Publications by authors named "Ralph Mac Nally"

58 Publications

Corrigendum to "Sensitivity and specificity of macroinvertebrate responses to gradients of multiple agricultural stressors" [Environ. Pollut. 291 (December 2021) 118092].

Environ Pollut 2021 Oct 29;293:118409. Epub 2021 Oct 29.

Centre for Applied Water Science, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118409DOI Listing
October 2021

Sensitivity and specificity of macroinvertebrate responses to gradients of multiple agricultural stressors.

Environ Pollut 2021 Dec 1;291:118092. Epub 2021 Sep 1.

Centre for Applied Water Science, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia.

Environmental degradation of rivers in agricultural landscapes is typically caused by multiple co-occurring stressors, but how interactions among stressors affect freshwater ecosystems is poorly understood. Therefore, we investigated the sensitivity and specificity of several measures of benthic macroinvertebrate community response to the individual and combined effects of the pesticide sulfoxaflor (SFX), increased sand sedimentation and elevated nutrients using outdoor recirculating mesocosms. Among the single stressor treatments, nutrients had no observable impact and sand only affected one community response measure compared to controls. High SFX levels had the largest effects on benthic macroinvertebrate communities, negatively affecting six of seven macroinvertebrate response measures. Sulfoxaflor had similar adverse effects on biota when in combination with sand and nutrients in the multi-stressor treatment, suggesting that generally SFX has overwhelming and pervasive effects irrespective of the presence of the other stressors. In contrast to SFX, elevated nutrients had no detectable effect on macroinvertebrate communities, likely as a consequence of nutrients being rapidly taken up by bacteria rather than by benthic algae. Elevated sand sedimentation increased the negative effects of SFX on sediment sensitive taxa, but generally had limited biological effects. This was despite the levels of sedimentation in our treatments being at concentrations that have caused large impacts in other studies. This research points to direct and rapid toxic effects of SFX on stream macroinvertebrates, contrasting with effects of the other stressors. This study emphasises that pesticide effects could be misattributed to other common freshwater stressors, potentially focussing restoration actions on a stressor of lesser importance.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118092DOI Listing
December 2021

Local and downstream cumulative effects of traditional meadow management on stream-water quality and multiple riparian taxa.

Sci Total Environ 2021 Nov 24;794:148601. Epub 2021 Jun 24.

School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia.

Water quality and riparian communities are among the most affected stream components by agriculture. However, little is known about the effects of riparian management for both aquatic and terrestrial taxa at different spatial scales. Here, we surveyed aquatic (diatoms) and terrestrial taxa (bryophytes, vascular plants, litter-dwelling snails, and ground and volant arthropods), to compare the abundance and richness of riparian taxa and chemical quality between reference and exposed sites in two stream reaches each of c. 3.5 km in northwestern Spain. Impacts in exposed sites were mainly due to traditional farming practices (TFPs), which included traditional meadow management, weirs built for now-unused water mills and sporadic timber harvesting. Therefore, we measured ten covariates and predictors related to the intensification of TFPs at local and within-stream scales and explored associations with riparian and water-quality measures to study the potential effects of TFPs in more detail. Reference and exposed sites did not differ significantly in water properties (diatom-biotic indices, conductivity, total organic carbon and nitrates), but exposed sites had less concentrations of soil metals Cd, Cu, Ni and Zn and less cover and richness of riparian trees, as inferred by the index QBR. Exposed sites had more volant insect decomposers and reference sites a greater abundance or richness of snails, ground predators and decomposers. Bryophyte richness was greater in reference sites. Our inferences may inform the joint cumulative downstream effects of weirs, meadow uses and riparian alterations but were generally consistent with most riparian taxa benefiting from having larger forested areas. Given the contrasting responses among taxa, we argue that land snails, terrestrial flies, and centipedes may be valuable additions to current riparian assessments mostly based on plants, beetles and spiders as indicator taxa. Our study also suggests caution when inferring farming impacts on streams from the surface area of pastoral land.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148601DOI Listing
November 2021

Can SPEcies At Risk of pesticides (SPEAR) indices detect effects of target stressors among multiple interacting stressors?

Sci Total Environ 2021 Apr 17;763:142997. Epub 2020 Oct 17.

Centre for Applied Water Science, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia.

Pesticides are increasingly recognised as a threat to freshwater biodiversity, but their specific ecological effects remain difficult to distinguish from those of co-occurring stressors and environmental gradients. Using mesocosms we examined the effects of an organophosphate insecticide (malathion) on stream macroinvertebrate communities concurrently exposed to a suite of stressors typical of streams in agricultural catchments. We assessed the specificity of the SPEcies At Risk index designed to determine pesticide effects in mesocosm trials (SPEAR). This index determines the log abundance proportion of taxa that are considered physiologically sensitive to pesticides. Geographic variation in pesticide sensitivity within taxa, coupled with variation between pesticides and the effects of co-occurring stressors may decrease the accuracy of SPEAR. To examine this, we used local pesticide sensitivity assessments based on rapid toxicity tests to develop two new SPEAR versions to compare to the original SPEAR index using mesocosm results. We further compared these results to multivariate analyses and community indices (e.g. richness, abundance, Simpson's diversity) commonly used to assess stressor effects on biota. To assess the implications of misclassifying species sensitivity on SPEAR indices we used a series of simulations using artificial data. The impacts of malathion were detectable using SPEAR, and one of two new SPEAR indices. All three of the SPEAR indices also increased when exposed to other agricultural non-pesticide stressors, and this change increased with greater pesticide concentrations. Our results support that interactions between other non-pesticide stressors with pesticides can affect SPEAR performance. Multivariate analysis and the other indices used here identified a significant effect of malathion especially at high concentrations, with little or no evidence of effects from the other agricultural stressors.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142997DOI Listing
April 2021

Integrated terrestrial-freshwater planning doubles conservation of tropical aquatic species.

