Prof Chris Evans among members of a discussion panel at IPCC-49
Dr Amanda Thomson listens as Dr Jolene Cook, Head of Climate Science - International, BEIS, addresses a session at IPCC-49.
Photo by IISDENB / Sean Wu
Other members of the Flooded Land chapter enter a session via one of the Star Wars-like corridors.
Dr Amanda Thomson and Professor Chris Evans of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology were among hundreds of international scientists and government representatives who recently attended the 49th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-49) in Kyoto, Japan. The discussions over updating methodologies for estimating levels of greenhouse gases involved tense negotiations, as Amanda explains…
The venue for IPCC-49 was in the Kyoto International Conference Centre - where the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was signed, a giant concrete structure with long hexagonal corridors and vast auditoriums that looked like something out of a Star Wars set.
The five-day summit was mostly concerned with the adoption of updates to the IPCC’s guidance on producing national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories.
The updated guidance on producing national greenhouse gas inventories, once adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will likely be used for reporting progress on mitigating climate change for the Paris Agreement targets. The 280 authors had spent two years preparing the updated guidance, which had already undergone both expert and government reviews.
The updated guidance on producing national greenhouse gas inventories...will likely be used for reporting progress on mitigating climate change for the Paris Agreement targets.
At IPCC meetings, discussion of a topic starts in a plenary session, attended by representatives from all countries. Issues that cannot be resolved by a short discussion in plenary are moved to a contact group with the relevant guidance authors and interested countries. Contact groups are where text is proposed, discussed, modified and circulated, and they can get very frenetic, particularly when the same people are covering different issues.
I was supporting the UK government delegation as an expert on GHG inventories for land use and forestry, as there were several contentious issues in this section of the updated guidance. I was involved in two contact groups: on Interannual Variability (how emissions from large natural disturbances should be reported while also recognising mitigation efforts in reducing emissions) and Flooded Lands. There was very limited time to read and understand the impact and implications of text changes between contact group sessions, and agree on the UK position with colleagues.
I generally had five different communication channels open on my laptop: the IPCC platform, where new text would be uploaded; email to colleagues back in the UK, who were also commenting on text revisions; a secure web platform for reporting back to UK government; a Slack channel for information sharing between European countries; and WhatsApp conversations for communicating with UK colleagues within the conference centre. The hours were long and coffee was in short supply!
Meanwhile, my CEH colleague Chris Evans was one of four lead authors attending IPCC-49 on behalf of the Flooded Land chapter, which developed methods to account for CO2 and methane emissions resulting from the creation of hydropower reservoirs and other constructed water bodies. In some shallow tropical reservoirs these emissions can be large, offsetting or at worst negating the carbon benefits of the hydroelectric energy produced. As a result, flooded land emissions are a controversial topic, and previous attempts to include them in the IPCC’s guidance were not successful.
...flooded land emissions are a controversial topic, and previous attempts to include them in the IPCC’s guidance were not successful.
Chris was dealing with the strongly contrasting views of some of the government negotiating teams on the Flooded Lands chapter. Country A felt that the methods were not stringent enough to protect against deforestation and wetland destruction, while Country B was concerned that the methods would unfairly penalise countries seeking to develop clean hydropower energy. Countries F, N and R also had firm opinions.
Over the next two days and one jetlag-assisted night, fuelled mainly by bread rolls and caffeine, Chris and the other members of the author team had to heavily and repeatedly revise the chapter in an attempt to reconcile the different concerns of the government negotiators without compromising the scientific basis.
The process went right to the wire, with a flurry of last minute amendments and a tense final contact group before the chapter was adopted with 30 minutes to spare before the final cut-off. At midday on Saturday, that was the last chapter of the guidance to be approved. However, the full report was only formally adopted in plenary at 11pm on Sunday evening (after a series of last minute interventions on another topic by Saudi Arabia).
The 2019 guidance is dedicated to Dr Jim Penman, who led the development of international inventory guidance from the start and worked closely with CEH in his roles at Defra and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Hot on the heels of a citizen science project that had hundreds of people placing air samplers on their window sills, Jenny Shelton, a PhD student with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Imperial College, is seeking help again as part of her research into monitoring fungicide drug resistance. Her new survey is dubbed #SummerSoilstice and asks volunteers to send in soil or compost samples taken from their gardens on the Summer Solstice (June 21).
