Impacts of habitat fragmentation in a warming world

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

Global warming is now an undeniable reality, with species range shifts, seasonal shifts in life cycle events, and reduced body size recognised as three universal responses to increasing temperature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has forecast an average 1.5-4.5 C increase in global surface temperatures, with even stronger increases predicted for Arctic areas. In addition, the small species pool and geographic isolation of high latitude ecosystems makes them particularly vulnerable, with recent suggestions that they may act as early-warning indicators to the potential impacts of global warming. At the same time, humans are exerting great change on natural ecosystems, with habitat fragmentation recognised as one of the major threats to biodiversity. Agricultural expansion to meet growing global food demands has seen natural landscapes divided up into smaller, and more isolated fragments by monocultures of commercially important crops. My research will study the interaction of these two major components of global change and the effect they have on terrestrial communities. I will determine the manner in which natural communities assemble - a critical process in harvested ecosystems, which are continually reset to early stages of succession. I will then assess how warming and fragmentation alter this process and how detrimental that might be to the ecosystem services we derive. I will also determine the impact of warming and fragmentation on the structure of terrestrial food webs, with a particular interest in how loss of larger predators may undermine pest control in agricultural systems. This will have important implications for crop yield and quality. I will assess the resilience of these communities to extreme events, by simulating severe flooding in my study systems. And I will improve our predictability of warming impacts on terrestrial ecosystems by testing predictive models with the data I collect. The findings will help to inform conservation management in the face of continuing global change, as well as agriculture and land use policy, and our general understanding of how natural communities respond to climatic and human-induced disturbances.

Planned Impact

The following four sectors are the most likely non-academic beneficiaries of this research:
(1) Agricultural bodies in the UK, such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (ADHB) and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), which support and advise the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
(2) Conservation bodies, such as Natural England, the Environment Agency, and the Wildlife Trusts in the UK, and Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association.
(3) Energy companies in Iceland, such as the National Energy Authority of Iceland (Orkustofnun) and Reykjavik Geothermal Limited.
(4) The general public, including UK schools, farmers, and ecotourism.

The field experiment at Silwood Park will examine the impact of warming and habitat fragmentation on grain yield and quality. This research is directly aligned with many of the goals of the HGCA, which also financially supports similar research programmes to help inform government agricultural policies through the ADHB and DEFRA. The findings may also contribute to future food security in the UK and internationally, by informing cereal farmers how to maximise their crop through promotion of biological control of pests. This approach may also promote successful organic farming over the use of pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment and human health.

The research at both Silwood Park and Hengill, Iceland may also help conservation bodies mitigate against the impacts of future global change, by making informed decisions about potential ecosystem-level impacts of habitat fragmentation, warming, and flooding. The development of models predicting the impact of warming and habitat isolation on food web structure will be particularly relevant to planning for and managing future environmental change. Environmental agencies in Iceland will also have baseline data on the ecological importance of geothermal areas to inform geothermal energy companies about the destructive potential of expansion, particularly for ecotourism - one of the country's largest industries.

Outreach activities will ensure the research informs and inspires a younger generation of environmentalists. Science exhibitions at the Natural History Museum and the Royal Society's headquarters in London provide the opportunity to interact directly with families and young adults. Media coverage will also transmit the research findings to as broad an audience as possible (see Pathways to Impact for full details).

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/L011840/1 01/10/2014 31/01/2019 £519,245
NE/L011840/2 Transfer NE/L011840/1 01/02/2019 30/09/2019 £72,672
 
Description Grantham institute panel discussion
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description Grantham institute policy briefing note
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description Policy briefing note
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description A Novel Framework for Predicting Emerging Chemical Stressor Impacts in Complex Ecosystems
Amount £2,400,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S000348/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 02/2022
 
Description NERC Highlights Topic
Amount £91,735 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N005996/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2015 
End 05/2019
 
Description NERC Large Grant
Amount £1,815,580 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/M020843/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 09/2019
 
Description Royal Society Research Grants
Amount £13,994 (GBP)
Funding ID RG140601 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 03/2016
 
Title Invertebrate data from Hengill 
Description This is a dataset of environmental data, percentage vegetation cover, total invertebrate abundance, and mean invertebrate body mass, sampled at 96 soil habitat patches in the Hengill geothermal valley, Iceland, in July 2013. The habitat patches span a temperature gradient of 7-38 degrees C, yet they occur within 2 km of each other and have similar soil moisture, pH, total carbon, and total nitrogen. Effects of soil temperature on the structure and diversity of plant and invertebrate communities using this dataset are presented in Robinson et al. (2018), published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This dataset is now publicly available via NERC's EIDC. 
URL https://doi.org/10.5285/0f074839-1630-4ccd-aa63-84d0da16b28a
 