Science 2020 10;370(6512):117-121

Departamento de Ecologia e Conservação, Universidade Federal de Lavras, CEP 37200-900, Lavras, MG, Brazil.

Conservation initiatives overwhelmingly focus on terrestrial biodiversity, and little is known about the freshwater cobenefits of terrestrial conservation actions. We sampled more than 1500 terrestrial and freshwater species in the Amazon and simulated conservation for species from both realms. Prioritizations based on terrestrial species yielded on average just 22% of the freshwater benefits achieved through freshwater-focused conservation. However, by using integrated cross-realm planning, freshwater benefits could be increased by up to 600% for a 1% reduction in terrestrial benefits. Where freshwater biodiversity data are unavailable but aquatic connectivity is accounted for, freshwater benefits could still be doubled for negligible losses of terrestrial coverage. Conservation actions are urgently needed to improve the status of freshwater species globally. Our results suggest that such gains can be achieved without compromising terrestrial conservation goals.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aba7580DOI Listing
October 2020

FragSAD: A database of diversity and species abundance distributions from habitat fragments.

Ecology 2019 Dec 1;100(12):e02861. Epub 2019 Oct 1.

Faculty of Sciences, Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes - cE3c, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, 1749-016, Portugal.

Habitat destruction is the single greatest anthropogenic threat to biodiversity. Decades of research on this issue have led to the accumulation of hundreds of data sets comparing species assemblages in larger, intact, habitats to smaller, more fragmented, habitats. Despite this, little synthesis or consensus has been achieved, primarily because of non-standardized sampling methodology and analyses of notoriously scale-dependent response variables (i.e., species richness). To be able to compare and contrast the results of habitat fragmentation on species' assemblages, it is necessary to have the underlying data on species abundances and sampling intensity, so that standardization can be achieved. To accomplish this, we systematically searched the literature for studies where abundances of species in assemblages (of any taxa) were sampled from many habitat patches that varied in size. From these, we extracted data from several studies, and contacted authors of studies where appropriate data were collected but not published, giving us 117 studies that compared species assemblages among habitat fragments that varied in area. Less than one-half (41) of studies came from tropical forests of Central and South America, but there were many studies from temperate forests and grasslands from all continents except Antarctica. Fifty-four of the studies were on invertebrates (mostly insects), but there were several studies on plants (15), birds (16), mammals (19), and reptiles and amphibians (13). We also collected qualitative information on the length of time since fragmentation. With data on total and relative abundances (and identities) of species, sampling effort, and affiliated meta-data about the study sites, these data can be used to more definitively test hypotheses about the role of habitat fragmentation in altering patterns of biodiversity. There are no copyright restrictions. Please cite this data paper and the associated Dryad data set if the data are used in publications.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2861DOI Listing
December 2019

Major determinants of the occurrence of a globally invasive parasite in riverine fish over large-scale environmental gradients.

Int J Parasitol 2019 07 21;49(8):625-634. Epub 2019 May 21.

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology, and Environmental Sciences-Institute of Research in Biodiversity (IRBio), University of Barcelona, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.

The increased rate of outbreaks of infectious diseases in ecosystems is a dramatic consequence of global change, particularly when outbreaks affect important resources such as freshwater fish. However, the links between disease-inducing epizootics and widespread human impacts, including nutrient pollution and high water conductivity, in freshwater organisms are largely unexplored. We used data from extensive surveys in northeastern Spain (99,700 km, 15 river catchments, n = 530 sites) to explore the environmental factors that singly, or in combination, are likely to influence the occurrence of the invasive parasite, Lernaea cyprinacea, after accounting for host fish characteristics. Smaller fish, lower altitudes, higher water conductivity and nutrient pollution were associated with higher probabilities of infection in 19 endemic and widely distributed fish species. We found no evidence that interactive effects among riverine stressors related to water and physical habitat quality better explained the probability of occurrence of L. cyprinacea in fish than did additive-stressor combinations. Nutrient pollution and high water conductivity were two of the major factors contributing to the increased occurrence of L. cyprinacea. Therefore, the improvement of wastewater treatment processes and agricultural practices probably would help to reduce the occurrence of this parasite among native fish.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpara.2019.03.002DOI Listing
July 2019

Second rate or a second chance? Assessing biomass and biodiversity recovery in regenerating Amazonian forests.

Glob Chang Biol 2018 12 4;24(12):5680-5694. Epub 2018 Oct 4.

Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.

Secondary forests (SFs) regenerating on previously deforested land account for large, expanding areas of tropical forest cover. Given that tropical forests rank among Earth's most important reservoirs of carbon and biodiversity, SFs play an increasingly pivotal role in the carbon cycle and as potential habitat for forest biota. Nevertheless, their capacity to regain the biotic attributes of undisturbed primary forests (UPFs) remains poorly understood. Here, we provide a comprehensive assessment of SF recovery, using extensive tropical biodiversity, biomass, and environmental datasets. These data, collected in 59 naturally regenerating SFs and 30 co-located UPFs in the eastern Amazon, cover >1,600 large- and small-stemmed plant, bird, and dung beetles species and a suite of forest structure, landscape context, and topoedaphic predictors. After up to 40 years of regeneration, the SFs we surveyed showed a high degree of biodiversity resilience, recovering, on average among taxa, 88% and 85% mean UPF species richness and composition, respectively. Across the first 20 years of succession, the period for which we have accurate SF age data, biomass recovered at 1.2% per year, equivalent to a carbon uptake rate of 2.25 Mg/ha per year, while, on average, species richness and composition recovered at 2.6% and 2.3% per year, respectively. For all taxonomic groups, biomass was strongly associated with SF species distributions. However, other variables describing habitat complexity-canopy cover and understory stem density-were equally important occurrence predictors for most taxa. Species responses to biomass revealed a successional transition at approximately 75 Mg/ha, marking the influx of high-conservation-value forest species. Overall, our results show that naturally regenerating SFs can accumulate substantial amounts of carbon and support many forest species. However, given that the surveyed SFs failed to return to a typical UPF state, SFs are not substitutes for UPFs.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14443DOI Listing
December 2018

Water-quality impacts in semi-arid regions: can natural 'green filters' mitigate adverse effects on fish assemblages?

