Tag Archives: species

Biodiverse Gardens: Where Doing Less is More

Kiftsgate Court Garden: The Wild Garden 1. An example of a “wild garden” in the UK, where the plants have been left to grow (Image Credit: Michael Garlick, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

How do you make your garden more biodiversity-friendly? During my time at the  Futurum exhibition at The Big Challenge Science Festival, I spent a lot of time talking to people who expressed a desire to be manage their gardens for more plants and animals, but were unsure where to start. So I’ve compiled a brief guide on what to do, and it’s your lucky day – it involves not doing anything.

I had the pleasure of joining my colleagues from the NTNU University Museum at The Big Challenge Science Festival in Trondheim recently (you can read more about that here). When presenting people with the loss of native species, and the potential influx of alien ones, many people seemed genuinely worried. The changes this part of the world have already experienced were also apparent. It hit very close to home for me hearing some of the children visiting our stand ask what a barn swallow is. I have fond childhood memories of those birds flying around every summer, and I’m definitely not old enough yet to start talking about the ‘good old days’.

There are plenty of reasons why the decrease in biodiversity is happening, arguably the two largest being habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. All over the world, cities are growing and inevitably, this happens at the cost of other habitat types – although some species have made the cities their homes (I’m looking at you, rats and pigeons).

Fragmentation occurs when a large patch of habitat (be it a forest, grassland, riverbed, you name it) is cut up into smaller pieces. Your garden can be viewed as such a fragment, potentially resembling a miniature grassland. Even though the total area of miniature grasslands spread out in your neighborhood might be equal to the grassland area that was there before, the inability of many species to move directly from one small patch to the next means the two aren’t equal. One large patch is better than several small ones. But as cities keep growing, even more fragmentation is happening. Therefore, it is so important that we let those tiny fragments be of high quality.

Several visitors to the exhibition seemed thrilled by the idea of managing their gardens for biodiversity, and the prospect of having more wildlife on their doorstep. One woman happily showed us a video of a badger, which had moved in after they started managing their garden with biodiversity in mind.

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Seeing a badger sniff around their wild garden was a treat for two visitors to our exhibition at the FUTURUM display.

People asked us what they themselves could do. They wanted in, but just did not know what to do or where to start. Therefore, we are here to give you a (by no means complete) checklist on how to manage your own backyard to benefit local biodiversity. If you are lazy, like myself, I have great news! The main thing to do is: do less!

Put your feet up, chill out

If you are a garden owner, this might sound counterintuitive, but I am dead serious. Stop doing so much! Stop mowing the grass and trimming the hedges constantly. The constant stress and disturbance is working against most species. For example, the Danish Ornithological Society advises people not to trim their hedges at all until after August 1st, as several bird species can have their nests in there (you wouldn’t like it either, if someone tore down the wall of your bedroom during breeding season!).

This point also includes cutting back on fertilizers and pesticides.

Leave patches untouched

To continue the point above: leave some parts of you garden alone completely, or at least mow them infrequently and strategically. Guidelines can be found online, e.g. here. The grass will be tall, the dandelions will bloom, but so will other gorgeous plant species, and these will attract insects, which will attract insect-eating birds and mammals, which in turn might attract birds of prey and other predators (I think you get the point by now).

Maybe even leave some dead branches or rotting leaf matter to allow decomposers as well, and make a little pond for drinking and amphibians – you can get the full cycle!

Pull the plug on the robot lawn mower

If you can’t do that, at least adjust the height of the clipping to a bit taller than before – this way some smaller herbs might survive. And for the love of God, do NOT leave it on during the night! I repeat DO NOT leave it unsupervised – an increasing number of hedgehogs are mutilated and/or killed by those things.

Do not plant alien species – use natives!

We have covered this point before, so I will not go into details – instead, check out Malene’s great post on the subject here! In short: do not plant species which are imported and/or are not natives!

