How does global land-use change reshape ecological assemblages over time?

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

Terrestrial biodiversity is declining globally because of human impacts, of which land-use change has so far been the most important. When people change how land is used, many of the species originally present decline or disappear from the area, while others previously absent become established. Although some species are affected immediately, others might only respond later as the consequences of the land-use change ripple through the ecosystem. Such delayed or protracted responses, which we term 'biotic lag', have largely been ignored in large-scale models so far. Another shortcoming of much previous work is that it has focused on numbers of species, rather than what they do. Because 'winners' from the change are likely to be ecologically different from 'losers', the land-use change impacts how the assemblage functions, as well as how many species it contains. Understanding how - and how quickly - land-use change affects local assemblages is crucial for supporting better land-use decisions in the decades to come, as people try to strike the balance between short-term needs for products from ecosystems and the longer-term need for sustainability.

The most obvious way to assess the global effects of land-use change on local ecological communities would be to have monitored how land use and the community have changed over a large, representative set of sites over many decades. The sites have to be representative to avoid a biased result, and the long time scale is needed because the responses can unfold over many years. Because there is no such set of sites, less direct approaches are needed. We are planning to scour the ecological literature for comparisons of communities before and after land-use change. We can correct for bias because we have estimates of how common different changes in land use have been; and we will model how responses change over time after a land-use change so that we can use longer-term and shorter-term studies alike. There are many hundreds of suitable studies, and we will ask the researchers who produced them to share their data with us; we will then make them available to everyone at the end of the project.

We will combine data on species' abundances before and after the land-use change with information about their ecological roles, to reveal how - and how quickly - changing land use affects the relative abundances of the various species and the ecological structure and function of the community. Does conversion of natural habitats to agriculture tend to favour smaller species over large ones, for instance, and if so how quickly? Is metabolism faster in more human-dominated land uses? These analyses will require new compilations of trait data for several ecologically important and highly diverse arthropod groups; to produce these, we will make use of the expertise, collections and library of the Natural History Museum.

In an earlier NERC-funded project (PREDICTS: www.predicts.org.uk), we have already compiled over 500 data sets - provided by over 300 different researchers - that compared otherwise-matched sites where land use differed. The PREDICTS database has amassed over 2,000,000 records, from over 18,000 sites in 88 countries. The database contains more than 1% as many species as have been formally described. Our analyses of this unprecedentedly large and representative data set indicates that land-use change has had a marked global impact on average local diversity. However, because PREDICTS' data sets are spatial rather than temporal comparisons, they are not well-suited to analysing the dynamics of how assemblages respond to land-use change. More fundamentally, PREDICTS' assumption that spatial comparisons are an adequate substitute for temporal data now needs testing. This proposal will deliver the necessary tests, as well as producing the most comprehensive picture of how land-use change reshapes ecological assemblages through time.

Planned Impact

We have identified three major beneficiaries from our proposal outside of academia, as follows:

1. International science-policy organisations and processes. Outputs from our empirical models have the potential to inform international agreements and processes, such as the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON). IPBES's rapid assessment of scenarios and modelling of biodiversity and ecosystem services requires information on how to model impacts of drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem services. We will liaise directly with this IPBES deliverable through project partners Prof Simon Ferrier & Dr Jörn Scharlemann. GEO BON's modelling working group (WG7) has set as its top priority "Global estimation of change in retention of terrestrial biodiversity as a function of observed change in habitat condition and climate", while its third priority is "Global projection of change in retention and protection of terrestrial biodiversity under future scenarios of land use and climate." We will liaise directly with the GEO BON working group, through project partners Prof Simon Ferrier and Dr Jörn Scharlemann, and will also liaise with UNEP's next Global Environment Outlook (GEO6) through Dr Neil Burgess (Consultant, and Head of Programme, Science, at UNEP-WCMC); we will discuss with both processes to ensure that the models we run have maximum applicability. Our databases of before-and-after comparisons and functional trait data will also be of relevance to these organisations and processes. As with our ongoing PREDICTS project, we will seek endorsement for this project from GEO BON, making clear that we will pass all our data holdings to GEO BON at the end of the project. UNEP-WCMC will use our modelling framework for biodiversity projections in response to requests from decision-makers, including the international conventions, governments and businses. Because we will be developing our framework in partnership with UNEP-WCMC and other project partners, it will translate directly into evaluations of policy options for land and biodiversity management.