Water Res 2018 11 2;144:628-641. Epub 2018 Aug 2.

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences & Institute of Research in Biodiversity, Universitat de Barcelona (IRBio-UB), 08028, Barcelona, Spain.

The effective aridity in riparian areas is increasing from climate change and from human water consumption, which exacerbates the impacts of effluents from wastewater-treatment plants and from catchment run-off in rivers. The potential of natural riparian areas to act as 'green filters' has long been recognized, but the possible ecological benefits of natural riparian areas over large-scale environmental gradients on fish have not been explored in detail. Using an extensive data-set from northeastern Spain (99,700 km, 15 catchments, 530 sites), ours is the first study to ask whether natural riparian vegetation can mitigate the effects of pollution on fish in rivers experiencing water scarcity. We used multimodel inference to explore the additive and interactive effects of riparian vegetation with nutrient pollution and water conductivity, which are among the world's worst river stressors, on multiple fish guilds, including widely distributed species and highly invasive alien fish species. Most models (54%) supported the additive effects of water-quality factors on fish, after having accounted for the influence of geography and hydrological alterations. Although many fewer models (7%) included riparian vegetation as an important predictor, riparian vegetation modulated the forms of the associations between fish and pollution. The relationship of nutrient pollution with native and alien fish richness changed from negative to positive with greater riparian structure or species richness. However, we found the opposite effect for the mean body size of sedentary fish, and only positive additive effects of riparian richness for the probability of occurrence of pelagic fish. Ammonium and nitrite concentrations adversely affected fish in these rivers up to 10 years after the enforcement of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive by the European Union. High conductivity also much affects fish, having negatives associations with migratory, pelagic, invertivorous and native fish, and positive associations with sedentary, benthic, omnivorous and alien fish. Therefore, the current status of natural riparian areas is unlikely to fully mitigate water-quality impacts on fish. The conservation of freshwater resources in semi-arid regions, such as north-eastern Spain, requires improved waste-water treatments and better agriculture practices.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2018.07.077DOI Listing
November 2018

Environmental correlates of food-chain length, mean trophic level and trophic level variance in invaded riverine fish assemblages.

Sci Total Environ 2018 Dec 6;644:420-429. Epub 2018 Jul 6.

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences & Institute of Research in Biodiversity, Universitat de Barcelona (IRBio-UB), 08028 Barcelona, Spain.

Examining how the trophic structure of biotic assemblages is affected by human impacts, such as habitat degradation and the introduction of alien species, is important for understanding the consequences of such impacts on ecosystem functioning. We used general linear mixed models and hierarchical partitioning analyses of variance to examine for the first time the applicability of three hypotheses (ecosystem-size, productivity and disturbance) for explaining food-chain length (FCL) in invaded fish assemblages. We used Fishbase trophic level (TL) estimates for 16 native and 18 alien fish species in an extensive riverine system in north-eastern Spain (99,700 km, 15 catchments, 530 sites). The FCL of assemblages ranged from 2.7 to 4.42. Ecosystem size-related variables (Strahler stream order, physical habitat diversity) and human-disturbance (conductivity) made the largest contribution to the explained variance in the FCL model after accounting for spatial confounding factors and collinearity among predictors. Within-assemblage TL also was positively associated with Strahler stream order, suggesting that large rivers have the highest trophic diversity. High conductivity was negatively associated with FCL, as did with the mean TL of fish assemblages. However, an inverse association was found between mean TL and Strahler stream order, possibly because the presence of fish species of high TL may be offset by larger numbers of alien species of lower TL in large rivers. Given that there may be trophic replacements among native and alien species, this inference needs to be addressed with detailed trophic studies. However, reducing water conductivity by improved wastewater treatment and better agricultural practices probably would help to conserve the fish species on the apices of aquatic food-webs.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.06.304DOI Listing
December 2018

Is environmental legislation conserving tropical stream faunas? A large-scale assessment of local, riparian and catchment-scale influences on Amazonian fish.

J Appl Ecol 2018 May;55(3):1312-1326

Fish Ecology Laboratory, Federal University of Lavras, Lavras, MG, Brazil.

Agricultural expansion and intensification are major threats to tropical biodiversity. In addition to the direct removal of native vegetation, agricultural expansion often elicits other human-induced disturbances, many of which are poorly addressed by existing environmental legislation and conservation programmes. This is particularly true for tropical freshwater systems, where there is considerable uncertainty about whether a legislative focus on protecting riparian vegetation is sufficient to conserve stream fauna.To assess the extent to which stream fish are being effectively conserved in agricultural landscapes, we examined the spatial distribution of assemblages in river basins to identify the relative importance of human impacts at instream, riparian and catchment scales, in shaping observed patterns. We used an extensive dataset on the ecological condition of 83 low-order streams distributed in three river basins in the eastern Brazilian Amazon.We collected and identified 24,420 individual fish from 134 species. Multiplicative diversity partitioning revealed high levels of compositional dissimilarity (DS) among stream sites (DS = 0.74 to 0.83) and river basins (DS = 0.82), due mainly to turnover (77.8% to 81.8%) rather than nestedness. The highly heterogeneous fish faunas in small Amazonian streams underscore the vital importance of enacting measures to protect forests on private lands outside of public protected areas.Instream habitat features explained more variability in fish assemblages (15%-19%) than riparian (2%-12%), catchment (4%-13%) or natural covariates (4%-11%). Although grouping species into functional guilds allowed us to explain up to 31% of their abundance (i.e. for nektonic herbivores), individual riparian - and catchment - scale predictor variables that are commonly a focus of environmental legislation explained very little of the observed variation (partial values mostly <5%).. Current rates of agricultural intensification and mechanization in tropical landscapes are unprecedented, yet the existing legislative frameworks focusing on protecting riparian vegetation seem insufficient to conserve stream environments and their fish assemblages. To safeguard the species-rich freshwater biota of small Amazonian streams, conservation actions must shift towards managing whole basins and drainage networks, as well as agricultural practices in already-cleared land.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13028DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7433846PMC
May 2018

Catchment land use predicts benthic vegetation in small estuaries.

