Will a new metric save biodiversity? This recent opinion piece in Science magazine argues for just that: “a single, simple indicator”, an annual biodiversity target based on species extinction rate. The idea is that the metric will encourage people and policy to protect nature.
The authors justify their argument based on two assumptions:
1) extinction fully incorporates the most fundamental aspect of biodiversity loss
2) extinction is widely understood and easy to communicate
This all sounds well and good. But…
Just published in Journal of Applied Ecology: Conceptual ambiguity hinders measurement and management of ecosystem disservices.
Ecosystem services is one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts. Ambiguity and confusion can be a real barrier to establishing a new scientific concept or field of research. Ecosystem services is still a young discipline (formalised in the 1990s based on a much longer heritage) and is often misrepresented as being a purely economic concept that is damaging to biodiversity conservation and ecological science. This couldn’t be further from the truth, yet this misguided opinion consistently gets regular airtime and clouds broader understanding of the relevance of ecosystem services to research, policy, and land management.
The term ecosystem disservices was first used to address an early criticism of the ES concept, i.e. that ES was largely focused on benefits and overlooked the ecological reality that nature sometimes harms us. This is a valid issue that must be addressed in any ES approach. But, as we argued a few years’ ago, creating a false dichotomy around opposing terms is not the most effective way to solve this problem. Continue reading
Saunders ME, Rader R (2019) Network modularity influences plant reproduction in a mosaic tropical agroecosystem. Proc. R. Soc. B 286: 20190296. (all data and code available on github)
I’m so excited about our new paper! We use network analysis in a cool new way to understand how pollinator community structure influences ecosystem function in a heterogeneous landscape. Understanding links between structure and function is a core goal of ecological research, but there are still plenty of things we don’t know about these relationships. Continue reading
My latest paper is out. It’s a leftover from my last postdoc at Charles Sturt Uni where I was working on ecosystem services in SE Australian apple orchards with Gary Luck and PhD student Rebecca Peisley – see her blog posts on her work here.
Our main research question for the project was to calculate the net outcome, in terms of yield, of all the positive and negative effects of animal interactions across a growing season. You can read our previous paper on those results here.
In this new paper we looked at another interaction, the influence of landscape vegetation and orchard ground cover on different invertebrate groups. I really enjoyed this project as it was an opportunity to explore an idea I had been thinking about for a while. I first got interested in orchard ground cover during my PhD, comparing wild pollinators in almond orchards with and without living ground cover. Continue reading
A key argument against the ecosystem services concept is that it doesn’t account for most of the ecological complexity around us. This is a valid criticism. The ecosystem services concept is based on an idealised economic stock–flow model, which is pretty simplistic and unrealistic when you apply it to a real social-ecological system (i.e. any system based on human and nature interactions).
Identifying a particular ecological process as a ‘service’ because it benefits humans in one time and place overlooks the principles of basic ecology: outcomes of interactions between species and environments change across space and time.
Recently, some scientists have argued that quantifying ecosystem disservices is the best way to account for this complexity. Disservices are essentially the opposite of services, outcomes of natural processes that affect humans negatively, like disease spread, or pest damage to crops.
But this could be just another wild goose chase. Continue reading
Does the natural world have any relevance to modern science? Of course it does; but sometimes it seems like that’s not the case. This is a myth perpetuated directly and indirectly through media, policy decisions, academic disciplines, even some science engagement initiatives: that the natural world is somehow separate from science.
Read the rest of my piece published today in Ensia magazine.
© Manu Saunders 2015
When people say ‘wildlife’, they usually mean ‘animals’ (and sometimes birds). Occasionally, they might lend a fleeting thought to botanical beauties. But rarely are arthropods thought of. Aside from the charismatic honey bees and butterflies, the tiny, squidgy, creepy, crawly arthropods are easily overlooked. They can’t be cuddled and squealed over, and the most commonly-encountered ones are often scary or annoying. Google image search ‘I love wildlife’ and you mostly get big cats, bears, meerkats and baby things.
Technically, arthropods are animals too, just another Phylum in the Kingdom of Animalia, parallel with the chordates (animals, reptiles, and birds). So there is absolutely no reason not to include them in talk of ‘wildlife’. Yes, cheetahs, pygmy possums and meerkats are darned cute – I get giddy over them too! But arthropods are just as endearing. And they are also a vital link in the ecosystems that the cheetahs and meerkats frolic in every day.
Unfortunately, most of the attention that arthropods get is unfavourable or in shock. Spiders are terrifying, mosquitoes and flies are annoying, cockroaches are gross, praying mantises are just off the charts with wackiness. If we are not staring in horror and awe, we’re reaching for the spray can. Remember Danny Kaye’s soothing fairytale ode to the Inchworm? Today, inchworms are mistakenly blacklisted as pests, doomed to death before they can finish measuring the marigolds. Continue reading
One of the positives of our modern dependence on technology and the Internet is their ability to allow us to connect and engage with more people. This is a common argument for open access publishing: because we now have the technology to make scientific articles freely available to all, we should embrace it and make it happen.
Does making information freely accessible online automatically make the material more accessible? Not necessarily. Scientific articles are not a ‘mainstream’ medium. They use language that only peer-group scientists and specialist science communicators can understand. Just making an article free to view doesn’t make it more accessible or useful to a general audience.
Take the Law, for example. Australia’s Commonwealth and State government legislation are online for everyone to access for free, whenever they want. But, seriously, when was the last time you sat down with a cup of tea to read the Albury-Wodonga Development Act 1973?
For science to have impact beyond its peer audience, it usually needs to be translated through a common language. So publishing open access is not a replacement for science communication, it is complementary to it.
I recently acquired the wonderful ‘Insect Artizans and their Work’ (1919) by Edward Step. Step was a naturalist who contributed a number of beautiful books to the natural history literature. His works were considered popular at the time, although his account of a mouse-eating grasshopper from the Congo in ‘Marvels of Insect Life’ may have subsequently blacklisted him with the scientific community. Continue reading
‘Tis the season for countdowns and annual nominations! Nature and Ecology rarely rate a mention in such frivolities, although some sites have listed insightful round-ups of the top environmental stories of 2013. Most scientific countdowns for 2013, or predictions for 2014, are dominated by gadgetry and technological fancy. So, I hereby doubly-nominate ecosystem services as the “most influential” ecological concept of 2013, and the “most likely to inspire positive change” in 2014! Continue reading