Description Bernhard Eitzinger 
Organisation University of Helsinki
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I collected spider samples from soils of different temperature in the Hengill geothermal valley for Dr Bernhard Eitzinger to perform DNA metabarcoding of gut contents in Prof Tomas Roslin's laboratory at the University of Helsinki.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Bernhard Eitzinger perform DNA metabarcoding of gut contents from 180 spider samples collected from soils of different temperature in the Hengill geothermal valley in Prof Tomas Roslin's laboratory at the University of Helsinki.
Impact We have data on the diet 180 spiders from this study which will lead to a publication and a BES grant submission this year.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Bryndís Marteinsdóttir 
Organisation University of Iceland
Country Iceland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have helped to design a long-term study assessing temperature effects on plant phenology and to co-supervise Master's students and research assistants for Dr Bryndís Marteinsdóttir at the University of Iceland.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Bryndís Marteinsdóttir at the University of Iceland has helped to supervise one of my Master's students (Emily Warner) who looked at temperature effects on plant-herbivore interactions. She will also be providing access to a long-term dataset on plant phenology to strengthen this study.
Impact The data collected by my Master's student, Emily Warner, will be combined with data collected by Dr Bryndís Marteinsdóttir in a publication output this year
Start Year 2016
 
Description Juha Mikola 
Organisation University of Helsinki
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am a co-supervisor of Sinikka Robinson's PhD studentship, which is funded by the University of Helsinki and primarily supervised by Dr Juha Mikola in the Terrestrial Interactions Research Group.
Collaborator Contribution Sinikka Robinson was a former Master's student who is now doing her PhD on the same terrestrial system that I work on in Iceland. This has brought additional research support into my wider project at no extra cost to NERC.
Impact Sinikka has just published her first paper from her PhD in the Journal of Animal Ecology: Robinson et al. (2018) Soil temperature effects on the structure and diversity of plant and invertebrate communities in a natural warming experiment. I am the corresponding author on this paper.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Tony Dell 
Organisation National Great Rivers Research and Education Centre
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I hosted Dr Anthony Dell, his post-doc Dr Carl Cloyed, and his undergraduate student Tracie Hayes on my 2016 summer field expedition to Iceland. We shared space with them in our lab at the University of Iceland, which I pay bench fees for through my NERC Fellowship. We also allowed them to join us on field work in the Hengill geothermal valley, enabling them to video-track the movement and behaviour of freshwater snails in streams of different temperature. These data complement my research on the temperature dependence of trophic interactions.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Anthony Dell brought three custom-built video tracking stations to Iceland. Each station comprises a near-infrared (850 nm) LED light panel (Smartvision Lights, MI, USA) that lies underneath the tracking surface where organisms move and interact. A GoPro Hero+ Silver Edition camera is mounted above both the light panel and the tracking surface, supported by a 3D-printed frame. After removal of the factory lens, each GoPro is outfitted with a 4.2 mm rectilinear lens and an 850 nm infrared pass filter (Rage Cams, MI, USA). When the infrared light panel is on, organisms moving anywhere on the tracking surface will be silhouetted, providing a high-resolution video image that has high contrast between the background and each animal. Each station costs $10,000 to build and so their use in my research provided high quality data that could not otherwise have been obtained within the funding limits of my NERC Fellowship.
Impact Video-tracking of the freshwater snail, Radix balthica, was carried out during the field trip, which is a key grazer in the study system. Videos have been analyzed using tracking software developed in TD's lab that automatically quantifies movement (e.g. velocity, angles of attack) and behaviour (e.g. Brownian motion, Lévy flight). The results are currently been written up for a publication that will be aimed at Ecology Letters.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Blog contribution to World Wildlife Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Grantham Institute asked me to contribute to their blog on environmental issues for World Wildlife Day after reading a media article about a paper I recently published in Global Change Biology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://granthaminstitute.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/how-can-wildlife-adapt-to-a-warmer-world/
 
Description Imperial news piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Imperial media office wrote an article on a paper that I published in Global Change Biology and posted it on the main Imperial website, as well as distributing it through their newsletter and social media channels
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_23-2-2016-16-39-12
 
Description RRS Discovery 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of my role as a NERC 50th Anniversary Ambassador, I attended the mooring of the RRS Discovery in the Thames near Tower Bridge and promoted NERC science to members of the general public as part of a stall with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Water Explorer Final 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I presented tanks of freshwater pond organisms at the final of the Water Explorer competition, an initiative aimed at conserving water use at a national level through involvement by school children. I educated the school children that made the final and their teachers on the kinds of organisms that can be found in healthy freshwater bodies. I also got the opportunity to interact with environmental representatives from HSBC Bank and Global Action Plan, which is an independent charity committed to engaging people in practical solutions to environmental and social problems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Wild Trout Trust asked me to contribute an article on my research for publication in their Salmo magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was invited to contribute an article on temperature effects on brown trout from my research in Icelandic geothermal streams to the Wild Trout Trust's Salmo magazine. The article will be distributed nationwide to angling organisations, small businesses, nature groups, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016