America other genera of conifers not found in europe, such as Pseudotsuga and  Araucaria, may be used as Christmas trees***.  Likewise the absence of European mistletoe in North America means that people have adopted native mistletoes in the related genus Phoradendron for decorating and snogging traditions.  Over at her blog, ecologist Manu Saunders has recently discussed how native Australian species can substitute European plants for Christmas decorations.

The final example from the Plantae is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) which I’ve pictured above.  In many ways this is an unusual plant to have such a strong cultural association with Christmas: it’s a mildly toxic species of spurge from tropical Mexico that was introduced to North America in the 19th century, then subsequently to Europe.  However its festive connotations date back to the earliest period of Spanish colonisation in the 16th century, so it’s older than some of the other Christmasy traditions I’ve discussed.

Of course biodiversity is about more than just species and taxonomic diversity, it also encompasses the diversity of habitats in which that life is found.  Here too we see strong influences of the natural world on the culture of Christmas, including festive scenes of snow-bound boreal conifer forest.  As our planet warms, however, that might be a view that is found only on Christmas cards and old movies, rather than directly experienced*.

And on that sobering note, I wish all of my readers and restful and biodiverse holiday: have a great Christmas everyone!

 

*Ha!  It’s looking to be the warmest December on record, and at times has felt more like early summer than mid-winter.

**I’m aware that there are other Kingdom-level classifications out there which could be used, but the Six Kingdom approach is a good starting point.

***Closer to home, colleagues in the office adjacent to mine have adorned their large weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) with home-made Christmas decorations.  Looks good.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Biodiversity and culture, Birds, Climate change, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Mammals, University of Northampton

8 things I learned from the Parliamentary Pollinators Update seminar – UPDATED

POST event December 2015

As I advertised a couple of weeks ago, last Wednesday I was in London to take part in a Pollinators Update seminar at the Houses of Parliament organised by the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST).  It was a very interesting event and good to catch up with some of the latest ideas about pollinators and their conservation.  However it’s been a busy week since then and I’ve not had time to post a full account of the seminar, which was attended by over 40 people.  So I’ve decided to write a brief summary of eight things I learned that day from my fellow speakers* and from the day in general; in some cases I’ve linked to the original sources where available:

1.  About 46% of Europe’s bumblebees have declining populations (see the European Red List for Bees that I highlighted in an earlier post)

2.  Around 2% of the world’s bee species do 80% of the crop pollination (Kleijn et al. (2015) Nature Communications)

3.  Pollinators other than bees perform 39% of the flower visits to crops (Rader et al. (2015) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

4.  By 2100 the Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), one of the commonest species in Europe, may be extinct across most of the continent due to climate change (Rasmont et al. (2015) Climatic Risk and Distribution Atlas of European Bumblebees)

5.  Only 6.6% of Entry Level Stewardship agreements by farmers across England included plans to grow nectar- and pollen-rich flower mixes.

6.  Criticism of laboratory studies of the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides are just as illogical as criticisms of field studies: both have their limitations and advantages, and both are needed.

7.  A panel of four experts on pollinators and pollination will largely agree about the answers to most questions an audience asks.

8.  A Westminster seminar such as this will attract very few MPs if it clashes with an important debate in the House of Commons, in this case about future military action in Syria.

UPDATE: here’s a number 9 suggested by Simon Potts: we all strongly support and encourage the setup of an All Party Parliamentary Group on “Pollinators” not just “honeybees” or “bees”.

 

*With thanks to my fellow panelists Simon Potts, Claire Carvell and Richard Gill, and to Kirsten Miller and the POST team for organising the event, and for the photograph of the panel in action.

 

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Virtual Conference on Ecology and Climate Change

Following on from what seemed to be a quite popular Virtual Conference on Pollinators, Pollination and Flowers I thought I’d mark this week’s Paris talks on tackling climate change with a second  “virtual conference” on the topic of climate change and how it may affect (and be affected by) natural and agricultural ecological systems.

This is a great set of talks* with some very thought-provoking ideas.  Hope you enjoy them.

Douglas Sheil  (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)

Do forests attract rain?

 

Hans Joosten (University of Griefswald)

For peat’s sake – bogs and climate change

 

Nicola Di Cosmo (Institute for Advanced Study)

Climate, conflict, and historical method

 

Ben Beard (NCEZID Centers for Disease Control)

Climate change, ecology, and disease emergence

 

Jennifer Cartwright and Bill Wolfe (USGS Tennessee Water Science Center)

Climate-sensitive, insular ecosystems of the Southeast U.S.

 

Nabil Nemer (American University of Beirut)

Are changes in insect patterns in the Lebanese Mountains evidence of climate change?

 

Lini Wollenberg (University of Vermont)

Climate Change Mitigation on Agriculture-Forest Landscapes

 

Tim Benton (University of Leeds)

Food and the future: climate and resilience

 

Feel free to discuss the talks in the comments section and to post links to other talks on the same topic.

 

*I’m assuming that, as all of these videos are in the public domain, none of the presenters or copyright owners objects to them being presented here.  If you do, please get in touch and I’ll remove it.

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