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Article

Agriculture is practiced on 38% of the landmass on Earth, and having replaced natural ecosystems, it is the largest terrestrial biome on Earth. Agricultural biomes are typically focused on annual crops that are produced as a succession of genetically uniform monocultures. Compared to the ecosystems they replaced, agroecosystems provide fewer ecosystem functions and contain much less biodiversity. The large-scale conversion from natural lands to agriculture occurred centuries ago in the Old World (Africa, China, Europe, and India), but in many areas during the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, especially tropical areas with rich biodiversity, agriculture is an emerging industry. Here, displacement of natural ecosystems is also a late 20th-century occurrence, and much of it is ongoing. Regardless of where or when agriculture was established, biodiversity declined and ecosystem services were eroded. Agricultural practices are the second largest contributor to biodiversity loss, due to the loss of habitat, competition for resources, and pesticide use. Most (~96%) of the land used to produce crops is farmed using conventional methods, while smaller percentages are under organic production (~2%) or are producing biotech crops (~4%). Regardless of how agriculture is practiced, it exacts a toll on biodiversity and ecosystem services. While organic agriculture embraces many ecological principals in producing food, it fails to recognize the value of biotechnology as a tool to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Herbicide- and/or insect-resistant crops are the most widely planted biotech crops worldwide. Biotech crops in general, but especially insect-resistant crops, reduce pesticide use and increase biodiversity. The widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops increased the use of this herbicide, and resistance evolved in weeds. On the other hand, glyphosate has less environmental impacts than other herbicides. Because of the limited scale of biotech production, it will not have large impacts on mitigating the effects of agriculture on biodiversity and ecosystem services. To have any hope of reducing the environmental impact of agriculture, agro-ecology principals and biotechnology will need to be incorporated. Monetizing biodiversity and ecosystem services through incorporation into commodity prices will incentivize producers to be part of the biodiversity solution. A multi-level biodiversity certification is proposed that is a composite score of the biodiversity and ecosystem services of an individual farm and the growing region were the food is produced. Such a system would add value to the products from farms and ranches proportionate to the level by which their farm and region provides biodiversity and ecosystem services as the natural ecosystem it replaced.

Article

The recent implementation of the IPBES is a major cornerstone in the transformation of the international environmental governance in the early 21st century. Often presented as “the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) for biodiversity,” the IPBES aims to produce regular expert assessments of the state and evolution of biodiversity and ecosystems at the local, regional, and global levels. Its creation was promoted in the 1990s by biodiversity scientists and NGOs who increasingly came to view the failure of achieving effective conservation of nature as the consequence of the gap between science and policy, rather than of a lack of knowledge. The new institution embodies an approach to nature and nature conservation that results from the progressive evolution of international environmental governance, marked by the notion of ecosystem services (i.e., the idea that nature provides benefits to people and that nature conservation and human development should be thought of as mutually constitutive). The IPBES creation was entrusted to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Social environmental studies accounted for the genesis and organization of the IPBES and paid special attention to the strong emphasis put by IPBES participants on principles of openness and inclusivity and on the need to consider scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge (e.g. traditional ecological knowledge) on an equal footing. Overall the IPBES can be considered an innovative platform characterized by organizations and practices that foster inclusiveness and openness both to academic science and indigenous knowledge as well as to diverse values and visions of nature and its relationship to society. However, the extent to which it succeeded in putting different biodiversity values and knowledge on an equal footing in practice has varied and remains diversely appreciated by the literature.

