Revealing the interactions between global biodiversity change and human food security

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Genetics Evolution and Environment

Abstract

Sustainable development, aimed at ensuring human well-being while protecting the Earth's natural environment for future generations, is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. The United Nations recently agreed on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which encompass both environmental and social targets, including halting biodiversity loss and ending hunger across the world. Importantly, these goals concern highly interlinked sectors: biodiversity and agriculture (largely for food production) interact within ecosystems, and regions of food consumption interact with areas of food production within the global food system. In this project, we will focus on evaluating and explaining the interactions between food production and biodiversity, and we will also quantify the role of trade linkages in shaping the impacts of food production on biodiversity globally.

In order to effectively progress towards the SDGs, it is necessary to understand the interactions between biodiversity changes and human food security. These interactions can take a number of forms, most obviously that agricultural land use for food production is one of the greatest pressures on biodiversity. However, biodiversity changes may also impact food production. Indeed, certain groups of species provide important services that support agriculture, such as pollination, nutrient cycling, and control of insect pests. Ecosystems with a higher diversity of species within these groups have been shown to have higher levels of certain ecosystem services, such as pollination, and to have more stable agricultural production through time.

In our previous research, we have used models of biodiversity to understand how human use of the land for agriculture impacts biodiversity across the world. We have also used these models to make predictions of how biodiversity might change in the future under different scenarios of how humans will use the land. However, these models have so far been relatively crude, which has prevented an understanding of the interactions between biodiversity and food security.

In this project, we will advance biodiversity models in three important ways to explain the interactions between biodiversity change and food production. First, we will ask how the effects of agriculture on biodiversity vary in different environments (e.g. differing in climate or in the surrounding natural habitat). This will help us identify those environments where agriculture has a smaller impact on biodiversity. Second, we will assess how the characteristics of agricultural systems, such as productivity, fertilizer and pesticide use cause different impacts on biodiversity. This will allow us to identify agricultural practices with smaller effects on biodiversity. Third, we will explore how different groups of species are impacted by agriculture. This will allow us to identify instances where there is feedback from biodiversity change to food security, for example if key groups of species such as pollinators are lost more than other species.

With our improved models, we will identify where around the world food production and biodiversity change are most strongly interacting. We will also investigate how global trade in agricultural products is linked to biodiversity change, to identify where food consumption has particularly strong biodiversity impacts, potentially in remote regions of the world. Finally, we will make future predictions to identify the pathways of development in human societies that are likely to lead to smaller or larger interactions with biodiversity.

Together, the model improvements and applications will provide a much better understanding of the interactions between biodiversity change and food security at the global scale, which will be key to guide environmental, conservation and agricultural policies aimed at achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Planned Impact

There are three main ways by which our proposed research will achieve societal impact. First, by feeding into international environmental processes; second, by guiding national-level policies; and third, by informing various stakeholders (governments, farmers, food retailers and consumers) of their impacts on biodiversity.

Our results will feed into international processes through established links forged by Tim Newbold and Carole Dalin. Biodiversity-focused processes include the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Convention on Biological Diversity's Global Biodiversity Outlook, and the United Nations Global Environment Outlook. Given that we address interactions between biodiversity conservation and food security, more important will be the links to international processes that consider the links between environmental change and food security. In this regard, we will work with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the SDGs, in the latter case via the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Our previous modelling work has already produced indicators that are used by many of these processes, including IPBES and SDSN.

To inform national policy, we are working with the policy team at the Royal Society, who work with the UK government on issues around sustainable food security, with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), whose work informs national policies in developing countries, and with the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) Project, which is working with national policy partners in India and South Africa. We will also respond to public consultations from the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Our results linking biodiversity impacts of food production to the end-consumer of these food products via international trade will inform several relevant actors of the global food system such as food retailers, supply-chain companies, farmers and individual consumers. Tim Newbold is involved in an expert group, convened by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), developing a tool (that uses his previous models) for businesses to assess the impact of their supply chains on biodiversity. The refined models that we develop in this project will be even more relevant for the tool, and we intend (with CISL) to seek NERC innovation follow-on funding to make this happen. Carole Dalin has also established links with Cervest, a risk management platform for agri-food markets, who are interested in using the results of the research we propose here.

To support all of the above activities, we will maintain a project website through which we will make available all of our research findings and model predictions.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Our project on Biodiversity Interactions and Trade-offs with Agriculture (BIOTA) has made important progress towards two of its main objectives.

First, we have started a research project to assess the key factors that determine the biodiversity value of agriculture, and the effects of agriculture on surrounding natural habitats, by testing the effects of land-use intensity (e.g. fertilizer application, crop yields) and landscape-level factors (distance to nearest natural forest and habitat diversity) on the biodiversity of croplands and of remnant natural habitats. Preliminary results suggest negative effects of yield and fertiliser use on local biodiversity and a positive effect of nearby natural forest.

Second, we are conducting a critical and conceptual review of the interactions and dynamics between trade, agriculture and biodiversity. We are identifying appropriate methods for characterising the complex feedbacks between human consumption and the effects it has on biodiversity. This review will highlight the gaps in biodiversity-agriculture-trade research as well as highlighting the most appropriate methods to fill this gap, and will help to focus the future direction of our research on trade impacts within the project.

