The relationship between climate and biodiversity has been long debated. In a changing environment, there is new emphasis to resolve this debate for practical reasons: to manage conservation efforts we need to understand how diversity will change from both our own actions and natural global cycles. In a new study published in AoB PLANTS, McBride et al. show that the roles played by different ecological and evolutionary factors in shaping plant diversity change across the world’s ecoregions, and—critically—that these differences scale with ecoregion size. Ecoregions that are both large and productive are globally important biodiversity sources that shape the biota of the smaller regions around them.
The processes that govern diverse tropical plant communities have rarely been studied in life-forms other than trees. Structurally dependent vascular epiphytes, a major part of tropical biodiversity, grow in a three-dimensional matrix defined by their hosts, but these host trees differ in many ways, not least in leaf phenology. In a recent study published in AoB PLANTS, Einzmann et al. hypothesized that differences in microclimatic conditions in evergreen vs. deciduous trees would affect epiphytes at various levels, from organ physiology to community structure. Indeed, they found that deciduous tree species hosted less abundant and species-poorer epiphyte assemblages. Physiologically, epiphyte assemblages differed in the proportion of CAM species and individuals, and in SLA and δ13C values. Effects were also detectable at a demographic level, i.e. in growth and survival rates. Their results thus suggest a cascading effect of tree composition and associated differences in tree phenology on the diversity and functioning of epiphyte communities in tropical lowland forests.
Most of the numerous and remarkable range disjunctions across the southern oceans are probably the result of occasional long-distance dispersal, rather than of vicariance. Linder and Barker study the grass subfamily Danthonioideae, which probably reached its current global distribution by a number of long-distance dispersal events during the Neogene, and show that such dispersal is much more likely in polyploid than in diploid species. It is possible that polyploidy facilitates post-dispersal establishment, and it is postulated that the frequent occurrence of polyploidy in the grasses may thus have facilitated their long-distance dispersal, and hence contributed to the remarkable success of the family.
The Lathyrus genus (Fabaceae) includes 160 species, some of which have economic importance as food, fodder and ornamental crops (mainly L. sativus, L. cicera and L. odoratus, respectively) and are cultivated in over 1.5 million ha worldwide. Vaz Patto and Rubiales review the current status and future prospects of Lathyrus diversity conservation and characterization, highlighting their use in L. sativus and L. cicera breeding. They conclude that efforts for improvement of these species should concentrate on the development of publicly available joint core collections, and on high-resolution genotyping. This should result in more efficient and faster breeding approaches, which are especially needed for these neglected, under-utilized Lathyrus species.
Plant reproduction by means of flowers has long been thought to promote the success and diversification of angiosperms. It remains unclear, however, how this success has been come about. A recent review by Scott Armbruster published in AoB PLANTS considers the role of reproductive factors in the evolutionary success of flowering plants, with emphasis on flowers and pollination. Flowers are complex structures that have varying degrees of integration of parts and surprising evolutionary lability. Diversification of floral form usually accompanies plant diversification by speciation. This correlation has traditionally been interpreted as the result of floral specialization increasing speciation rates. However, another possibility is that species diversity generates selection for divergent specialized flowers when related species occur together, thereby reducing extinction rates.
What regulates the size and distribution of plant populations? What determines whether a population of plants will increase in size or decline? What allows some species to become aggressive invaders of exotic habitats, and what prevents this from occurring? When do individuals from different species exclude each other from a community by competition, and when do their interactions facilitate coexistence? These are just a few of the questions that arise when one contemplates the ebb and flow of plants across our landscapes, the magnificent diversity one finds in some habitats, or the tendency of one species to exclude all others in habitats that would appear to be very similar. The latest issue of Annals of Botany is a Special Issue that brings together 15 articles presenting recent research bearing on these and other questions that have become, or continue to be, hot topics in the study of plant populations.