Article

Leon C. Braat

The concept of ecosystem services considers the usefulness of nature for human society. The economic importance of nature was described and analyzed in the 18th century, but the term ecosystem services was introduced only in 1981. Since then it has spurred an increasing number of academic publications, international research projects, and policy studies. Now a subject of intense debate in the global scientific community, from the natural to social science domains, it is also used, developed, and customized in policy arenas and considered, if in a still somewhat skeptical and apprehensive way, in the “practice” domain—by nature management agencies, farmers, foresters, and corporate business. This process of bridging evident gaps between ecology and economics, and between nature conservation and economic development, has also been felt in the political arena, including in the United Nations and the European Union (which have placed it at the center of their nature conservation and sustainable use strategies). The concept involves the utilitarian framing of those functions of nature that are used by humans and considered beneficial to society as economic and social services. In this light, for example, the disappearance of biodiversity directly affects ecosystem functions that underpin critical services for human well-being. More generally, the concept can be defined in this manner: Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems, in interaction with contributions from human society, to human well-being. The concept underpins four major discussions: (1) Academic: the ecological versus the economic dimensions of the goods and services that flow from ecosystems to the human economy; the challenge of integrating concepts and models across this paradigmatic divide; (2) Social: the risks versus benefits of bringing the utilitarian argument into political debates about nature conservation (Are ecosystem services good or bad for biodiversity and vice versa?); (3) Policy and planning: how to value the benefits from natural capital and ecosystem services (Will this improve decision-making on topics ranging from poverty alleviation via subsidies to farmers to planning of grey with green infrastructure to combining economic growth with nature conservation?); and (4) Practice: Can revenue come from smart management and sustainable use of ecosystems? Are there markets to be discovered and can businesses be created? How do taxes figure in an ecosystem-based economy? The outcomes of these discussions will both help to shape policy and planning of economies at global, national, and regional scales and contribute to the long-term survival and well-being of humanity.

Article

Muhammad Farooq, Ahmad Nawaz, and Faisal Nadeem

Planned crop rotation offers a pragmatic option to improve soil fertility, manage insect pests and diseases, and offset the emission of greenhouse gases. The inclusion of legume crops in crop rotations helps to reduce the use of external nitrogen inputs for legumes and other crops because legumes may fix the atmospheric nitrogen. This also helps to reduce the environmental pollution caused by volatilization and leaching of applied nitrogen. The inclusion of allelopathic crops in rotation may be useful to suppress noxious weeds due to release of the allelochemicals in the rhizosphere. The rotation of tap-rooted crops with shallow rooted crops may result in efficient and productive use of nutrient resources and conservation of soil moisture. Continuous monoculture systems may cause the loss of biodiversity. Land fallowing is an efficient agricultural management technique mostly practiced in arid regions to capture rainwater and store it in the soil profile for later use in crop production. During fallowing, tillage operations are practiced to enhance moisture conservation in the soil. Keeping soil fallow for a season or more restores soil fertility through nutrient deposits; increases organic matter, microbial carbon, and soil microbial diversity; and improves the soil’s physical properties, including aggregation stability and reduced soil compaction due to decreased traffic. In addition, fallowing of land provides biological means of pest (weeds and insects) control by disrupting the life cycle of pests and decreasing reliance on pesticides. Land fallowing can help offset the emission of greenhouse gases from agricultural fields by reducing traffic and increasing carbon sequestration within the soil. Summer fallowing may help to preserve moisture in diverse soil types in the rainfed regions of the world, although it may reduce the carbon sequestration potential of soils over the long term. Energy resources are decreasing, and the inclusion of energy crops in crop rotation may be highly beneficial. Many of the processes, factors, and mechanisms involved in crop rotation and land fallowing are poorly understood and require further investigation.

Article

Agroforestry systems, the planting of perennial trees and/or shrubs with annual agronomic crops or pasture, have been proposed as more environmentally benign, alternative systems for agricultural production in both temperate and tropical regions of the world. Agroforestry provides a number of environmental benefits as confirmed by scientific literature. The four major environmental benefits of agroforestry are (1) climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, (2) biodiversity conservation, (3) soil health enrichment, and (4) air and water quality improvement. In addition to environmental benefits, the economic benefits of multiple crops within agroforestry systems have also generated interest in their adoption by farmers the world over. The major negative impacts come from conversion or degradation of forests following certain traditional practices, which may not fit in the definition of modern agroforestry. Challenges remain for widespread adoption of agroforestry, particularly in the temperate world; however, a new resurgence of interest in this land-use practice among small-scale farmers has shed light on a path toward its possible success. Past evidence clearly indicates that agroforestry, as part of a multifunctional working landscape, can offer not only economic return, but also a number of ecosystem services and environmental benefits for a sustainable society.

