Biodiversity and the provision of multiple ecosystem services in current and future lowland multifunctional landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Hails

Abstract

Biodiversity underpins many ecosystem services - the benefits that people gain from the natural world, such as clean water, storage of greenhouse gases, crop pollination, and a pleasant and fulfilling environment. Yet the way in which biodiversity affects different services is poorly understood scientifically, especially when considering the real world rather than small-scale studies. Lowland agricultural landscapes are particular 'crunch' points, where food security needs to be balanced with the provision of other ecosystem services against the backdrop of a changing climate. Many of these services are in conflict, such as crop production, climate regulation and cultural services. Already, agricultural landscapes show signs of degradation, with consequences for their biodiversity and the provisioning and resilience of services.

The 'Wessex-BESS' project will address the fundamental challenge of the BESS program in linking biodiversity change with the delivery of ecosystem services across landscapes and into the future. We will do this by integrating experiments with large-scale biodiversity and environmental gradients existing in the Wessex Chalk landscape. This contains arable, grassland and riverine ecosystems, and offers a unique opportunity to exploit large-scale 'natural experiments'. Specifically, Salisbury Plain contains large areas of unfragmented semi-natural habitat and shares the topography and deeper chalk soils of surrounding intensive farmland, making comparisons possible. Furthermore, the area contains many ecological restoration programmes that we will use as experimental platforms for large-scale biodiversity manipulations. To allow the broad characterisation of biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships, and a framework for other researchers to exploit, research will encompass: a wide range of ecosystems from terrestrial to freshwater; taxonomic groups from bacteria to birds; multiple biodiversity measures from genetic and species diversity to landscape heterogeneity; and regulating, provisioning and cultural services. Collaboration with other initiatives using this landscape (incl. NERC 'Macronutrients Cycle', Defra 'Test Catchments', Natural England 'Nature Improvement Areas') will add scientific value and impact, and partnership with a large number of conservation and land/water management organisations will ensure the research and findings have applied and policy relevance.

We have a consortium comprising international leaders in biodiversity and ecosystem service research. Project partners will ensure that scientific outcomes influence best practice and policy. The collaborative approach (with partners involved in ecosystem service provision) represents a cost-effective way to understand the scaling of biodiversity-service relationships. The Wessex Chalk Area is an excellent test bed for possible futures as it faces imminent threats from both climate and land use change (e.g. agricultural intensification), which are already being addressed using large-scale restoration. We will focus on the contrasting services of crop production, climate regulation, water quality, and cultural services.

Planned Impact

Today, ca. 80% of the Earth's land surface shows evidence of human intervention. Radical action is needed to sustain well-functioning ecosystems and biodiversity, which together assure the delivery of ecosystem services at the level needed for a healthy planet and thus our own existence. These ecosystem services are benefits humans obtain from nature, and they underpin human well-being, by providing such essential goods as clean water, climate regulation, improved crop yield, hazard prevention, and a pleasant environment. By examining the provision of services for a particular landscape - the Wessex Chalk -and the underpinning role of biodiversity, this project will benefit society as a whole by demonstrating essential ecosystem services in the UK and by determining mechanisms to maintain services in a changing environment.
To consider more specific benefits. Local to the Wessex Chalk landscape, we have engaged with a wide range of end-users from the conception of the proposed research. They have actively helped to develop the proposal and guide the research by identifying their individual needs. The social science research in the project will broaden out form these specific contacts to consider benefits and involvement of a wider range of members of society, involving individuals as well as organisations. Thus, the research will provide real benefits and utility to local people and organisations. More broadly, the research will underpin policy efforts to focus activities on maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services. International activities include: Council of Europe - 2010 'A headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020"; the Nagoya 2010 new CBD 2020 targets including resilience of ecosystem services; the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets; the Inter-governmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) ; and TEEB (the ecology and economics of biodiversity). UK activities include: the UKNEA aiming to enhance understanding of the state of ecosystem services; Lawton review 'Making Space for Nature' and the linked Environment White Paper. These efforts are against a background of the need for increased food security, climate change and other major drovers of change. By linking mechanistic research with a detailed analysis of policy and societal needs, we will provide scientific evidence to inform future decisions