It is anticipated that each of these initial analyses will lead to a manuscript for journal submission by the end of Year 1 of the project funding.
Exploitation Route For now, we will continue to work on our research objectives throughout the rest of the period for which we have funding.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Retail

URL https://biota-ucl.org
 
Description In the first few months of the project, we have made some good connections for our impact-related work. However, there are no outputs or outcomes to report yet. Tim Newbold was invited to spend a day at the European Commission DG Environment in Brussels, to discuss the role of biodiversity indicators and modelling in Europe's post-2020 biodiversity strategy. Staff at the European Commission are interested in using the Biodiversity Intactness Index and the models that underpin it (which were developed by Tim Newbold) in their future work. Carole Dalin had a meeting with Bryan Vadheim and Oliver Walker at Vivid Economics, a consultancy on environmental economics, responsible for the 'Natural Resources' practice area. They are developing an economics-centered global model for land use management, which will be ready by October 2019. They will keep us in contact, they are interested in the expected outputs from this project, in particular the different impacts on biodiversity that agricultural land uses may have. They advise on the: design and implementation of business and public strategies; impact and efficiency of commercial and policy initiatives; costs and benefits of investment decisions under uncertain future scenarios consequences of changing market conditions, particularly on competitiveness; and building of effective institutions and necessary capacity Their clients are industry leaders, governments, international financial institutions, think tanks, and opinion leaders. Tim Newbold has had further discussions with Sarah Giles, from the policy team at the Royal Society, who remains interested in using the outputs from this project in the future.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Land use, climate and bumblebee biodiversity collaboration 
Organisation University of Ottawa
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Tim Newbold is leading working group with scientists at the University of Ottawa, investigating the impacts of land use and climate change on bumblebee biodiversity in North America and Western Europe. This work is very closely related to our NERC-funded project, one of whose aims is to predict the impact of environmental change on important groups of species, such as the pollinating bumblebees. Tim has contributed his expertise in biodiversity modelling, and his knowledge of the PREDICTS database of land-use impacts on biodiversity. Tim will be hosting an Ottawa PhD student, Peter Soroye, for a three-month visit to UCL in spring/summer 2019, to continue to work on the bumblebee work, and also to interact with members of our NERC-funded project given the very close relationship between the two projects.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Jeremy Kerr and his PhD student, Peter Soroye, have contributed a database of bumblebee records and their expertise in understanding climate impacts on bumblebee species. They have hosted Tim Newbold for visits in Ottawa, and will make return visits to UCL to work with us on modelling environmental change impacts on bumblebees.
Impact We have two manuscripts, one led by scientists at Ottawa University and one led by Tim Newbold, that are now very close for submission to high-impact journals. The research from this collaboration has been presented at the meetings of the Canadian and British Ecological Societies.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Long Term Ecological Research Network ecosystem functioning working group 
Organisation University of Minnesota
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Tim Newbold and Charlie Outhwaite attended a working group meeting funded by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network and organised by the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in the United States. This working group is highly related to our NERC-funded project, looking to investigate how broad-scale biodiversity changes are impacting ecosystem functioning. We are contributing to at least four of the papers being produced in this project, and are leading one of these papers.
Collaborator Contribution Most of the scientists involved in the LTER working group are experts in ecosystem functioning, and thus they are making a very useful contribution to our thinking around the effects of biodiversity change on ecosystem functioning.
Impact The work that Tim Newbold is leading, on the potential impacts of non-random biodiversity changes on ecosystem functioning, was presented at the annual meeting of the LTER network.
Start Year 2017
 
Description UK future Scenarios workshop 
Organisation Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Charlie Outhwaite attended a workshop on developing UK Future Scenarios. This workshop and the on-going contributions aimed to develop SSP storylines for the UK. This is part of the CEH UK-SCAPE project
Collaborator Contribution Charlie Outhwaite contributed to the 2 day workshop and on-going development of the UK scenarios.
Impact NA
Start Year 2018
 
Description BBC News coverage 
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 Tim Newbold's paper on the effects of land use on geographically rare versus common species was featured as the main science news story of the day on the BBC News website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46440396
 
Description Daily Mail coverage 
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 Tim Newbold's paper on the effects of land use on geographically rare versus widespread species was featured on the Daily Mail news website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6459845/Humans-wipe-local-species-bring-species-like...
 
Description Le Monde coverage 
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 Tim Newbold's paper on the effect of land use on geographically restricted versus widespread species was featured as the lead environment story of the day on Le Monde.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2018/12/04/pigeons-souris-rats-les-especes-les-plus-communes-...
 
Description Presentation - UCL Conservation Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Charlie Outhwaite gave a presentation on the global impacts of agriculture on biodiversity to the members of the UCL Conservation Society. Members included UCL students as well as people from outside the University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Radio Wales interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Tim Newbold was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales' drive-time show about his paper on the effects of land use on geographically rare versus widespread species.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Talk - Conchological Society of Britain and Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gave a public engagement talk to the Conchological Society of Britain and Ireland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The BIOTA project Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The BIOTA website hosts a blog that is updated with news and information on the projects progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://biota-ucl.org
 
Description UCL Environment Domain Launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The half day event launched the UCL Environment Domain - a network bringing together researchers with the environment at the heart of their work regardless of which discipline they were based.

Charlie Outhwaite and Monica Ortiz each gave a presentation on their project based research as well as presenting a poster on the project as a whole.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019