Article

Christiane W. Runyan and Jeff Stehm

Over the last 8,000 years, cumulative forest loss amounted to approximately 2.2 billion hectares, reducing forest cover from about 47% of Earth’s land surface to roughly 30% in 2015. These losses mostly occurred in tropical forests (58%), followed by boreal (27%) and temperate forests (8%). The rate of loss has slowed from 7.3 Mha/year between 1990–2000 to 3.3 Mha/year between 2010–2015. Globally since the 1980s, the net loss in the tropics has been outweighed by a net gain in the subtropical, temperate, and boreal climate zones. Deforestation is driven by a number of complex direct and indirect factors. Agricultural expansion (both commercial and subsistence) is the primary driver, followed by mining, infrastructure extension, and urban expansion. In turn, population and economic growth drive the demand for agricultural, mining, and timber products as well as supporting infrastructure. Population growth and changing consumer preferences, for instance, will increase global food demand 50% by 2050, possibly requiring a net increase of approximately 70 million ha of arable land under cultivation. This increase is unlikely to be offset entirely by agricultural intensification due to limits on yield increases and land quality. Deforestation is also affected by other factors such as land tenure uncertainties, poor governance, low capacity of public forestry agencies, and inadequate planning and monitoring. Forest loss has a number of environmental, economic, and social implications. Forests provide an expansive range of environmental benefits across local, regional, and global scales, including: hydrological benefits (e.g., regulating water supply and river discharge), climate benefits (e.g., precipitation recycling, regulating local and global temperature, and carbon sequestration), biogeochemical benefits (e.g., enhancing nutrient availability and reducing nutrient losses), biodiversity benefits, and the support of ecosystem stability and resiliency. The long-term loss of forest resources also negatively affects societies and economies. The forest sector in 2011 contributed roughly 0.9% of global GDP or USD 600 billion. About 850 million people globally live in forest ecosystems, with an estimated 350 million people entirely dependent on forest ecosystems for their livelihoods. Understanding how to best manage remaining forest resources in order to preserve their unique qualities will be a challenge that requires an integrated set of policy responses. Developing and implementing effective policies will require a better understanding of the socio-ecological dynamics of forests, a more accurate and timely ability to measure and monitor forest resources, sound methodologies to assess the effectiveness of policies, and more efficacious methodologies for valuing trade-offs between competing objectives.

Article

Peter Kareiva and Isaac Kareiva

The concept of biodiversity hotspots arose as a science-based framework with which to identify high-priority areas for habitat protection and conservation—often in the form of nature reserves. The basic idea is that with limited funds and competition from humans for land, we should use range maps and distributional data to protect areas that harbor the greatest biodiversity and that have experienced the greatest habitat loss. In its early application, much analysis and scientific debate went into asking the following questions: Should all species be treated equally? Do endemic species matter more? Should the magnitude of threat matter? Does evolutionary uniqueness matter? And if one has good data on one broad group of organisms (e.g., plants or birds), does it suffice to focus on hotspots for a few taxonomic groups and then expect to capture all biodiversity broadly? Early applications also recognized that hotspots could be identified at a variety of spatial scales—from global to continental, to national to regional, to even local. Hence, within each scale, it is possible to identify biodiversity hotspots as targets for conservation. In the last 10 years, the concept of hotspots has been enriched to address some key critiques, including the problem of ignoring important areas that might have low biodiversity but that certainly were highly valued because of charismatic wild species or critical ecosystem services. Analyses revealed that although the spatial correlation between high-diversity areas and high-ecosystem-service areas is low, it is possible to use quantitative algorithms that achieve both high protection for biodiversity and high protection for ecosystem services without increasing the required area as much as might be expected. Currently, a great deal of research is aimed at asking about what the impact of climate change on biodiversity hotspots is, as well as to what extent conservation can maintain high biodiversity in the face of climate change. Two important approaches to this are detailed models and statistical assessments that relate species distribution to climate, or alternatively “conserving the stage” for high biodiversity, whereby the stage entails regions with topographies or habitat heterogeneity of the sort that is expected to generate high species richness. Finally, conservation planning has most recently embraced what is in some sense the inverse of biodiversity hotspots—what we might call conservation wastelands. This approach recognizes that in the Anthropocene epoch, human development and infrastructure are so vast that in addition to using data to identify biodiversity hotspots, we should use data to identify highly degraded habitats and ecosystems. These degraded lands can then become priority development areas—for wind farms, solar energy facilities, oil palm plantations, and so forth. By specifying degraded lands, conservation plans commonly pair maps of biodiversity hotspots with maps of degraded lands that highlight areas for development. By putting the two maps together, it should be possible to achieve much more effective conservation because there will be provision of habitat for species and for economic development—something that can obtain broader political support than simply highlighting biodiversity hotspots.

