Yellowstone: Wolves as ecosystem engineers

The effects of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA, have been widely studied – the prolonged absence and then reintroduction of wolves at the top of the food chain makes this case study a great natural experiment into ecosystem dynamics. This post will collate the interesting bits from the research, and look …

Palaeoecology: how an understanding of ancient savannas helps inform elephant management

Despite their role as a conservation flagship species, elephants can be highly destructive to their natural environment. They play a huge role in the management of savanna ecosystems across Africa, but in some areas, the widespread damage they bring to vegetation and farmer’s land makes them a pest. Two main control methods have been suggested …

What has Boris got against newts?!

Last month (July 2020) the UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the following words: “Time is money. And the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country.” …What’s that all about? What are newt-counting delays, and how are newts linked with societal productivity and prosperity? This …

Mutualism in nature: Fungal friends and finding Nemo

Mutualism is the technical term used to describe a relationship between organisms from which both parties benefit. For example, bees benefit from the nectar provided by flowers, when the flowers themselves are pollinated by the spread of their pollen to other flowers. It differs from symbiosis, a word which is often used alongside mutualism, as …

Land sharing or land sparing? Conservation vs food production

The land-sharing land-sparing framework (LSLS) addresses the issue of providing food for an ever-growing population, whilst maintaining or improving biodiversity (Kremen, 2015). The first of the two ideas is land-sharing, which combines conservation and wildlife-friendly farming practices within the same area of agricultural land (Phalan et al., 2001). England’s Environmental Stewardship policy promotes this strategy …

Knocking out Knotweed: Nature’s weapons

I am sure that a lot of you already know of knotweed – it is the big baddie of the invasive species, as its ability to dominate environments, by killing off and inhibiting the growth and reproduction of other plants (Clements et al., 2016), and by changing the soil chemistry to the benefit of invaders …

Fishing down the food web – what is it and why does it matter?

A popular idea in marine conservation and fisheries management is that of “fishing down the food web”, first coined in a paper by Pauly et al. (2000). The phrase describes the observation that the average catch from global fisheries in 2000 was of a lower average trophic level than over the last 50 years prior. …

Why should we bring back the beaver?

The reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver is a topic much debated across Europe and the UK, given its effects as an ecosystem engineer in rivers and streams. The species, which used to be widespread across England, Scotland and Wales, became extinct in the 16th century after widespread hunting (Countryfile, 2018). However, in recent years it …

Fire, forests and their forgotten history

Fire is a vital process in natural systems, providing structure, disturbance and change across ecosystems from heathlands to forests. It is integral to understanding the composition of forests worldwide, as it dictates vegetation types (with frequent fires driving a shift to more fire-resistant species) and subsequently the faunal species which live with them. Fire is …

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