2. UK and other national governments: Model outputs and projections at sub-global spatial resolution will be of interest to national governments for national-scale biodiversity assessments and conservation planning. UNEP-WCMC will make national summaries available via the 'conservation dashboard' on its home page. As well as influencing international policy processes, UNEP-WCMC also performs many projects for national governments and institutions (including the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs in the UK); as part of our collaboration with UNEP-WCMC, we will provide predictions to inform these projects, where relevant. Additionally, the UK government is a member of GEO, though Defra, so may benefit directly if this project fulfils part of their obligations.

3. Members of the public: The NHM has a proactive Press Office that is experienced in engaging with national and international media and in coordinating publicity between multiple institutional press offices. Press Office staff will draft and release press releases in conjunction with the PI and Researcher Co-I, to coincide with publication of significant research results, thereby disseminating the work as widely as possible. The NHM also runs informal learning activities on site in South Kensington, including popular public presentations on research results as part of the regular "Nature Live" series of talks. These daily talks, of 30 minutes' duration, focus on aspects of NHM science output in an informal setting and allow direct public access to scientists. Nature Live talks are attended by diverse audiences that represent all sociodemographic groups in the UK as well as international visitors.
 
Description We have shown that models of how biodiversity responds to land-use change need to be aware of regional and taxonomic differences in the driver-response relationship. Focusing on bees, because of their importance in provision of ecosystem services (pollination), we compared the driver-response relationship across 11 geographic regions (e.g., Western Europe) and between bumblebees and other bees. We found highly significant differences in how drivers influence biodiversity. The implication of our results is that global extrapolation
of models based on geographically and taxonomically restricted data may underestimate the true uncertainty, increasing the risk of ecological surprises.
Exploitation Route The results highlight the importance of taxonomic and geographic representativeness in global biodiversity databases, so can help to drive prioritisation of data collection by researchers and by biodiversity data aggregators.
Sectors Environment
 
Title The 2016 release of the PREDICTS database 
Description A dataset of 3,250,404 measurements, collated from 26,114 sampling locations in 94 countries and representing 47,044 species. The data were collated from 480 existing spatial comparisons of local-scale biodiversity exposed to different intensities and types of anthropogenic pressures, from terrestrial sites around the world. The database was assembled as part of the PREDICTS project - Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems; www.predicts.org.uk. The taxonomic identifications provided in the original data sets are those determined at the time of the original research, and so will not reflect subsequent taxonomic changes. This dataset is described in 10.1002/ece3.2579. A description of the way that this dataset was assembled is given in 10.1002/ece3.1303. columns.csv: Description of data extract columns database.zip: Database in zipped CSV format database.rds: Database in RDS format sites.zip: Site-level summaries in compressed CSV format sites.rds: Site-level summaries in RDS format references.csv: Data references in CSV format references.bib: Data references in BibTeX format 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The PREDICTS database underpins all the analytical publications from this grant. The most notable impact is that the Biodiversity Intactness Index (from Newbold et al. 2016 Science) is being widely adopted as an indicator of how broad-sense biodiversity is responding to human pressures around land-use change, already featuring in e.g. the 2016 UK State of Nature report. 
URL http://data.nhm.ac.uk/dataset/the-2016-release-of-the-predicts-database
 
Description Biodiversity Hack 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Organiser of a Hackathon on 20 June 2015 at Natural History Museum - developing new approaches to finding data suitable for the PREDICTS project and the Living Planet Index.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Briefing Sonia Phippard (Director General of DEFRA) on PREDICTS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Briefed Director General of Defra on the results from the PREDICTS project to raise awareness about how our research could inform national and international environmental policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Global biodiversity models worskhop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Participated at a worskhop discussion of Madingley, GLOBIO and PREDICTS models of biodiversity on 28 September 2015 at UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Land-use impacts on 'beeodiversity' and biodiversity: from data to models to policy, Swansea, May 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar Speaker at Swansea University. Students and research staff attended. This resulted in engaging discussions with a number of researchers about potential future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Land-use impacts on bee species, functional and phylogenetic diversity in Europe: talk at the ScenNet conference in Montpellier (2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk about ongoing work on how bees respond to land-use change. Resulted in interesting discussions with a PhD student (who is now a collaborator on the project) and other researchers about potential collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Linking climate and biodiversity scenarios and modelling, Workshop, UNESCO Headquarters, April 2016, Paris, France 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop with land-use modelers and biodiversity modelers to improve scenario modeling, in order to better inform policy. Short-term intention is to produce meaningful scenario modeling for IPBES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems: an overview of PREDICTS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Research presentation at Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems: an overview of PREDICTS - a Global biodiversity models workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description The next stage of PREDICTS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Research presentation at PREDICTS Project Symposium on 14 September 2015 at Natural History Museum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015