Article

Adaptation of cropping systems to weather uncertainty and climate change is essential for resilient food production and long-term food security. Changes in climate result in substantial temporal modifications of cropping conditions, and rainfall and temperature patterns vary greatly with location. These challenges come at a time when global human population and demand for food are both increasing, and it appears to be difficult to find ways to satisfy growing needs with conventional systems of production. Agriculture in the future will need to feature greater biodiversity of crop species and appropriate design and management of cropping and integrated crop/animal systems. More diverse and longer-cycle crop rotations will need to combine sequences of annual row crops such as maize and soybean with close-drilled cereals, shallow-rooted with deep-rooted crops, summer crops with winter crops, and annuals with perennials in the same fields. Resilience to unpredictable weather will also depend on intercropping, with the creative arrangement of multiple interacting crop species to diversify the field and the landscape. Other multiple-cropping systems and strategies to integrate animals and crops will make more efficient use of natural resources and applied inputs; these include systems such as permaculture, agroforestry, and alley cropping. Future systems will be spatially diverse and adapted to specific fields, soil conditions, and unique agroecozones. Production resilience will be achieved by planting diverse combinations of species together in the same field, and economic resilience through producing a range of products that can be marketed through different channels. The creation of local food webs will be more appropriate in the future, as contrasted with the dominance of global food chains today. Materials considered “waste” from the food system, including human urine and feces, will become valuable resources to be cycled back into the natural environment and into food production. Due to the increasing scarcity of fertile land, the negative contributions of chemicals to environmental pollution, the costs of fossil fuels, and the potential for the economic and political disruption of supply chains, future systems will increasingly need to be local in character while still achieving adaptation to the most favorable conditions for each system and location. It is essential that biologically and economically resilient systems become productive and profitable, as well as environmentally sound and socially equitable, in order to contribute to stability of food production, security of the food supply, and food sovereignty, to the extent that this is possible. The food system cannot continue along the lines of “business as usual,” and its path will need to radically diverge from the recognized trends toward specialization and globalization of the early 21st century. The goal needs to shift from exploitation and short-term profits to conservation of resources, greater equity in distribution of benefits, and resilience in food supply, even with global climate change.

Article

Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity have been in the center of policy creation for half a century. The main international biodiversity conventions and processes include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its protocols, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), the World Heritage Convention (WHC), the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), and the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The governance of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) is also discussed, as political focus has shifted to the protection of the oceans and is expected to culminate in the adoption of a new international convention under the United Nations Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS). Other conventions and processes with links to biodiversity include the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Despite the multitude of instruments, governments are faced with the fact that biodiversity loss is spiraling and international targets are not being met. The Earth’s sixth mass extinction event has led to various initiatives to fortify the relevance of biodiversity in the UN system and beyond to accelerate action on the ground. In face of an ever more complex international policy landscape on biodiversity, country delegates are seeking to enhance efficiency and reduce fragmentation by enhancing synergies among multilateral environmental agreements and strengthening their science−policy interface. Furthermore, biodiversity has been reflected throughout the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and is gradually gaining more ground in the human rights context. The Global Pact for the Environment, a new international initiative that is aiming to reinforce soft law commitments and increase coherence among environmental treaties, holds the potential to influence and strengthen the way biodiversity conventions function, but extensive discussions are still needed before concrete action is agreed upon.