PeerJ 2018 14;6:e4378. Epub 2018 Feb 14.

Chesapeake Bay Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland, Centre for Environmental Science, Solomons, MD, United States of America.

Many estuaries are becoming increasingly eutrophic from human activities within their catchments. Nutrient loads often are used to assess risk of eutrophication to estuaries, but such data are expensive and time consuming to obtain. We compared the percent of fertilized land within a catchment, dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads, catchment to estuary area ratio and flushing time as predictors of the proportion of macroalgae to total vegetation within 14 estuaries in south-eastern Australia. The percent of fertilized land within the catchment was the best predictor of the proportion of macroalgae within the estuaries studied. There was a transition to a dominance of macroalgae once the proportion of fertilized land in the catchment exceeded 24%, highlighting the sensitivity of estuaries to catchment land use.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4378DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816580PMC
February 2018

Institutional impediments to conservation of freshwater dependent ecosystems.

Sci Total Environ 2018 Apr 28;621:407-416. Epub 2017 Nov 28.

School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia; Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.

When freshwater resources become scarce there is a trade-off between human resource demands and environmental sustainability. The cost of conserving freshwater ecosystems can potentially be reduced by implementing institutional reforms that endow environmental water managers with a permanent water entitlement and the capacity to store, trade and release water. Australia's Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) includes one of the world's most ambitious programs to recover water for the environment, supported by institutional reforms that allow environmental water managers to operate in water markets. One of the anticipated benefits of the Plan is to improve the health of flood-dependent forests, which are among the most endangered ecosystems globally because of river regulation and land clearance. However, periodic flooding to conserve floodplain ecosystems in the MDB creates losses to riparian landowners such as damage to fencing and temporary loss of access to flooded land. To reduce these losses reservoir operators restrict daily water release volumes. Using a model of optimal water management in Australia's southern MDB we estimate that current reservoir operating restrictions will substantially reduce the ecological benefits of investments made to recover water for the environment. The reduction in benefits is largest if floodplain forests decline rapidly without periodic inundation. In the latter circumstances, ecological losses cannot significantly be reduced by allowing environmental water managers to operate in water markets. Our findings demonstrate that the recovery of large volumes of water for environmental purposes and water market reforms are insufficient for conserving flood-dependent ecosystems without coordination and cooperation among multiple stakeholders responsible for water and land management.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.232DOI Listing
April 2018

The presence of non-native species is not associated with native fish sensitivity to water pollution in greatly hydrologically altered rivers.

Sci Total Environ 2017 Dec 27;607-608:549-557. Epub 2017 Jul 27.

Institute of Research in Biodiversity (IRBio), University of Barcelona, 08028 Barcelona, Spain; Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Barcelona, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.

There is a risk of 'ecological surprises' if multiple potentially interacting stressors are managed individually, which is a question attracting significant current interest. Habitat degradation and species introductions are major threats to global biodiversity, and riverine fish are among the most threatened taxa in the world. Our interest was whether the presence of non-native species can affect native fish sensitivity to water quality deterioration in a large region in northeastern Spain (99,700km, 15 catchments, 530 sites). We used a 'base model' with geographical and hydro-morphological variables, which are the major shaping factors in rivers. We tested whether water pollution, non-native species, or their interaction provided an improved understanding of patterns of distributions and health measurements of the twelve most common native species. There was little evidence that variation in native species abundance, where they occurred, the presence of diseases and changes in mean fish length or body condition was affected by water deterioration, the presence of non-native species, or their interaction. The disease rate and occurrence of native species might be affected, to a minor degree, by water quality changes and the presence of non-native species. Environmental conditions between sites with and without non-native fish differed in the condition of riparian areas and in water quality. Based on presence-absence data and changes in abundances through weighted average equations we also derived potential safe levels of salinization, nutrient pollution, and pH for the native fish. Overall, additive effects of stressors prevail over interactions, and the restoration of natural hydro-morphology in rivers is likely to be the most effective management approach to improving the prospects for the native fish fauna.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.07.010DOI Listing
December 2017

A method to identify drivers of societal change likely to affect natural assets in the future, illustrated with Australia's native biodiversity.

Sci Total Environ 2017 Mar 13;581-582:80-86. Epub 2016 Dec 13.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Bruce 2617, ACT, Australia.

Human society has a profound adverse effect on natural assets as human populations increase and as global climate changes. We need to envisage different futures that encompass plausible human responses to threats and change, and become more mindful of their likely impacts on natural assets. We describe a method for developing a set of future scenarios for a natural asset at national scale under ongoing human population growth and climate change. The method involves expansive consideration of potential drivers of societal change, a reduction of these to form a small set of key drivers to which contrasting settings are assigned, which we use to develop a set of different scenarios. We use Australia's native biodiversity as the focus to illustrate the method.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.10.112DOI Listing
March 2017

Potential future scenarios for Australia's native biodiversity given on-going increases in human population.

