Temporal variation in biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery in grasslands (T-BESS)

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


Human impacts on the natural environment have reached unprecedented levels. One of the consequences of this has been world-wide declines in biodiversity. However, although many of the services we rely on ecosystems to provide are underpinned by biodiversity we know little about the consequences of biodiversity loss for ecosystem service provision. This project will investigate the extent to which provision in ecosystem services from grassland ecosystems has changed over time focussing on a critical period of human impact, the last fifty years. We will do this by repeating an extensive vegetation survey conducted in the Pennine region, northern England, in 1965. We will also utilise data from a partial resurvey in 1990. The focus of this survey will be calcareous grasslands. This species-rich habitat forms an important part of a multifunctional landscape providing provisioning services through agriculture whilst at the same time being important for supporting, regulating and cultural services. We will revisit sites surveyed in 1965 and record them using the same methods. We will also incorporate results from a repeat of the acid grassland component of the survey which was completed in summer 2012. We will use a range of indicators of stocks and flows of natural capital, some of which we will measure directly such as bee nectar sources (an indicator of the regulating service pollination), and others, such as annual above-ground net primary productivity (an indicator of the supporting service primary productivity), which we will infer using plant traits We will also use out data to contribute to and test ecosystem service indicators in development in the Wessex BESS project. These will be focussed on greenhouse gas fluxes, pollination and natural pest enemies.
We will analyse the data collected to examine how provision of ecosystem services has is likely to have changed since 1965 given changes in associated natural capital. We will also collate data on drivers of change during this period such as climate, air pollution and land use intensity. By quantitatively linking drivers and ecological responses we will identify drivers of change in ecosystem service delivery. Using multivariate statistics we will also assess spatial and temporal patterns in the dataset to test the validity of using space-for-time substitutions when assessing ecosystem service delivery. We will use the data generated in this project to create a tool where sites can be plotted passively within an ordination space using data on vegetation species composition to identify the level of ecosystem service delivery. This tool will be useful to conservation managers and policy makers to assess the ecosystem service provision from sites of conservation interest.
This project will provide valuable information on ecosystem services in upland and lowland grassland habitats and how they have changed over time. We anticipate the project will be of considerable interest to academics in the field of ecology as well as policy makers concerned with the conservation and status of grassland habitats.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research and how?
- Our research will contribute new evidence of interest to the international scientific community whom together are attempting to address the question how do biodiversity and ecosystem function/service relationships scale up to real landscapes? In particular we will demonstrate the extent to which spatial patterns in species composition and derived indicators are a product of temporal change. We expect to make novel generalisations about the dependence of the space for time substitution on the identity of the drivers of change, the trait profile of the impacted species and the ecological conditions at the start. This will produce guidelines on the extent to which model predictions of change in indicators based on spatial patterns can be reliably interpreted as expectations of change over time. We will also produce novel research findings regarding the sensitivity versus robustness of indicators based on traits versus species diversity and composition. Included within these tests will be a series of ecosystem service indicators emerging from Wessex-BESS. The research will therefore produce new generalised knowledge and scientific advancement that will have international impact in the scientific literature.
- Practitioners and policy makers will also benefit. These groups face increasing challenges in optimising multiple demands on finite areas of land especially within the study area where culturally valued landscapes are embedded within the conurbations of the north midlands (over 4.5 million people). These decisions can be made easier if an area of interest can be evaluated by placing it in within the range of regional indicator variation. We will develop and introduce decision makers to our natural capital and trait-based ordination space. This simple tool will enable those evaluating agri-environment land and SSSI condition to better represent the contribution of sites to potential supply of different ecosystem services and to estimate the extent to which promoting one pool of natural capital may trade-off against another; for example grassland productivity versus carbon sequestration versus conservation of traditional meadow species. Therefore direct beneficiaries will be Natural England, Wildlife Trusts and farm advisors. In addition we expect our results and toolkit will deliver BESS science in support of the aims of the Dark Peak Nature Improvement Area.


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Description Although the Peak District National Park has protected species rich grasslands over the last 50 years species diversity has declined both inside and outside the national park.
Exploitation Route Management of species rich grasslands.
Sectors Environment