Jenny’s supervisors, Andrew Singer of CEH and Mat Fisher of Imperial College, explain why the science is so important, and the necessary details of how to take part:
The new survey is a follow-on from Jenny’s #ScienceSolstice project, which looked for azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus in samples of air collected from the homes and workplaces of citizen scientists on solstice and equinox days during 2018-19. A fumigatus is a ubiquitous fungal species commonly found in soil due to its important role as a decomposer but which is also linked to a disease called aspergillosis or ‘fungal asthma’.
The spores pose no risk to most people as they are cleared by our bodies’ immune system, but some individuals suffer debilitating allergic responses caused by hypersensitisation to the inhaled spores.
Participation from across the UK
The idea behind the citizen science projects is to get wide participation from across the UK in order to determine the background levels of azole-resistant A. fumigatus spores in air and soil and therefore get an idea of the exposure of people to these spores as we go about our daily routines.
For this phase, we’re asking volunteers to send in soil/compost samples from their gardens so that Jenny can culture spores from A. fumigatus and then test them for fungicide resistance. As with the air sampling, knowing the location and timing of each sample will allow Jenny to look for clusters of resistance and any associations with land use, soil type, urban versus rural location and seasonality, which could identify potential drivers of resistance and potential hotspots for the drug-resistant fungus.
"...knowing the location and timing of each sample will allow Jenny to look for clusters of resistance and any associations with land use, soil type, urban versus rural location and seasonality..."
We know that industrial composters constitute a 'hotspot' for A. fumigatus growth because the heat generated in the centre of the waste piles during the composting process kills most bacteria and fungi but allows the thermophilic (heat-loving) A. fumigatus to thrive.
These facilities accept organic waste from households, restaurants and shops and also from plant nurseries, landscaping companies and farms, from which the plant matter may have been exposed to azole-containing fungicides during its lifetime. An important early stage of the composting process is digestion of the organic matter by microbes that require oxygen. The waste piles are rotated to allow for the circulation of air, thereby mixing the contents and exposing more to azole residues from the commercial and agricultural waste. This practice makes it more likely that A. fumigatus proliferating in the centre of the piles is exposed to azoles during its growth, which might cause it to develop resistance.
It's possible that the compost heaps we keep in our gardens act in a similar manner but on a smaller scale, and that the azole residues that drive resistance are coming from the plants and bulbs we have planted in our garden that have already been sprayed with or dipped in azoles at some point during their lifetime. Many industrial composters supply compost to farms and garden centres so it’s also possible that the bags of compost we use in our gardens already contain azole-resistant A. fumigatus spores as a result of the composting process.
Who shouldn't take part
Jenny would like as many citizen scientists as possible to take part in the project, but it’s important to recognise that compost and compost heaps potentially contain high numbers of A. fumigatus that may be aerosolised as a result of disturbing the bag or heap (read more). Due to this, please do not participate in sample collection from these locations if you suffer from aspergillosis, have a lung condition (chronic or acute, such as ‘flu) or are immunosuppressed, all of which places you at greater risk of contracting aspergillosis from inhaling a large number of spores.
How you can take part
If you wish to take part in this survey please fill out our form requesting a sampling pack (assuming the timing is right).
The pack will contain two clear plastic sachets, a wooden spatula, a poster, simple instructions and a questionnaire and will arrive prior to Friday 21 June (summer solstice 2019).
All you need to do is collect two soil samples from your garden – either from a compost heap, bag of compost or manure, pot, planter or border – and return them in the freepost envelope along with a completed questionnaire.
Jenny will process the soil samples in the lab and culture from them any A. fumigatus spores present, which she will then test for resistance to tebuconazole (the third most-sprayed azole in agricultural fungicides here in the UK). Those of you who indicate you are happy to receive updates will later receive an email with a link to a Google map showing anonymised locations of the samples and how many spores were present in each.
Dr Stephen Cavers of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is part of a team of UK experts that has drawn up a strategy for protecting the country’s forests. He explains its importance...
A major step in the protection of the UK’s biodiversity has been achieved with the launch of the first national Strategy for Forest Genetic Resources.
Genetic diversity, which is variation in DNA among individuals of the same species, is essential to help tree species survive in the face of climate change and new pests and diseases. It is also a valuable national resource that may be used for producing trees with better productivity or disease resistance in the UK climate.