Sci Total Environ 2017 Jan 26;576:381-390. Epub 2016 Oct 26.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Bruce 2617, ACT, Australia.

Most natural assets, including native biodiversity (our focus), are under increasing threat from direct (loss of habitat, hunting) and indirect (climate change) human actions. Most human impacts arise from increasing human populations coupled with rises in per capita resource use. The rates of change of human actions generally outpace those to which the biota can respond or adapt. If we are to maintain native biodiversity, then we must develop ways to envisage how the biota may be affected over the next several decades to guide management and policy responses. We consider the future for Australia's native biodiversity in the context of two assumptions. First, the human population in Australia will be 40million by 2050, which has been mooted by federal government agencies. Second, greenhouse gas emissions will track the highest rates considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The scenarios are based on major drivers of change, which were constructed from seven key drivers of change pertinent to native biodiversity. Five scenarios deal with differing distributions of the human population driven by uncertainties in climate change and in the human responses to climate change. Other scenarios are governed largely by global change and explore different rates of resource use, unprecedented rates of technological change, capabilities and societal values. A narrative for each scenario is provided. The set of scenarios spans a wide range of possible future paths for Australia, with different implications for the future of native biodiversity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.10.021DOI Listing
January 2017

Anthropogenic disturbance in tropical forests can double biodiversity loss from deforestation.

Nature 2016 07 29;535(7610):144-7. Epub 2016 Jun 29.

Concerted political attention has focused on reducing deforestation, and this remains the cornerstone of most biodiversity conservation strategies. However, maintaining forest cover may not reduce anthropogenic forest disturbances, which are rarely considered in conservation programmes. These disturbances occur both within forests, including selective logging and wildfires, and at the landscape level, through edge, area and isolation effects. Until now, the combined effect of anthropogenic disturbance on the conservation value of remnant primary forests has remained unknown, making it impossible to assess the relative importance of forest disturbance and forest loss. Here we address these knowledge gaps using a large data set of plants, birds and dung beetles (1,538, 460 and 156 species, respectively) sampled in 36 catchments in the Brazilian state of Pará. Catchments retaining more than 69–80% forest cover lost more conservation value from disturbance than from forest loss. For example, a 20% loss of primary forest, the maximum level of deforestation allowed on Amazonian properties under Brazil’s Forest Code, resulted in a 39–54% loss of conservation value: 96–171% more than expected without considering disturbance effects. We extrapolated the disturbance-mediated loss of conservation value throughout Pará, which covers 25% of the Brazilian Amazon. Although disturbed forests retained considerable conservation value compared with deforested areas, the toll of disturbance outside Pará’s strictly protected areas is equivalent to the loss of 92,000–139,000 km2 of primary forest. Even this lowest estimate is greater than the area deforested across the entire Brazilian Amazon between 2006 and 2015 (ref. 10). Species distribution models showed that both landscape and within-forest disturbances contributed to biodiversity loss, with the greatest negative effects on species of high conservation and functional value. These results demonstrate an urgent need for policy interventions that go beyond the maintenance of forest cover to safeguard the hyper-diversity of tropical forest ecosystems.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature18326DOI Listing
July 2016

Ecological Resistance - Why Mechanisms Matter: A Reply to Sundstrom et al.

Trends Ecol Evol 2016 06 7;31(6):413-414. Epub 2016 Apr 7.

Department of Ecology, Environment, and Evolution, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC 3086, Australia; Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Heidelberg, VIC 3084, Australia.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2016.03.015DOI Listing
June 2016

Idiosyncratic responses of Amazonian birds to primary forest disturbance.

Oecologia 2016 Mar 13;180(3):903-16. Epub 2015 Nov 13.

Stockholm Environment Institute, 87D Linegatan, Stockholm, Sweden.

As humans continue to alter tropical landscapes across the world, it is important to understand what environmental factors help determine the persistence of biodiversity in modified ecosystems. Studies on well-known taxonomic groups can offer critical insights as to the fate of biodiversity in these modified systems. Here we investigated species-specific responses of 44 forest-associated bird species with different behavioural traits to forest disturbance in 171 transects distributed across 31 landscapes in two regions of the eastern Brazilian Amazon. We investigated patterns of species occurrence in primary forests varyingly disturbed by selective-logging and fire and examined the relative importance of local, landscape and historical environmental variables in determining species occurrences. Within undisturbed and disturbed primary forest transects, we found that distance to forest edge and the biomass of large trees were the most important predictors driving the occurrence of individual species. However, we also found considerable variation in species responses to different environmental variables as well as inter-regional variation in the responses of the same species to the same environmental variables. We advocate the utility of using species-level analyses to complement community-wide responses in order to uncover highly variable and species-specific responses to environmental change that remain so poorly understood.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3495-zDOI Listing
March 2016

How pervasive is biotic homogenization in human-modified tropical forest landscapes?

Ecol Lett 2015 Oct 24;18(10):1108-18. Epub 2015 Aug 24.

Stockholm Environment Institute, Linnégatan 87D, Box 24218, Stockholm, 104 51, Sweden.

Land-cover change and ecosystem degradation may lead to biotic homogenization, yet our understanding of this phenomenon over large spatial scales and different biotic groups remains weak. We used a multi-taxa dataset from 335 sites and 36 heterogeneous landscapes in the Brazilian Amazon to examine the potential for landscape-scale processes to modulate the cumulative effects of local disturbances. Biotic homogenization was high in production areas but much less in disturbed and regenerating forests, where high levels of among-site and among-landscape β-diversity appeared to attenuate species loss at larger scales. We found consistently high levels of β-diversity among landscapes for all land cover classes, providing support for landscape-scale divergence in species composition. Our findings support concerns that β-diversity has been underestimated as a driver of biodiversity change and underscore the importance of maintaining a distributed network of reserves, including remaining areas of undisturbed primary forest, but also disturbed and regenerating forests, to conserve regional biota.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ele.12494DOI Listing
October 2015

A bust but no boom: responses of floodplain bird assemblages during and after prolonged drought.