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have studied how the plants and animals of the Wessex BESS region (centred on Salisbury Plain) underpin the ecosystem services that people derive from the landscape. Analysis of data is on going, but we have the following highlights so far.
(1) People respond positively to aspects of biodiversity, resulting in cultural services - i.e. well-being from the environment. But these aspects are very specific and do not suggest a generic benefit from biodiversity. For example, people like visiting places with larger views, more woodland and a high diversity of protected habitats, while a diversity of habitat types was not important. Furthermore the activity people are undertaking, such as recreation vs more aesthetic activities, affects the response to biodiversity. In other aspects of the study, we find again that people do not respond to all aspects of biodiversity equally. So individual species are more likely to elicit positive responses from people if they are more charismatic, such as mammals vs plants or insects. However, people who engage with natural history do show positive responses to less charismatic species.
(2) While there is a lot of work on how wildflower strips in crops affects crop pollination, we know much less about the effect of natural habitats such as species-rich grassland affects pollinators and crop pollination. We found that these effects were subtle, but importantly if the landscape does not have a variety of habitats, such as species-rich grassland, the pollination to service to crops is more variable.
(3) Finally, while there is a lot of work on plant species diversity in grasslands and the effects on productivity, we know little about the role of plant diversity on below ground processes. We found that cycling of carbon and nitrogen is more affected by the type and diversity of traits such as root type and leaf types that by diversity of species as such. Furthermore, the ability of these communities to recover from drought was also affected by trait diversity more than species diversity.
In summary, while our findings agree with the general principle that biodiversity is important for ecosystem services, they show that only specific aspects of biodiversity are important for specific services. So, the general principle that we need to conserve biodiversity in general to support ecosystem services is too simple a characterisation of the real world
Exploitation Route WE have met with a variety of stakeholders in the Wessex BESS region: Defence Estates, Cranbourne Chase AONB, Environment Agency, National Farmers Union, etc. There is great interest in these findings and in using them to inform activities of these various bodies. However, there is still a bridge in translating the results for their use by stakeholders. WE have looked into a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship to do this, As more results & papers emerge, we might take this forward
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://wessexbess.wixsite.com/wessexbess
 