Produced over a period of two years, and following consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, the strategy identifies the gaps in knowledge and infrastructure that must be addressed if we are to protect the UK’s Forest Genetic Resources.
The launch marks the starting point for development of an action plan, which will be monitored and reviewed regularly by a steering group.
The UK Strategy for Forest Genetic Resources prioritises five areas for action:
Collaboration – building a national forum for sharing information and knowledge on Forest Genetic Resources.
Communication – promoting understanding of the value of Forest Genetic Resources for trees and people.
New research on where, how much and what type of genetic diversity we have in our trees.
In situ protection: new conservation action to protect distinct populations of trees.
Ex situ protection: making sure seed from distinct populations of all our tree species are collected and protected, and conservation stands are planted for species whose seeds do not last well.
Genetic diversity may be used for producing trees with better productivity or disease resistance
The genetic variation between individuals of the same species is an essential part of biodiversity. These DNA-encoded differences are what allow some individual trees to perform better than others in different places across a variable landscape, and is a key part of the flexibility that species must have if they are to cope with a changing environment.
Trees have large amounts genetic variation that is moved around by pollen and seed. This allows them to cope with lots of different environments and colonise often wide geographic ranges. Different parts of that variation succeed in different places, meaning forests may have distinct genetic makeups.
Forest Genetic Resources describes the whole of that variation and efforts to conserve it focus on protecting a set of populations that represent the range of variation within each species.
The UK Strategy for Forest Genetic Resources was launched by Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, at the Future Trees Trust’s Supporters Day at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 6 June, 2019.
Professor Helen Roy working with other biodiversity experts in St Helena
Invasive alien species were identified, in the recent landmark IPBES Global Assessment Report, as one of the top five causes of negative change in nature around the world. Professor Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who has now been appointed by IPBES as one of three co-chairs to lead a major, three-year global study of invasive alien species, explains more about her new role.
Invasion ecology has been a focus for much of my research over the past 15 years – particularly after the arrival of the harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) in the UK, which really led me into this exciting field. So when I heard at the end of last year that the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was calling for experts to contribute to a thematic assessment of invasive alien species, I didn’t hesitate to express interest.
I had been involved as a lead author in the assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Europe and Central Asia, which published last year. It was an immense privilege to play a small part in this inspiring process. I met many incredible people and enjoyed the opportunity of working collaboratively to deliver a synthesis of patterns and trends with the ultimate aim of providing robust evidence for decision-making.
Since focusing on invasion ecology, I have led research across Britain to compile information on invasive alien species (IAS) through the Defra-funded GB Non-Native Species Information Portal. I have also led a number of European Commission-funded projects to make predictions about invasive alien species to inform the EU IAS Regulation.
The number of alien species arriving in new regions of the world is increasing and there is no sign of this slowing - Professor Helen Roy
Recently I have been working with people from around the world to predict the threat of invasive alien species across the UK Overseas Territories in collaboration with the Non-Native Species Secretariat and funded by UK Government under the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
Sharing information on invasive alien species around the world through collaborative research has been so important, productive and hugely joyous to me, hence my excitement at hearing about the call for experts from IPBES to be part of the invasive alien species team – and my rapid response.
I was eagerly waiting to hear whether I had been selected as one of the experts when I received a notification inviting me to be one of three co-chairs. This was an amazing opportunity — and of course I accepted!
I will have three years to work with an incredible team from around the world including the two other co-chairs, Professors Aníbal Pauchard and Peter Stoett, as well as the wider IPBES team and around 70 selected experts. Together, we will compile the best available evidence to underpin the assessment and so building on the inspiring research within this field to inform governments and decision-makers throughout the world.
The number of alien species arriving in new regions of the world is increasing and there is no sign of this slowing.
Many of the new arrivals have no previous invasion history. Enhancing understanding of the invasive alien species that cause significant negative impacts will be critical to address the problems they pose to biodiversity, ecosystems, economies and society. I am excited, delighted and hugely privileged to be a co-chair of the forthcoming thematic assessment of invasive alien species, and cannot wait to get started.
Professor Helen Roy is involved in many networks and collaborations globally that are important in addressing global biodiversity and ecosystem challenges
Congratulations to our CEH colleagues Bob Moore and Steven Cole who were among the recipients of an Innovation Award for their work on a novel system for forecasting surface water flooding and impact, piloted during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The project was awarded the Royal Meteorological Society Innovation Award for 2018, presented at the Society’s AGM this week (15 May 2019)...