J Anim Ecol 2015 11 4;84(6):1700-10. Epub 2015 Sep 4.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Bruce, ACT, 2617, Australia.

Climate change alters the frequency and severity of extreme events, such as drought. Such events will be increasingly important in shaping communities as climate change intensifies. The ability of species to withstand extreme events (resistance) and to recover once adverse conditions abate (resilience) will determine their persistence. We estimated the resistance and resilience of bird species during and after a 13-year drought (the 'Big Dry') in floodplain forests in south-eastern Australia. We conducted bird surveys at the beginning and end of the Big Dry, and after the abrupt end to the drought (the 'Big Wet'), to evaluate species-specific changes in reporting rates among the three periods. We assessed changes in bird-breeding activity before and after the Big Wet to estimate demographic resilience based on breeding. Between the start and the end of the Big Dry (1998 vs. 2009), 37 of 67 species declined substantially. Of those, only two had increased reporting rates after the Big Wet (2009 vs. 2013) that were equal to or larger than their declines, while three partially recovered. All other declining species showed low resilience: 25 showed no change in reporting rates and seven declined further. The number of breeding species and total breeding activity of all species declined after the Big Wet, and there was no change in the number of young produced. The Big Dry caused widespread declines in the floodplain avifauna. Despite the drought being broken by 2 years of well-above-average rainfall and subsequent near-average rainfall, most species showed low resilience and there was little indication that overall breeding had increased. The effects of drought appeared to be pervasive for much of the floodplain avifauna, regardless of species traits (species body mass, fecundity, mobility or diet). Ecosystems such as these are likely to require active management and restoration, including reinstatement of natural flooding regimes, to improve ecological condition, to enhance resistance and resilience to extreme climate events.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12424DOI Listing
November 2015

Thermodynamics predicts density-dependent energy use in organisms and ecological communities.

Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys 2015 Apr 15;91(4):042708. Epub 2015 Apr 15.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, ACT 2617, Australia.

Linking our knowledge of organisms to our knowledge of ecological communities and ecosystems is a key challenge for ecology. Individual size distributions (ISDs) link the size of individual organisms to the structure of ecological communities, so that studying ISDs might provide insight into how organism functioning affects ecosystems. Similarly shaped ISDs among ecosystems, coupled with allometric links between organism size and resource use, suggest the possibility of emergent resource-use patterns in ecological communities. We drew on thermodynamics to develop a maximization principle that predicted both organism and community energy use. These predictions highlighted the importance of density-dependent metabolic rates and were able to explain nonlinear relationships between community energy use and community biomass. We analyzed data on fish community energy use and biomass and found evidence of nonlinear scaling, which was predicted by the thermodynamic principle developed here and is not explained by other theories of ISDs. Detailed measurements of organism energy use will clarify the role of density dependence in driving metabolic rates and will further test our derived thermodynamic principle. Importantly, our study highlights the potential for fundamental links between ecology and thermodynamics.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevE.91.042708DOI Listing
April 2015

Regime shifts, thresholds and multiple stable states in freshwater ecosystems; a critical appraisal of the evidence.

Sci Total Environ 2015 Nov 21;534:122-30. Epub 2015 Feb 21.

Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Bruce, ACT 2601, Australia.

The concepts of ecosystem regime shifts, thresholds and alternative or multiple stable states are used extensively in the ecological and environmental management literature. When applied to aquatic ecosystems, these terms are used inconsistently reflecting differing levels of supporting evidence among ecosystem types. Although many aquatic ecosystems around the world have become degraded, the magnitude and causes of changes, relative to the range of historical variability, are poorly known. A working group supported by the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS) reviewed 135 papers on freshwater ecosystems to assess the evidence for pressure-induced non-linear changes in freshwater ecosystems; these papers used terms indicating sudden and non-linear change in their titles and key words, and so was a positively biased sample. We scrutinized papers for study context and methods, ecosystem characteristics and focus, types of pressures and ecological responses considered, and the type of change reported (i.e., gradual, non-linear, hysteretic or irreversible change). There was little empirical evidence for regime shifts and changes between multiple or alternative stable states in these studies although some shifts between turbid phytoplankton-dominated states and clear-water, macrophyte-dominated states were reported in shallow lakes in temperate climates. We found limited understanding of the subtleties of the relevant theoretical concepts and encountered few mechanistic studies that investigated or identified cause-and-effect relationships between ecological responses and nominal pressures. Our results mirror those of reviews for estuarine, nearshore and marine aquatic ecosystems, demonstrating that although the concepts of regime shifts and alternative stable states have become prominent in the scientific and management literature, their empirical underpinning is weak outside of a specific environmental setting. The application of these concepts in future research and management applications should include evidence on the mechanistic links between pressures and consequent ecological change. Explicit consideration should also be given to whether observed temporal dynamics represent variation along a continuum rather than categorically different states.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.02.045DOI Listing
November 2015

Reforestation with native mixed-species plantings in a temperate continental climate effectively sequesters and stabilizes carbon within decades.

Glob Chang Biol 2015 Apr 31;21(4):1552-66. Epub 2014 Oct 31.

Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Vic., 3125, Australia; Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Bruce, ACT, 2617, Australia.