Build homes for native animals

Now you have the plants covered, but the animals are a little slow to find their way to your little sanctuary – so write the invitation in bold letters! Put up an insect hotel to encourage more critters to settle, put up some bird boxes, or maybe even bat boxes!

For a guide (in Norwegian) for how to build an environmentally friendly garden, you can check out these points by SABIMA as well.

So in summary: let it grow, and let it be messy. Now go and be a good garden manager: sit down, out your feet up!

 

 

 

 

 

Parrots in Norway

The Norwegian landscape is a beautiful thing. Spruce and pine groves piled on the side of mountains and fjords, moose and deer popping up in backyards, woodbirds flitting about on pristine hiking trails. Parrots screeching bloody murder into your ears as you re-enter the city.

No you did not read that wrong. It’s not happening yet, it in a couple of decades parrots, a type of bird not really associated with the sub-Arctic, could be a regular presence around Norwegian cities. So how could this happen, and why is it really quite concerning?

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Tim Robertson: The World of Ecological Data

When I was a child, I’d often study books of Australian birds and mammals, rifling through the pages to see which species lived nearby. My source of information were the maps printed next to photos of the species, distribution maps showing the extent of the species range. These days, many of these species ranges are declining. Or at least, many ecologists believe they are. One of the problems with knowing exactly where species exist or how they are faring is a lack of data. The more data we have, the more precise an idea we get of the future of the species. Some data is difficult to collect, but yet more data has been collected, and is simply inaccessible.

At the Living Norway seminar earlier this month I sat down with Tim Robertson, Head of Informatics and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. GBIF is an international network that works to solve this data problem worldwide, both by making collected data accessible and by helping everyday people to collect scientific data. I spoke with Tim about the journey from a species observation to a species distribution map, the role of GBIF, and the future of data collection.

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The Big Challenge: Increasing City Biodiversity

Image Credit: GuoJunjun, CC BY-SA 3.0 NO, Image Cropped

The Big Challenge Science Festival is currently in Trondheim, bringing a host of celebrities, scientists and futurists together. Their goal is to present solutions for the challenges the planet currently faces, and get people thinking about how they can adjust their lives to help the planet. While there are some big names in attendance, there are also a large number of local students and scientists working tirelessly on stands, and it’s them that I spent yesterday working alongside.

There’s some fantastic stuff on display. I was particularly impressed by the use of VR in a couple of exhibitions. One stand presented a worst case scenario for warming planet, with one of Trondheim’s most famous laneways submerged in water (although the man clinging to a floating car tire waving for assistance may somewhat disturb the kids). Nearby was another VR experience where you could shoot cars, carbon molecules and chimneys, transforming them into bikes, trees and solar panels respectively. The tent next to us had a great range of displays, presenting practical and simple options for living sustainably and also letting you snack on insects and other arthropods!

Our own stand was part of the Futurum exhibition, which postulated how Trondheim may look in 2050. It focussed on biodiversity, and how Trondheim’s wildlife will change over the next 30 years with increasing urbanisation and a warming climate. On loan from the Natural History Museum was a selection of species that could conceivably arrive in Trondheim with a 1-2 degree temperature increase. It was fun to see kids’ faces contort at the thought of a parrot being a common presence in Trondheim, but with Ring-Neck parrots already as far north as Brussels, it could happen within their lifetime.

I was pleasantly surprised at the willingness of some children to accept that new species weren’t necessarily a good thing. Most of them were entranced by the sight of a grey squirrel, but readily understood that it could mean the demise of the red squirrel and some local bird life. Likewise, I was surprised at how many parents could immediately recognise the species likely to disappear from Trondheim, and acknowledge how many more Black-Headed Gulls and Northern Lapwings they could see only twenty years ago.

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NTNU’s Tanja Petersen explains how species life the Pacific Oyster or the Grey Squirrel could be in Trondheim within 30 years (Image Credit, Øystein Kielland, CC BY 2.0)

It was also encouraging to see how many people have started to let portions of their garden grow wild in an effort to allow insects, and thus birds and mammals make their way back into urban areas. The exhibition had 2 fantastic videos compiled by Øystein Kielland focussing on the difference between a green area and a biodiverse one, and how fragmentation has devastated local plant and insect populations. So the number of adults who had already started letting areas around their house grow unchecked was encouraging. Two particular highlights were the couple who eagerly showed us the badger who had recently taken up residence in their backyard, and the girl who nodded eagerly and started telling me all about her insect hotels.