Commissioned by the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service - a partnership between the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Met Office supported by Scottish Government – the project involved contributions from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), the James Hutton Institute and the Met Office. Deltares provided additional support to SEPA in configuring the system within their Flood Early Warning System operational environment.
The lead scientists responsible for the project at CEH, and among the joint recipients of the Innovation Award, were Bob Moore and Dr Steven Cole.
How the system was developed
CEH provided its Grid-to-Grid (G2G) hydrological model to forecast surface runoff on a 1km grid for a 10km square area over Glasgow, and coupled this with the G2G model with Scotland-wide coverage. Surface runoff generation within G2G accommodates the effects on the receiving rainfall of land-cover, slope, soil/geology, and the evolving soil moisture conditions. CEH developed a novel methodology for accumulating surface runoff over different durations and linking these to SEPA’s pluvial (rainfall-related) flood risk maps. These digital maps give the extent and depth of surface water flooding for design storms of differing rarity/severity and associated impacts. They were calculated using a detailed flood inundation model and receptor datasets on people, properties and transport. The design storms use CEH’s Flood Estimation Handbook assessments of return period for rainfalls of given depth and duration, and proposed rainfall profiles before allowance for storm drainage.
How the system works
When used with a spread of possible rainfall forecasts (called an ensemble forecast) from the Met Office, the likelihood of flooding and associated impacts for different severity levels can be assessed. As a new ensemble rainfall forecast is issued by the Met Office (typically, every six hours), the G2G model is run in real-time and an assessment made of flooding risk and its impact over the forecast horizon of 24 hours. CEH and SEPA scientists worked closely together to develop practical ways of visualising the spatial risk (on a 1km grid over Glasgow) of heavy rainfall, surface water flooding and its impact on people, property and transport. The resulting visualisation tools were used in preparing the Surface Water Flood Briefing, and in turn helped inform the contingency planning meetings held each day during the Commonwealth Games.
The resulting visualisation tools were used in preparing the Surface Water Flood Briefing, and in turn helped inform the contingency planning meetings held each day during the Commonwealth Games.
The Games experience
While the fortnight of the Games enjoyed very good weather, on the last Sunday (3 August 2014) convective storms developed over Glasgow. The system’s assessment of surface water flooding increased from low to medium likelihood of minor impacts. Notably, heavy rainfall caused some surface water ponding on the roads during the Men’s Cycling Road Race through Glasgow (pictured). Post-event, feedback from the contingency planners highlighted the importance of the forecasts by stating "hanging on every word (of the forecast) when the weather turned and the forecasts were pretty accurate".
Developments under the Natural Hazards Partnership
The Glasgow Pilot system builds on complementary CEH research on surface water flooding under the Natural Hazards Partnership (involving the Health and Safety Executive and Met Office), with co-funding from the Environment Agency and Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC). The work for FFC, referred to as the Surface Water Flooding Hazard Impact Model (SWF HIM), is currently progressing to full operational deployment with England and Wales coverage, following successful pre-operational real-time trials over the last two years.
A paper for the FLOODrisk 2016 European Conference on Flood Risk Management provides an overview of the Glasgow Pilot, the NHP SWF HIM and a demonstration extension to forecast (fluvial) river flooding impacts over Scotland.
Highlight statements from our lead scientists
Dr Steven Cole: "Due to high uncertainty in forecasting the precise location of rainfall, particularly in convective situations, a probabilistic ensemble approach was needed for the new Glasgow surface water flood risk forecast tool. A particularly novel aspect is that the tool goes beyond forecasting the likely location of surface water flooding to embrace information on potential impacts on people, property and transport. This should help emergency responders make timelier and better informed decisions."
Bob Moore: "To see a project through from inception to delivery that culminated in actual use within the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games proved an exciting and rewarding experience. It showcased the latest CEH science on forecasting surface water flooding risk and, for the first time in the UK, produced an operational system warning of potential impacts to people, property and transport. The transferable nature of the approach means that we are looking forward to working with SEPA on its refinement and future application to benefit other urban communities across Scotland at risk from surface water flooding."