Reforestation has large potential for mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration. Native mixed-species plantings have a higher potential to reverse biodiversity loss than do plantations of production species, but there are few data on their capacity to store carbon. A chronosequence (5-45 years) of 36 native mixed-species plantings, paired with adjacent pastures, was measured to investigate changes to stocks among C pools following reforestation of agricultural land in the medium rainfall zone (400-800 mm yr(-1)) of temperate Australia. These mixed-species plantings accumulated 3.09 ± 0.85 t C ha(-1) yr(-1) in aboveground biomass and 0.18 ± 0.05 t C ha(-1) yr(-1) in plant litter, reaching amounts comparable to those measured in remnant woodlands by 20 years and 36 years after reforestation respectively. Soil C was slower to increase, with increases seen only after 45 years, at which time stocks had not reached the amounts found in remnant woodlands. The amount of trees (tree density and basal area) was positively associated with the accumulation of carbon in aboveground biomass and litter. In contrast, changes to soil C were most strongly related to the productivity of the location (a forest productivity index and soil N content in the adjacent pasture). At 30 years, native mixed-species plantings had increased the stability of soil C stocks, with higher amounts of recalcitrant C and higher C:N ratios than their adjacent pastures. Reforestation with native mixed-species plantings did not significantly change the availability of macronutrients (N, K, Ca, Mg, P, and S) or micronutrients (Fe, B, Mn, Zn, and Cu), content of plant toxins (Al, Si), acidity, or salinity (Na, electrical conductivity) in the soil. In this medium rainfall area, native mixed-species plantings provided comparable rates of C sequestration to local production species, with the probable additional benefit of providing better quality habitat for native biota. These results demonstrate that reforestation using native mixed-species plantings is an effective alternative for carbon sequestration to standard monocultures of production species in medium rainfall areas of temperate continental climates, where they can effectively store C, convert C into stable pools and provide greater benefits for biodiversity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12746DOI Listing
April 2015

The control of rank-abundance distributions by a competitive despotic species.

Oecologia 2014 Nov 4;176(3):849-57. Epub 2014 Sep 4.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Canberra, ACT, 2617, Australia,

Accounting for differences in abundances among species remains a high priority for community ecology. While there has been more than 80 years of work on trying to explain the characteristic S shape of rank-abundance distributions (RADs), there has been recent conjecture that the form may not depend on ecological processes per se but may be a general phenomenon arising in many unrelated disciplines. We show that the RAD shape can be influenced by an ecological process, namely, interference competition. The noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala) is a hyperaggressive, 'despotic' bird that occurs over much of eastern Australia (>10(6) km(2)). We compiled data for bird communities from 350 locations within its range, which were collected using standard avian survey methods. We used hierarchical Bayesian models to show that the RAD shape was much altered when the abundance of the strong interactor exceeded a threshold density; RADs consistently were steeper when the density of the noisy miner ≥2.5 birds ha(-1). The structure of bird communities at sites where the noisy miner exceeded this density was very different from that at sites where the densities fell below the threshold: species richness and Shannon diversity were much reduced, but mean abundances and mean avian biomass per site did not differ substantially.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3060-1DOI Listing
November 2014

The effects of climate change and land-use change on demographic rates and population viability.

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 2015 Aug 25;90(3):837-53. Epub 2014 Aug 25.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Bruce, Australian Capital Territory, 2617, Australia.

Understanding the processes that lead to species extinctions is vital for lessening pressures on biodiversity. While species diversity, presence and abundance are most commonly used to measure the effects of human pressures, demographic responses give a more proximal indication of how pressures affect population viability and contribute to extinction risk. We reviewed how demographic rates are affected by the major anthropogenic pressures, changed landscape condition caused by human land use, and climate change. We synthesized the results of 147 empirical studies to compare the relative effect size of climate and landscape condition on birth, death, immigration and emigration rates in plant and animal populations. While changed landscape condition is recognized as the major driver of species declines and losses worldwide, we found that, on average, climate variables had equally strong effects on demographic rates in plant and animal populations. This is significant given that the pressures of climate change will continue to intensify in coming decades. The effects of climate change on some populations may be underestimated because changes in climate conditions during critical windows of species life cycles may have disproportionate effects on demographic rates. The combined pressures of land-use change and climate change may result in species declines and extinctions occurring faster than otherwise predicted, particularly if their effects are multiplicative.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/brv.12136DOI Listing
August 2015

Species- and sex-specific connectivity effects of habitat fragmentation in a suite of woodland birds.

Ecology 2014 Jun;95(6):1556-68

Loss of functional connectivity following habitat loss and fragmentation could drive species declines. A comprehensive understanding of fragmentation effects on functional connectivity of an ecological assemblage requires investigation of multiple species with different mobilities, at different spatial scales, for each sex, and in different landscapes. Based on published data on mobility and ecological responses to fragmentation of 10 woodland-dependent birds, and using simulation studies, we predicted that (1) fragmentation would impede dispersal and gene flow of eight "decliners" (species that disappear from suitable patches when landscape-level tree cover falls below species-specific thresholds), but not of two "tolerant" species (whose occurrence in suitable habitat patches is independent of landscape tree cover); and that fragmentation effects would be stronger (2) in the least mobile species, (3) in the more philopatric sex, and (4) in the more fragmented region. We tested these predictions by evaluating spatially explicit isolation-by-landscape-resistance models of gene flow in fragmented landscapes across a 50 x 170 km study area in central Victoria, Australia, using individual and population genetic distances. To account for sex-biased dispersal and potential scale- and configuration-specific effects, we fitted models specific to sex and geographic zones. As predicted, four of the least mobile decliners showed evidence of reduced genetic connectivity. The responses were strongly sex specific, but in opposite directions in the two most sedentary species. Both tolerant species and (unexpectedly) four of the more mobile decliners showed no reduction in gene flow. This is unlikely to be due to time lags because more mobile species develop genetic signatures of fragmentation faster than do less mobile ones. Weaker genetic effects were observed in the geographic zone with more aggregated vegetation, consistent with gene flow being unimpeded by landscape structure. Our results indicate that for all but the most sedentary species in our system, the movement of the more dispersive sex (females in most cases) maintains overall genetic connectivity across fragmented landscapes in the study area, despite some small-scale effects on the more philopatric sex for some species. Nevertheless, to improve population viability for the less mobile bird species, structural landscape connectivity must be increased.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-1328.1DOI Listing
June 2014

Variation in abundance of nectarivorous birds: does a competitive despot interfere with flower tracking?