Little is known about the genome of Anthurium other than chromosome observations, which frequently indicate supernumerary (“B”) chromosomes. New genome size estimates for 34 species and nine cultivars presented here provide insights into genome organization and evolution in this very large genus.
This post is a summary of the report ‘Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020’ by the European Commission which can be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/comm2006/pdf/ 2020/1_EN_ACT_part1_v7%5b1%5d.pdf , and is taken from a RuSource briefing to provide concise information on current farming and rural issues produced by Alan Spedding in association with the Arthur Rank Centre. These briefings are circulated weekly by email and previous briefings can be accessed on the Arthur Rank Centre website. If you would like to be put on the list for free regular briefings please contact alan.spedding -at- btopenworld.com
Biodiversity is our life insurance, giving us food, fresh water and clean air, shelter and medicine, mitigating natural disasters, pests and diseases and contributes to regulating the climate. It is also our natural capital, delivering ecosystem services that underpin our economy. Its deterioration and loss jeopardises the wealth and employment we derive from nature, and endangers our wellbeing. Current rates of species extinction are unparalleled. Driven mainly by human activities, species are currently being lost 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. In the EU, only 17% of habitats and species and 11 % of key ecosystems protected under EU legislation are in a favourable state. This is in spite of action taken to combat biodiversity loss which has been outweighed by land-use change, overexploitation of biodiversity and its components, the spread of invasive alien species, pollution and climate change. Indirect drivers, such as population growth, limited awareness about biodiversity and the fact that biodiversity’s economic value is not reflected in decision making are also taking a heavy toll.
A new foundation for EU biodiversity policy
The EU mandate
In March 2010, EU leaders recognised that the 2010 biodiversity target would not be met. They therefore endorsed the long-term vision proposed by the Commission:
Valuing our natural assets to deliver multiple benefits
The EU 2020 biodiversity target is underpinned by the recognition that, in addition to its intrinsic value, biodiversity and the services it provides have significant economic value that is seldom captured in markets and often falls victim to competing claims on nature and its use. The economic value of biodiversity needs to be factored into decision making.
Although action to halt biodiversity loss entails costs, biodiversity loss itself is costly for society as a whole. For example, insect pollination in the EU has an estimated economic value of €15 billion per year. Fully valuing nature’s potential will contribute to a number of the EU’s strategic objectives:
- A more resource efficient economy: The EU’s ecological footprint is currently double its biological capacity.
- A more climate-resilient, low-carbon economy.
- A leader in research and innovation: Genetic diversity, for example, is a main source of innovation for the medical and cosmetics industries.
- New skills, jobs and business opportunities.
The Commission will work with Member States and the European Environment Agency to develop by 2012 an integrated framework for monitoring, assessing and reporting on progress in implementing the strategy.
The Commission will continue its work to fill key research gaps, including mapping and assessing ecosystem services in Europe, which will help improve our knowledge of the links between biodiversity and climate change, and the role of soil biodiversity in delivering key ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and food supply.
A framework for action for the next decade
Conserving and restoring nature
To halt the deterioration in the status of all species and habitats covered by EU nature legislation and achieve a significant and measurable improvement in their status so that, by 2020, compared to current assessments: (i) 100% more habitat assessments and 50% more species assessments under the Habitats Directive show an improved conservation status; and (ii) 50% more species assessments under the Birds Directive show a secure or improved status.
Maintaining and enhancing ecosystems and their services
In the EU, many ecosystems and their services have been degraded, largely as a result of land fragmentation. Target 2 will ensure better connectivity between ecosystems within and between Natura 2000 areas and in the wider countryside.
By 2020, ecosystems and their services are maintained and enhanced by establishing green infrastructure and restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems.
Ensuring the sustainability of agriculture, forestry and fisheries
A) Agriculture: By 2020, maximise areas under agriculture that are covered by biodiversity-related measures under the CAP so as to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and to bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by agriculture and in the provision of ecosystem services.