It showcased the latest CEH science on forecasting surface water flooding risk and, for the first time in the UK, produced an operational system warning of potential impacts to people, property and transport. Bob Moore, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Commendations of the system
Michael Cranston (when SEPA’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Manager): "The Glasgow Pilot project has delivered a novel approach to forecasting the impacts of surface water flooding in real-time which is at the forefront of scientific developments in the UK."
Dr Aileen McLeod (when Scotland’s Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform): "The ground-breaking capabilities developed by SEPA to alert for surface water flooding was an essential part of our contingency planning during the Commonwealth Games."
Cole, S J, Moore, R J, Wells, S C, Mattingley, P S, 2016. Real-time forecasts of flood hazard and impact: some UK experiences. FLOODrisk 2016, 3rd European Conference on Flood Risk Management, E3S Web of Conferences, 7, 18015, 11pp. doi:10.1051/e3sconf/20160718015.
Moore, R J, Cole, S J, Dunn, S, Ghimire, S, Golding, B W, Pierce, C E, Roberts, N M, Speight, L, 2015. Surface water flood forecasting for urban communities, CREW report CRW2012_03.
Speight, L, Cole, S J, Moore, R J, Pierce, C, Wright, B, Golding, B, Cranston, M, Tavendale, A, Dhondia, J, Ghimire, S, 2018. Developing surface water flood forecasting capabilities in Scotland: an operational pilot for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. J. Flood Risk Mgt., 11, S884-S901. doi:10.1111/jfr3.12281.
Areas rich in endemic species such as St Helena are experiencing native biodiversity loss as a consequence of invasive alien species.
Humans are threatening one million species across the world with extinction, according to a stark report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Often described as ‘the IPCC for biodiversity’, IPBES was set up by the United Nations to provide the best-available evidence to inform better decisions about nature. Professor Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who worked on one of the regional assessments that the global report built on, explains its significance.
The publication of the first global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) has been widely anticipated. It is an inspiring synthesis of available evidence linked to key recommendations. It highlights the value of bringing together large consortia of experts from around the world to deliver the breadth and depth of evidence required on which to base action going forward. That action is now urgent.
The IPBES Global Assessment report is the conclusion of this collaborative work involving hundreds of experts from around the world. It is a ground-breaking overview of the global state of biodiversity and ecosystem informed by trends in direct and indirect causes coupled with local indigenous knowledge. The headline figures are bleak. Multiple human impacts have altered the natural world across most of the globe and the resulting declines are perhaps unsurprising but no less concerning.
Some of the declines have been widely reported previously, such as global declines in pollinators, but others have received less attention, such as declines in soil organic carbon. The proportion of land altered by human activities is now reported to be a staggering 75%.
Similarly concerning figures are quoted for other ecosystems. Biological communities are becoming more similar over time and areas of high endemism, such as islands, are experiencing severe native biodiversity loss as a consequence of the adverse effects of invasive alien species.
The headline figures are bleak. Multiple human impacts have altered the natural world across most of the globe
The report succinctly refers to quantitative evidence where available but also transparently includes the sources of extrapolations where there are knowledge gaps. For example, when referring to insect declines, which have been the focus of much media attention over the last year, the summary provides a measured conclusion: “Global trends in insect populations are not known but rapid declines have been well documented in some places.”
As the summary of the report opens, and subsequently provides considerable evidence: “The biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, is being altered to an unparalleled degree across all spatial scales.” It is clearly stated that: “The goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories.”
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s targets for 2020 will be missed but the summary outlines ambitious measures to safeguard the global environment through enhanced international cooperation and linked locally relevant action. The way in which the global assessment has been achieved provides an excellent example to follow.
I had the privilege of contributing to the Europe and Central Asia Regional Assessment as a lead author. The commitment from the experts from across the region to interrogate and deliver the best available evidence was simply inspiring. There is now an urgent need for action and transformative change.
An infographic from the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services showing extinction risksFurther information
Scots pines at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve Picture: Lorne Gill/SNH
The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has played a key role in an important milestone for the conservation of the UK’s native trees, explains Dr Stephen Cavers, an ecologist specialising in plant genetic diversity.
A Scots pine forest on a remote north facing hillside in northwestern Scotland has been recognised as the UK’s first ‘genetic conservation unit (GCU)’.