Description Three workshops with stakeholders in Wessex region to understand the importance of places of high biodiversity Beneficiaries: Wessex region stakeholder
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Title Atmospheric gas and vegetation survey data from Parsonage Down, UK, in 2014 
Description This dataset contains greenhouse gas flux data and vegetation survey data from an experiment based at Parsonage Down, UK. The vegetation survey comprises total species percentage cover and species richness data from four 50 cm by 50 cm quadrats. The greenhouse gas flux data comprises net ecosystem carbon dioxide exchange, photosynthesis and respiration data measured with an Infra-red Gas Analyser (IRGA); methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide data measured using gas chromatography; and nitrate and ammonium from soil samples extracted with potassium chloride. The experiment investigated the effect of different plant groups on soil carbon stores and nutrient cycling, by using a mixture of hand weeding and herbicide spot spraying to create different plant communities on the species rich grassland at Parsonage Down. The resulting carbon and nutrient cycling rates were compared to the characteristics of the plant groups. The experiment ran from 2013 to 2015 and this dataset contains data from 2014 only. This experiment was part of the Wessex BESS project, a six-year (2011-2017) project aimed at understanding how biodiversity underpins the ecosystem functions and services that landscapes provide. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Ecosystem functions and vegetation data for Winklebury Hill, Salisbury Plain, UK 2016 
Description This dataset contains vegetation survey data, and nitrate and ammonium concentrations, nitrification and mineralisation rates, microbial biomass and carbon and nitrogen stock data from soils taken from an experiment based at Winklebury Hill, UK. The vegetation survey comprises total species percentage cover and species richness data from four 50 cm by 50 cm quadrats. Net ecosystem carbon dioxide exchange, photosynthesis and respiration data were measured with an Infra-red Gas Analyser (IRGA); methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide data were measured using gas chromatography; nitrate and ammonium from soil samples extracted with potassium chloride; carbon and nitrogen from soils extracted with water; and carbon and nitrogen stocks measured through combustion analysis. The experiment used seeds and plug plants to create different plant communities on the bare chalk on Winklebury Hill and tested the resulting carbon and nutrient cycling rates and compared these to the characteristics of different plant functional groups. The experiment ran from 2013 to 2016 and this dataset contains data from 2016 only. This experiment was part of the Wessex BESS project, a six-year (2011-2017) project aimed at understanding how biodiversity underpins the ecosystem functions and services that landscapes provide. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Experimental data on herbivorous pest insects, predatory insect occurrence and population growth rates of artificially established aphids from three crops 
Description This dataset contains percentage cover of plants, mean numbers of aphids, mean counts of predators and mean counts of herbivores on three crops (field bean, wheat and oilseed rape) within different grassland types (improved, restored and species rich). Data were collected in 2013 on five farms in the Salisbury Plain area of the UK as part of the Wessex Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability (BESS) project within the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) BESS programme. This data set was used to provide an assessment of the potential for different grassland types to provide natural pest control ecosystem services. The study uses sentinel plants of the three crops established in the grasslands to monitor herbivorous pest insects, predatory insect occurrence and the population growth rates of artificially established aphids. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Impacts of experimental drought and plant trait diversity on floral resources and pollinator visitation 
Description The floral resources provided to pollinators by different sown plant experimental plant communities were assessed under ambient and experimental drought conditions. The dataset includes the abundance and diversity of floral resources in all plant communities and more detailed information on the nectar quality and quantity provided by three focal plant species. Pollinator visit surveys were carried out on selected plots. These data can be linked to the related 'Ecosystem functions and vegetation data for Winklebury Hill, Salisbury Plain, UK in 2016' (https://doi.org/10.5285/e8a1bf2d-bc6b-452f-ab9d-40fa2288fce6) collected as part of the Wessex BESS project, funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability research program. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Natural enemies of crop pests in oilseed rape fields in relation to local plant diversity and landscape characteristics 
Description The number and type of natural enemies of crop pests found in winter-sown oilseed rape fields (Brassica napus L.) in relation to local plant diversity (in crop and field margin) and landscape characteristics. Natural enemies and pests were collected using two methods (suction sampling and pitfall traps). Local plant diversity was assessed using quadrats in field margins and in cropped area. The presence of hedges was also recorded. Landscape characteristics include the amount of mass flowering crops, arable land, presence of patches of different grassland types (intensive, restored and species rich) and the amount of grasslands and other semi natural habitat with up to a 3km radius of the collection points. These data were collected as part of Wessex BESS project, funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability research program. This dataset can be used in conjunction with other Wessex BESS WP4 datasets. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Pollinator effectiveness in oilseed rape (Brassica napus L.) in relation to behavioural and morphological characteristics 
Description The number of pollen grains delivered to stigmas in a single visit by flower visitors (from insect orders Coleoptera, Hymenoptera and Diptera) to oilseed rape (Brassica napus L.) in southern England. Behavioural and morphological data were also recorded for a subset of visits to understand common traits which led to improved pollen delivery. These data were collected as part of Wessex BESS project, funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability research program. This dataset can be used in conjunction with other Wessex BESS datasets, in particular the landscape scale survey of pollinators. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Pollinators in oilseed rape fields in relation to local plant diversity and landscape characteristics 
Description The number and type of pollinators in winter-sown oilseed rape fields (Brassica napus L.) in relation to local plant diversity (in crop and field margin) and landscape characteristics. Pollinators were collected using two methods (pan traps and transects). Local plant diversity was assessed using quadrats in field margins and in cropped area. The presence of hedges was also recorded. Landscape characteristics included the presence of patches of grassland of different biodiversity levels and the amount of grasslands and other semi natural habitat within a 0.5 - 3km radius circular buffer of the collection points. Data were collected over two years (2014-2015). These data were collected as part of Wessex BESS project, funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability research program. This dataset can be used in conjunction with other Wessex BESS WP4 datasets. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Yield of winter-sown oilseed rape plants in relation to insect pollination 
Description Yield data on winter sown oilseed rape plants, in relation to pollination by insects and in relation to the ecosystem services provided by beneficial insects. Data includes yield assessed for entire field, whole plant and within different parts of the plant (per raceme and per pod). These data can be linked to the related natural enemy data set and the pollinator data set collected as part of the Wessex BESS project, funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability research program. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description InVEST UK training course 
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 Two linked events from 14th-18th October 2014. More info on website http://www.brc.ac.uk/invest-training/home but summary below:

14th was a one day introductory course. 80 people from a range of backgrounds (about ¼ consultancies (e.g. ADAS), ¼ NGOs (e.g. Wildlife Trusts), ¼ statutory agencies (e.g. EA, JNCC), ¼ academics (various universities))
15-18th was a four day intensive training course with a subset of 40 of the participants.
Training was conducted by four representatives from the US Natural Capital Project, and hosted by myself at CEH, Wallingford. Funded half by NERC BESS programme directorate and half by participants fees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.brc.ac.uk/invest-training/hom
 
Description Talk on ecosystem services maps and biodiversity patterns at the Wiltshire Biological Recorders Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Provided data on ecosystem services maps and biodiversity patterns for Wiltshire to Wiltshire Willies Trust and talked about these at the Wiltshire Biological Recorders Forum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Wessex Region Land Use Scenario development meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Work with local NGOs, governement, business to project land yse change in the region
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014