Changing Abundance, Composition, and Distribution of Species

lemurBiological diversity (biodiversity), which is being lost at a rate unprecedented in human history, underpins many natural systems on which humans depend for health and wellbeing. Depletion of natural resources, pollution, invasive species, climate chance, ocean acidification, and habitat degradation are just some of the factors driving biodiversity loss on a global scale. Changes in biodiversity affect ecosystem structure and function, often posing threats to key ecosystem services. Biodiversity also impacts exposure to vector-borne disease in ways that are inadequately understood.

Learning Objectives

  • L1: To understand the differences between ‘biodiversity loss’ and ‘changing abundance, composition and distribution of species’.
  • L2: To review the changing abundance, composition and distribution of species in the traditionally environment and traditionally health realms, and relate the two spheres.
  • L3: To assess competing priorities that affect the abundance, composition and distribution of species, with consideration of who is most affected by different priorities and how.
  • L4: To examine the competing interests affecting policy change with consideration of scale of implementation.
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Coker ME, Bond NR, Chee YE, Walsh CJ. Alternatives to biodiversity offsets for mitigating the effects of urbanization on stream ecosystems . Conservation Biology [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Globally, offset schemes have emerged in many statutory frameworks relating to development activities, with the aim of balancing biodiversity conservation and development. While the theory and use of biodiversity offsets in terrestrial environments is broadly documented, little attention has been paid to offsets in stream ecosystems. Here we examine the application of offset schemes to stream ecosystems and explore whether they suffer similar shortcomings to those of offset schemes focused on terrestrial biodiversity. To challenge the applicability of offsets further, we discuss typical trajectories of urban expansion and their cascading physical, chemical and biological impacts on stream ecosystems. We argue that the highly connected nature of stream ecosystems and urban drainage networks can transfer impacts of urbanization across wide areas, complicating the notion of like-for-like exchange and the prospect of effectively mitigating biodiversity loss. Instead, we identify in-catchment options for stormwater control, which can avoid or minimize the impacts of development on downstream ecosystems, while presenting additional public and private benefits. We describe the underlying principles of these alternatives, some of the challenges associated with their uptake, and policy initiatives being trialled to facilitate adoption. In conclusion, we argue that stronger policies to avoid and minimize the impacts of urbanization provide better prospects for protecting downstream ecosystems, and can additionally, stimulate economic opportunities and improve urban liveability.

Myers SS. Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet . The Lancet [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The impact of human activities on our planet's natural systems has been intensifying rapidly in the past several decades, leading to disruption and transformation of most natural systems. These disruptions in the atmosphere, oceans, and across the terrestrial land surface are not only driving species to extinction, they pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing. Characterising and addressing these threats requires a paradigm shift. In a lecture delivered to the Academy of Medical Sciences on Nov 13, 2017, I describe the scale of human impacts on natural systems and the extensive associated health effects across nearly every dimension of human health. I highlight several overarching themes that emerge from planetary health and suggest advances in the way we train, reward, promote, and fund the generation of health scientists who will be tasked with breaking out of their disciplinary silos to address this urgent constellation of health threats. I propose that protecting the health of future generations requires taking better care of Earth's natural systems.

Allen T, Murray KA, Zambrana-Torrelio C, Morse SS, Rondinini C, Marco MD, Breit N, Olival KJ, Daszak P. Global hotspots and correlates of emerging zoonotic diseases . Nature Communications [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Zoonoses originating from wildlife represent a significant threat to global health, security and economic growth, and combatting their emergence is a public health priority. However, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their emergence remains rudimentary. Here we update a global database of emerging infectious disease (EID) events, create a novel measure of reporting effort, and fit boosted regression tree models to analyze the demographic, environmental and biological correlates of their occurrence. After accounting for reporting effort, we show that zoonotic EID risk is elevated in forested tropical regions experiencing land-use changes and where wildlife biodiversity (mammal species richness) is high. We present a new global hotspot map of spatial variation in our zoonotic EID risk index, and partial dependence plots illustrating relationships between events and predictors. Our results may help to improve surveillance and long-term EID monitoring programs, and design field experiments to test underlying mechanisms of zoonotic disease emergence.


Mitchell EAD, Mulhauser B, Mulot M, Mutabazi A, Glauser G, Aebi A. A worldwide survey of neonicotinoids in honey . Science [Internet]. 2017;358 (6359) :109-111. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Growing evidence for global pollinator decline is causing concern for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services maintenance. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been identified or suspected as a key factor responsible for this decline. We assessed the global exposure of pollinators to neonicotinoids by analyzing 198 honey samples from across the world. We found at least one of five tested compounds (acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam) in 75% of all samples, 45% of samples contained two or more of these compounds, and 10% contained four or five. Our results confirm the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids in their food throughout the world. The coexistence of neonicotinoids and other pesticides may increase harm to pollinators. However, the concentrations detected are below the maximum residue level authorized for human consumption (average ± standard error for positive samples: 1.8 ± 0.56 nanograms per gram).
Schulte LA, Niemi J, Helmers MJ, Liebman M, Arbuckle JG, James DE, Kolka RK, O’Neal ME, Tomer MD, Tyndall JC, et al. Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn–soybean croplands . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Internet]. 2017;114 (42). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services from agricultural lands remain important challenges in the United States despite decades of spending on natural resource management. To date, conservation investment has emphasized engineering practices or vegetative strategies centered on monocultural plantings of nonnative plants, largely excluding native species from cropland. In a catchment-scale experiment, we quantified the multiple effects of integrating strips of native prairie species amid corn and soybean crops, with prairie strips arranged to arrest run-off on slopes. Replacing 10% of cropland with prairie strips increased biodiversity and ecosystem services with minimal impacts on crop production. Compared with catchments containing only crops, integrating prairie strips into cropland led to greater catchment-level insect taxa richness (2.6-fold), pollinator abundance (3.5-fold), native bird species richness (2.1-fold), and abundance of bird species of greatest conservation need (2.1-fold). Use of prairie strips also reduced total water runoff from catchments by 37%, resulting in retention of 20 times more soil and 4.3 times more phosphorus. Corn and soybean yields for catchments with prairie strips decreased only by the amount of the area taken out of crop production. Social survey results indicated demand among both farming and nonfarming populations for the environmental outcomes produced by prairie strips. If federal and state policies were aligned to promote prairie strips, the practice would be applicable to 3.9 million ha of cropland in Iowa alone.

Herrera D, Ellis A, Fisher B, Golden CD, Johnson K, Mulligan M, Pfaff A, Treuer T, Ricketts TH. Upstream watershed condition predicts rural children’s health across 35 developing countries . Nature Communications [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Diarrheal disease (DD) due to contaminated water is a major cause of child mortality globally. Forests and wetlands can provide ecosystem services that help maintain water quality. To understand the connections between land cover and childhood DD, we compiled a database of 293,362 children in 35 countries with information on health, socioeconomic factors, climate, and watershed condition. Using hierarchical models, here we find that higher upstream tree cover is associated with lower probability of DD downstream. This effect is significant for rural households but not for urban households, suggesting differing dependence on watershed conditions. In rural areas, the effect of a 30% increase in upstream tree cover is similar to the effect of improved sanitation, but smaller than the effect of improved water source, wealth or education. We conclude that maintaining natural capital within watersheds can be an important public health investment, especially for populations with low levels of built capital.

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