This designation, by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), means the trees growing here will be protected as a unique part of the species’ overall genetic diversity. The site, at Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross, is managed by SNH and was Britain’s first National Nature Reserve, so it is fitting that it is now also the site of another first for the UK. It is hoped that the establishment of the Beinn Eighe GCU will also act to stimulate the creation of GCUs across the UK for all of our native trees.
Biodiversity underpins our ecosystem services and provides the capability for ecosystems to adapt to challenges such as environmental change or new pests and diseases. Genetic diversity is a key component of biodiversity and is essential for species-level responses to change.
Nationally, under the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UK is committed to prevent the loss of genetic diversity in our native species and must find ways to characterise, secure and manage its native genetic resources. This needs to include a capability to document and monitor the status of genetic diversity.
The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has played a key role in seeing this milestone achieved - Dr Stephen Cavers
In tree species, a Europe-wide framework (EUFGIS) has been created to manage genetic resources, which provides a focus for the collation of knowledge about genetic diversity in trees and for identification and conservation of a representative proportion of that variation as dynamically managed gene conservation units.
Some of the specimens at Beinn Eighe are more than 350 years old and the genetic composition of the pinewood has been shown to be unique. The genetic conservation unit for Scots pine at the site is a significant first step towards the UK securing this important national resource.
The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has played a key role in seeing this milestone achieved. As well as providing the research that forms the scientific basis for recognising Beinn Eighe’s distinctiveness (see links below), CEH has played a leading role in developing the new Strategy for the UK’s Forest Genetic Resources which will form the framework for protecting the genetic diversity in all of the UK’s native trees.
CEH is also working with European colleagues, via the GENTREE project to find best ways to manage genetic diversity in trees on a continental scale; the declaration of Beinn Eighe is an important outcome of this work.
Salmela MJ, Cavers S, Cottrell JE, Iason GR, Ennos RA (2011) Seasonal patterns of photochemical capacity and spring phenology reveal genetic differentiation among native Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) populations in Scotland. Forest Ecology and Management. 2011 Sep; 262(6) 1020-1029. DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2011.05.037
Salmela MJ, Cavers S, Cottrell JE, Iason GR, Ennos RA (2013) Spring phenology shows genetic variation among and within populations in seedlings of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) in the Scottish Highlands Plant Ecol Divers. 2013 Dec; 6(3-4) 523-536. DOI: 10.1080/17550874.2013.795627
Donnelly K, Cavers S, Cottrell JE, Ennos RA (2016) Genetic variation for needle traits in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) Tree Genet. Genomes. 2016 Jun; 12(3). DOI: 10.1007/s11295-016-1000-4
Perry A, Brown AV, Cavers S, Cottrell JE, Ennos RA (2016) Has Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris ) co-evolved with Dothistroma septosporum in Scotland? Evidence for spatial heterogeneity in the susceptibility of native provenances. Evol Appl. 2016 Jul; 9(8) 982-993. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12395
Whittet R, Cavers S, Cottrell J, Rosique-Esplugas C, Ennos R (2017) Substantial variation in the timing of pollen production reduces reproductive synchrony between distant populations of Pinus sylvestris L. in Scotland. Ecol Evol. 2017 Aug; 7(15) 5754-5765. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3154
Wytham, a village about three miles from Oxford, was first recorded around AD 975, its name deriving from the Old English for a homestead or village in a river-bend. The woods lie on the western edge of the village and cover around 1000 acres. Now owned by the University of Oxford, they are one of the most researched woodlands in the world.
The woods are exceptionally rich in flora and fauna, with more than 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths. The forested area consists of ancient semi-natural woodland, secondary woodland, and modern plantations. It’s likely that the ancient woodland has never been cleared and there has been continuity of tree cover since the prehistoric 'wild wood’ dating back to the last ice age.
Secondary woodland has grown up naturally in the last 200 years after the abandonment of wood pasture, pasture or cultivation, with some dating back to the seventeenth century. The oldest remaining plantations are beeches; some date back approximately 200 years, but most of the plantations are from the 1950s and 1960s.
Image: Woodland-grassland boundary at Wytham Woods photographed by drone
Our quest to shed light in the distribution of carbon down to one metre soil depth brought us to the ancient semi-natural woodland in Wytham Woods. This part of the woods is separated from the sheep-grazed grassland by an eight-foot deer fence to keep grazer disturbance in the woods to a minimum.