J Anim Ecol 2014 Nov 9;83(6):1531-41. Epub 2014 Jun 9.

Institute for Applied Ecology, The University of Canberra, Bruce, 2617, ACT, Australia.

Adaptive resource tracking in space and time may be disrupted by the modification of resources and competitors. Major global change drivers (e.g. land-use change) have induced declines in many native species, while facilitating only a few. Given that many resources are predicted to become increasingly scarce under the joint effects of climate and land-use change, disturbance-tolerant species that are able to defend high-value resources may further limit the persistence of disturbance-sensitive species. We sought to determine which nectarivorous birds track variation in flowering and if relationships between nectarivores and flowering are affected by on-transect vegetation structure or the occurrence of a native, hyper-aggressive species, the noisy miner Manorina melanocephala, which has become more prevalent. We measured eucalypt flowering and abundances of nectarivorous birds over the course of a year; we measured vegetation structure on the same forest transects. Nectarivores tracked spatial and some temporal variation in flowering, but this relationship was disrupted by noisy miners. Where present in sufficient numbers, the noisy miner excluded small-bodied nectarivores (<63 g) from fragments, limiting the ability of this numerically dominant component of the avifauna to gain access to flowering resources. Altered patterns of interspecific competition due to vegetation fragmentation and climate-induced degradation may have led to changes in the distribution of small nectarivore species that is a departure from the 'ideal free distribution' model. Interactions between noisy miners and small-bodied nectarivores appear to be best described by the 'ideal despotic distribution' model in which noisy miners exclude smaller competitors and monopolize local resources. Increases in the severity and frequency of extreme climatic events (e.g. long droughts) predicted under climate change may create a boom-bust pattern of availabilities of resources. The apparent insensitivity of noisy miners to such variation in flowering resource availability and the miners' influence on the ability of small nectarivores to access resources may lead to disproportionate declines in smaller-bodied nectarivorous species. Reduced tracking of flowering by nectarivores has the potential to disrupt ecosystem services (e.g. pollination, seed dispersal) and may have long-term consequences for the persistence of fragmented vegetation, adding further pressure on forest-dependent biota.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.12245DOI Listing
November 2014

Relating demographic characteristics of a small mammal to remotely sensed forest-stand condition.

PLoS One 2014 12;9(3):e91731. Epub 2014 Mar 12.

School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Many ecological systems around the world are changing rapidly in response to direct (land-use change) and indirect (climate change) human actions. We need tools to assess dynamically, and over appropriate management scales, condition of ecosystems and their responses to potential mitigation of pressures. Using a validated model, we determined whether stand condition of floodplain forests is related to densities of a small mammal (a carnivorous marsupial, Antechinus flavipes) in 60,000 ha of extant river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) forests in south-eastern Australia in 2004, 2005 and 2011. Stand condition was assessed remotely using models built from ground assessments of stand condition and satellite-derived reflectance. Other covariates, such as volumes of fallen timber, distances to floods, rainfall and life stages were included in the model. Trapping of animals was conducted at 272 plots (0.25 ha) across the region. Densities of second-year females (i.e. females that had survived to a second breeding year) and of second-year females with suckled teats (i.e. inferred to have been successful mothers) were higher in stands with the highest condition. There was no evidence of a relationship with stand condition for males or all females. These outcomes show that remotely-sensed estimates of stand condition (here floodplain forests) are relatable to some demographic characteristics of a small mammal species, and may provide useful information about the capacity of ecosystems to support animal populations. Over-regulation of large, lowland rivers has led to declines in many facets of floodplain function. If management of water resources continues as it has in recent decades, then our results suggest that there will be further deterioration in stand condition and a decreased capacity for female yellow-footed antechinuses to breed multiple times.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0091731PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951454PMC
May 2015

Scientific foundations for an IUCN Red List of ecosystems.

PLoS One 2013 8;8(5):e62111. Epub 2013 May 8.

Australian Wetlands Rivers and Landscapes Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

An understanding of risks to biodiversity is needed for planning action to slow current rates of decline and secure ecosystem services for future human use. Although the IUCN Red List criteria provide an effective assessment protocol for species, a standard global assessment of risks to higher levels of biodiversity is currently limited. In 2008, IUCN initiated development of risk assessment criteria to support a global Red List of ecosystems. We present a new conceptual model for ecosystem risk assessment founded on a synthesis of relevant ecological theories. To support the model, we review key elements of ecosystem definition and introduce the concept of ecosystem collapse, an analogue of species extinction. The model identifies four distributional and functional symptoms of ecosystem risk as a basis for assessment criteria: A) rates of decline in ecosystem distribution; B) restricted distributions with continuing declines or threats; C) rates of environmental (abiotic) degradation; and D) rates of disruption to biotic processes. A fifth criterion, E) quantitative estimates of the risk of ecosystem collapse, enables integrated assessment of multiple processes and provides a conceptual anchor for the other criteria. We present the theoretical rationale for the construction and interpretation of each criterion. The assessment protocol and threat categories mirror those of the IUCN Red List of species. A trial of the protocol on terrestrial, subterranean, freshwater and marine ecosystems from around the world shows that its concepts are workable and its outcomes are robust, that required data are available, and that results are consistent with assessments carried out by local experts and authorities. The new protocol provides a consistent, practical and theoretically grounded framework for establishing a systematic Red List of the world's ecosystems. This will complement the Red List of species and strengthen global capacity to report on and monitor the status of biodiversity.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0062111PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648534PMC
December 2013
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