B) Forests: By 2020, Forest Management Plans or equivalent instruments are in place for all forests that are publicly owned and for forest holdings above a certain size that receive funding under the EU Rural Development Policy so as to bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by forestry and in the provision of related ecosystem services.
Fisheries: Achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by 2015. Achieve a population age and size distribution indicative of a healthy stock, through fisheries management with no significant adverse impacts on other stocks, species and ecosystems.
Combating invasive alien species
By 2020, Invasive Alien Species and their pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and pathways are managed to prevent the introduction and establishment of new species.
Addressing the global biodiversity crisis
By 2020, the EU has stepped up its contribution to averting global biodiversity loss. Contributions from other environmental policies and initiatives Several existing or planned policy initiatives will support biodiversity objectives. For instance, climate change, which is a significant and increasing pressure on biodiversity is addressed through a comprehensive EU policy package. Achieving the 2 degrees target for atmospheric warming will be essential to prevent biodiversity loss. The Commission plans to issue an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change by 2013.
The EU has substantial legislation requiring the achievement of good ecological status for water by 2015, tackling pollution from various sources, and regulating chemicals and their effects on the environment. The Commission is assessing whether additional action to tackle nitrogen and phosphate pollution and certain atmospheric pollutants is warranted, whilst the Member States are considering a Commission proposal for a framework directive to protect soil.
We are all in this together
Partnerships for biodiversity
The Commission has set up the EU Business and Biodiversity Platform, which brings together businesses from agriculture, extractive industries, finance, food supply, forestry and tourism).The Commission will further develop the Platform and encourage greater cooperation between businesses in Europe, including SMEs, and links to national and global initiatives.
The Commission will continue working with other partners to support work on valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in developing countries.
The Commission will further encourage collaboration between researchers and other stakeholders involved in spatial planning and land use management in implementing biodiversity strategies.
The active involvement of civil society will be encouraged at all levels of implementation. The Commission and Member States will work with the outermost regions and overseas countries and territories through the BEST (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European Overseas) initiative.
The EU will also support efforts to improve collaboration, synergies and the establishment of common priorities between the biodiversity-related Conventions.
The EU will reinforce its dialogue and cooperation on biodiversity with key partners, in candidate and potential candidate countries to develop to meet the 2020 biodiversity targets.
These partnerships help to raise awareness about biodiversity, which in the EU remains low.
Mobilising resources to support biodiversity and ecosystem services
The Commission and Member States will work to:
- Ensure a better uptake and distribution of existing funds for biodiversity.
- Rationalise available resources and maximise co-benefits of various funding sources.
- Diversify and scale up various sources of funding. The Commission and Member States will promote the development and use of innovative financing mechanisms, including market based instruments. Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes should reward public and private goods from agricultural, forest and marine ecosystems. Incentives will be provided to attract private sector investment in green infrastructure and the potential of biodiversity offsets will be looked into as a way of achieving a ‘no net loss’ approach. The Commission and the European Investment Bank are exploring the scope for using innovative financing instruments to support biodiversity challenges, including through Public Private Partnerships and the possible establishment of a biodiversity financing facility.
A common implementation strategy for the EU
The shared EU and CBD targets need to be pursued through a mix of sub-national, national and EU-level action. Close coordination will therefore be needed to track progress in reaching the targets, and to ensure consistency between EU and Member State action. The Commission will work with Member States to develop a common framework for implementation.
The Commission will support and complement Member States’ efforts by enforcing environmental legislation, filling policy gaps by proposing new initiatives, providing guidelines, funding, and fostering research and the exchange of best practice.
Alan Spedding, 11 May 2011
RuSource briefings provide concise information on current farming and rural issues for rural professionals. They are circulated weekly by email and produced by Alan Spedding in association with the Arthur Rank Centre, the national focus for the rural church. Previous briefings can be accessed on the Arthur Rank Centre website at http://www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk/projects/rusource_briefings/index.html
RuSource is a voluntary project partly supported by donations (including from the Annals of Botany not-for-profit company) and sponsorship.
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