We started working in the grassland and marked our nine random locations for sampling. The soil was heavy clay and held a big surprise: instead of compacting the soil with the heavy soil coring equipment, the soil cores were longer than expected, by around 40 per cent! It gave us some headache (and not just because of the sun): clays are known to shrink or swell depending on their water content. It’s likely that during the winter months, when soil water evaporation is low, water is constantly channelled to the lower parts of the soil. This caused the subsoil to “swell”, building up pressure. When we cored into the subsoil, we likely created a “pressure-relief” point for the soil, causing soil core expansion.
The soils in the ancient wood were easier to sample, but more difficult to get to. Huge accumulations of brambles had their thorns out, ready to defend their territory. First sightings of stinging nettles were recorded and the woodland understory was well on its way. This was a very different scenario compared to the Welsh flora we’d encountered which was still hibernating, illustrating the climatic differences that can be found between two places only 200 miles apart.
Image: Equipment to measure soil water infiltration
Wytham Woods is also one of the founding sites of the Environmental Change Network (ECN), co-ordinated by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. ECN is the UK's long-term, integrated environmental monitoring and research programme. ECN monitoring at Wytham began in 1992 focusing on understanding and predicting the effects of climate change on woodland and grassland systems.
Today, Wytham Woods represents a long-term environmental research platform, where the combination of site access and local knowledge (provided through the site managers, my CEH colleagues Stefanie Schäfer and Denise Pallett), together with access to long term datasets, provide an excellent opportunity to develop experimental work into woodland ecosystem dynamics.
More updates from the SOC-D project, a component of the UK-SCAPE research programme, will follow soon. See our previous posts here:
Professor Nick Beresford (@Radioecology) of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology led the TREE (Transfer-Exposure-Effects) project, an international collaboration to investigate how to reduce uncertainty in estimating the risk to humans and wildlife of exposure to radioactivity. A major part of the project was fieldwork undertaken in the Chernobyl Exclusion zone.
Scientists from the project met in Portsmouth recently to discuss the research to date and the next steps for their work. Nick tells us more...
Releases of radioactivity, whether authorised (from the nuclear power industry, hospitals and research establishments), or accidental, need to be assessed with respect to their potential impacts on wildlife. This is a relatively new requirement which has evolved over the last two decades; hence the underpinning science is still developing. As part of any environmental protection framework we need to understand the effects of radiation on wildlife.
The large area around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, abandoned in 1986 after what remains the world’s worst nuclear accident, offers us the opportunity to study the impacts of radiation on wildlife in the environment.
Results from studies conducted in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) are conflicting, however. Some groups, for example, have suggested significant impacts at very low exposure rates. Such results have received relatively high media attention and are used to challenge regulators and relevant international bodies.
Over the last five years, the CEH-led TREE project, funded under the RATE programme, has conducted research in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. At the same time we performed controlled laboratory studies on similar organisms to those studied in the field.
The project represents the largest co-ordinated study of the effects of radiation on wildlife ever conducted in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. As TREE comes to a close, we held a workshop together with the European Radioecology ALLIANCE to share our findings and discuss priorities for the future. The workshop was attended by scientists from the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Ukraine, Norway and the RATE programme funders (NERC, Radioactive Waste Management Ltd. and the Environment Agency).
"The TREE project represents the largest co-ordinated study of the effects of radiation on wildlife ever conducted in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone"
Over the course of the workshop, we heard 25 presentations summarising findings about the effects of radiation on a range of wildlife from soil biota, plants and bumblebees to fish, birds and mammals. The breadth of studies, and the use of different technologies such as drones, camera traps and acoustic recordings, was a hallmark of the TREE project. We also had robust discussion sessions about the science to date.
Results from TREE show no evidence of radiation effects on wildlife at dose rates typical for permitted discharges in the UK. However, while wildlife at Chernobyl appears to be thriving, radiation effects are observable in some species in the most contaminated parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Our results also suggest that internal benchmark dose rates need to be reviewed. The workshop highlighted the difficulty of interpreting results from the Zone – are effects due to current chronic exposure rates, the effect of habitat or a residual impact of earlier much higher exposures?
Participants agreed to establish a meta-database of Chernobyl field sites to better share data and also prepare a statement paper on research priorities with respect to the impacts of radiation on wildlife, best practices for studies and data reporting, and the use of the Exclusion Zone in future research.