One thing I always struggle with in these situations is communicating uncertainty. Whilst it’s fun to see jaws drop at the thought of parrots in Norway, it’s difficult to communicate the ‘maybe’ factor in the amount of time it takes to engage someone in these issues. The point of the Big Challenge is to get people to act, so I hope that people walk away thinking that if they don’t start living more sustainably there could be huge species’ turnover, but I don’t want to present a worst case scenario, or talk in absolutes about issues that are very much only possibilities. So any success stories you’ve had communicating uncertainty in these scenarios would be very much welcome below!

I’ll be back at the Futurum exhibit at Krigseilerplass near the Royal Garden today. If you’re in Trondheim, I highly recommend stopping by. You can read more about the event here.

Does Invading Change You?

The red lionfish, an aggressive, fecund, and competitive species invasive to the Atlantic Ocean (Image Credit: Alexander Vasenin, CC BY-SA 3.0).

The genomics of invasion: characterization of red lionfish (Pterois volitans) populations from the native and introduced ranges (2019) Burford Reiskind et al., Biological Invasions, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-01992-0(0123456789

The Crux

Invasive species are one of the most destructive forces and largest threats to native ecosystems, second only to habitat loss. The “how” and “when” of a species invading new habitats is obviously important, and as such many studies focus on if invasive species are present and if they are spreading. Yet these studies often disregard the mechanisms behind why a species is spreading or succeeding in these new environments. The mechanisms are important here, because by and large most invasive organisms will have very small populations sizes, leaving them vulnerable to stochastic events like environmental flux, disease, and inbreeding depression.

Two key paradoxes of invasive species are that these small groups of invasive organisms tend to not only have more genetic diversity than the native species (making them more adaptable to environmental change), but they are also able to outcompete the native organisms, despite having evolved in and adapted to what may be a completely different environment. The authors of this study used genomic approaches to address and try to understand these paradoxes.  Read more

Re-Analysing Forest Biodiversity

The Gribskov Forest in Denmarkj, where this study took place (Image Credit: Malene Thyssen, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Biodiversity response to forest structure and management: Comparing species richness, conservation relevant species and functional diversity as metrics in forest conservation (2019) Lelli et al., Forest Ecology and Management, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2018.09.057

The Crux

The classification of biodiversity is something that has become more and more relevant as the term ‘biodiversity’ has worked its way into the public’s vernacular. How we measure biodiversity can vastly influence our perception of it, and whilst we’ve previously looked at spatial interpretations of biodiversity on EcoMass, today I’m examining a paper that looks at interpretations of biodiversity by species groups.

Species richness (how many species are present in a given place) is often the go-to measurement for biodiversity. But it doesn’t always help when trying to conserve an ecosystem. For instance, we may wish to focus on certain types of species which are rare, or that preserve certain ecosystem functions. This paper looks at the differences in the effect of management on biodiversity, depending on which approach to biodiversity you take.

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Ecology in Media: Thoughts, Questions and the Insect Apocalypse

Recent reports of collapses in insect populations were eagerly devoured online. But were the reports exaggerations, and if so, how did they make it into the headlines? (Image Credit: Barta IV, CC BY 2.0)

Two weeks ago, an article on the Insect Apocalypse hit my Facebook feed. It popped up everywhere. People seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of the world’s insects, which was a first for me.

An hour later I was sitting at a conference seminar in which the speaker bemoaned the poor data that had contributed to the key statistic in the article: that biomass of flying insects had decreased by 75% over the last 27 years. The methods used in the report apparently show huge bias towards large bodied species, which may have exaggerated the findings significantly. So here lies our quandary. Read more

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