The farming industry has had a strange relationship with ecology over the years. They have been maligned by claims they shoot native species, suck up water greedily from nature and the people, and pollute our countryside with pesticides, all whilst producing the food many of us subsist on. So why haven’t ecologists worked with them more closely?
At the recent NØF 2019 Conference, Tanja Petersen and I sat down with Canadian ecologist Professor Andrew MacDougall, who has been working with the farming industry for the past six years to quantify their contribution to ecosystem services. We talked about the often damaging public perception of farmers, how his stereotypes were challenged by working with them, and the biggest problems the industry will face heading into the next fifty years.
Forests such as Białowieska in Poland perform a wide range of functions, but if its biodiversity rises, how will this change? (Image Credit: Jacek Karczmarz, CC A 3.0)
Biotic homogenization can decrease landscape/scale forest multifunctionality (2016) von der Plas et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113
Any ecosystem performs a multitude of functions, benefiting both the species that live in it and the humans who interact with it, from litter decomposition to resistance of drought to timber production. As such, maintaining high levels of ecosystems is a well-studied concept, and it has been posited that high levels of biodiversity increase the levels functions an ecosystem can perform, or its multifunctionality.
But while the word biodiversity is recklessly bandied about these days, scientifically it’s a somewhat vague term. At an ecosystem level, you may have patches of very high local (or alpha) diversity, but the turnover of species between patches (beta diversity) might be quite low. The variation in types of biodiversity may influence your ecosystem multifunctionality. For instance, patches of high alpha diversity might lead to high levels of functionality in some patches, but little functionality elsewhere, whereas high levels of beta diversity may lead to low levels of functionality, but many functions. This paper investigates relationships between different biodiversity levels and ecosystem multifunctionality.