Important idea from Sergey Gaschak about #Chernobyl future: It’s crucial to preserve the inviolability of the large size of the Exclusion Zone as a biodiversity reserve if we want to maintain populations of many endangered animals.@CEHScienceNewspic.twitter.com/eOjv8vCnpz
— Germán Orizaola (@GOrizaola) March 5, 2019Knowledge exchange has been a vital aspect of TREE’s work and was instrumental in us being awarded the Times Higher Education Project of the Year 2016. The sharing of ideas and the spirit of collaboration seen throughout the project was reflected again at the Portsmouth workshop. One participant commented that the workshop was a “supportive balance of constructive criticism and friendly advice that is often sought and rarely seen.”
This ensures we are in a good place to establish future research priorities and advance the field of radioecology in collaboration with our European colleagues.
Bluetongue virus has caused mortality rates of up to 30% in some flocks of sheep. Photo c. The Pirbright Institute.
Bluetongue is transmitted by biting midges. Photo c. The Pirbright Institute
Bluetongue largely affects the livelihoods and production of smallholder farmers
Beth Purse, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and Mudassar Chanda, from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, report new insights into patterns of bluetongue disease in sheep in southern India. The research was conducted as part of a three-year Indo-UK collaborative project jointly funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish Government.
Bluetongue virus, transmitted by biting midges, is the top viral cause of disease in sheep in India, causing half a million cases and killing 64,000 sheep in the decade to 2005.
In addition to the mortality rates of up to 30% in some flocks, impacts on production include weight loss, reduced wool quality, infertility and lameness. Bluetongue largely affects the livelihoods and production of smallholder farmers, with outbreaks occurring annually in sheep flocks and linked to the timing of the monsoon rains.
Efforts to combat the disease are hampered by the wide diversity of both the virus strains and midge and mammal host species potentially involved in transmission. Although it causes disease mainly in sheep, it can also remain undetected in other ruminant hosts like cattle and buffaloes that show no signs of disease. Bluetongue is currently controlled through the use of vaccines. These are supplied by the state governments of the affected states to small-holder farmers through village veterinary officers. However, they are only effective against a subset of circulating strains.
Understanding why bluetongue outbreaks in sheep are more severe in some districts of south India could help the authorities plan the production and targeting of vaccine doses across affected communities. Matching historical disease patterns with patterns in land use, climate and hosts within statistical models can reveal and map key characteristics or “risk factors” that make some places more susceptible to disease.
As part of IBVNet, an inter-disciplinary Indo-UK project funded by BBSRC, DFID and the Scottish Government, we analysed long term (1992-2009) spatial patterns in bluetongue outbreaks among sheep in relation to wide-ranging geographical characteristics of a district. These included the cover of forests and irrigated or rain-fed cropland, the average amount of rainfall and temperatures in different monsoon periods and the densities of cattle, buffalo and different sheep breeds.
Understanding why bluetongue outbreaks in sheep are more severe in some districts of south India could help the authorities plan the production and targeting of vaccine doses across affected communities. Dr Beth Purse, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
We found that host factors, rather than landscape or climate, best predicted disease patterns in sheep. We also found that more bluetongue outbreaks occurred, on average, in districts with higher densities of particular sheep breeds and buffalo. Since buffalo show no disease signs and are not counted in the outbreak data, this finding suggests they are a source of infection for sheep populations living alongside them.
The virus strains present in buffalo must be monitored to understand the role they play in transmission of bluetongue and whether they should be included in vaccination programmes to protect sheep adequately.
There was also some evidence that bluetongue outbreaks were more likely in districts with higher amounts of irrigated and rain-fed croplands. Further research is needed to understand how particular agricultural practices in India are linked to midge and reservoir host populations.
Although our study looked specifically at bluetongue disease, our modelling methods are applicable to the wide range of endemic livestock infections affecting small-holder farmers in India and will inform early warning systems for livestock diseases in India.
You can read the full study in Nature Scientific Reports:
IBVNet was a three-year Indo-UK collaborative project jointly funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish Government via the Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development (CIDLID) initiative. It was coordinated by the Entomology group based at The Pirbright Institute (TPI) and through the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) funded All India Network Project on Bluetongue (AINP-BT).
IBVNet examined ways to both predict and reduce the impact of BTV by monitoring monsoon-related Culicoides activity and exploring affordable methods for their control.