Article

Boreal countries are rich in forest resources, and for their area, they produce a disproportionally large share of the lumber, pulp, and paper bound for the global market. These countries have long-standing strong traditions in forestry education and institutions, as well as in timber-oriented forest management. However, global change, together with evolving societal values and demands, are challenging traditional forest management approaches. In particular, plantation-type management, where wood is harvested with short cutting cycles relative to the natural time span of stand development, has been criticized. Such management practices create landscapes composed of mosaics of young, even-aged, and structurally homogeneous stands, with scarcity of old trees and deadwood. In contrast, natural forest landscapes are characterized by the presence of old large trees, uneven-aged stand structures, abundant deadwood, and high overall structural diversity. The differences between managed and unmanaged forests result from the fundamental differences in the disturbance regimes of managed versus unmanaged forests. Declines in managed forest biodiversity and structural complexity, combined with rapidly changing climatic conditions, pose a risk to forest health, and hence, to the long-term maintenance of biodiversity and provisioning of important ecosystem goods and services. The application of ecosystem management in boreal forestry calls for a transition from plantation-type forestry toward more diversified management inspired by natural forest structure and dynamics.

Article

Mark V. Barrow

The prospect of extinction, the complete loss of a species or other group of organisms, has long provoked strong responses. Until the turn of the 18th century, deeply held and widely shared beliefs about the order of nature led to a firm rejection of the possibility that species could entirely vanish. During the 19th century, however, resistance to the idea of extinction gave way to widespread acceptance following the discovery of the fossil remains of numerous previously unknown forms and direct experience with contemporary human-driven decline and the destruction of several species. In an effort to stem continued loss, at the turn of the 19th century, naturalists, conservationists, and sportsmen developed arguments for preventing extinction, created wildlife conservation organizations, lobbied for early protective laws and treaties, pushed for the first government-sponsored parks and refuges, and experimented with captive breeding. In the first half of the 20th century, scientists began systematically gathering more data about the problem through global inventories of endangered species and the first life-history and ecological studies of those species. The second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries have been characterized both by accelerating threats to the world’s biota and greater attention to the problem of extinction. Powerful new laws, like the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, have been enacted and numerous international agreements negotiated in an attempt to address the issue. Despite considerable effort, scientists remain fearful that the current rate of species loss is similar to that experienced during the five great mass extinction events identified in the fossil record, leading to declarations that the world is facing a biodiversity crisis. Responding to this crisis, often referred to as the sixth extinction, scientists have launched a new interdisciplinary, mission-oriented discipline, conservation biology, that seeks not just to understand but also to reverse biota loss. Scientists and conservationists have also developed controversial new approaches to the growing problem of extinction: rewilding, which involves establishing expansive core reserves that are connected with migratory corridors and that include populations of apex predators, and de-extinction, which uses genetic engineering techniques in a bid to resurrect lost species. Even with the development of new knowledge and new tools that seek to reverse large-scale species decline, a new and particularly imposing danger, climate change, looms on the horizon, threatening to undermine those efforts.

Article

Although the concept of biodiversity emerged 30 years ago, patterns and processes influencing ecological diversity have been studied for more than a century. Historically, ecological processes tended to be considered as occurring in local habitats that were spatially homogeneous and temporally at equilibrium. Initially considered as a constraint to be avoided in ecological studies, spatial heterogeneity was progressively recognized as critical for biodiversity. This resulted, in the 1970s, in the emergence of a new discipline, landscape ecology, whose major goal is to understand how spatial and temporal heterogeneity influence biodiversity. To achieve this goal, researchers came to realize that a fundamental issue revolves around how they choose to conceptualize and measure heterogeneity. Indeed, observed landscape patterns and their apparent relationship with biodiversity often depend on the scale of observation and the model used to describe the landscape. Due to the strong influence of island biogeography, landscape ecology has focused primarily on spatial heterogeneity. Several landscape models were conceptualized, allowing for the prediction and testing of distinct but complementary effects of landscape heterogeneity on species diversity. We now have ample empirical evidence that patch structure, patch context, and mosaic heterogeneity all influence biodiversity. More recently, the increasing recognition of the role of temporal scale has led to the development of new conceptual frameworks acknowledging that landscapes are not only heterogeneous but also dynamic. The current challenge remains to truly integrate both spatial and temporal heterogeneity in studies on biodiversity. This integration is even more challenging when considering that biodiversity often responds to environmental changes with considerable time lags, and multiple drivers of global changes are interacting, resulting in non-additive and sometimes antagonistic effects. Recent technological advances in remote sensing, the availability of massive amounts of data, and long-term studies represent, however, very promising avenues to improve our understanding of how spatial and temporal heterogeneity influence biodiversity.