Changing Abundance, Composition and Distribution of Species

Biological 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.

Lamb JB, Willis BL, Fiorenza EA, Couch CS, Howard R, Rader DN, True JD, Kelly LA, Ahmad A, Jompa J, et al. Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs . Science [Internet]. 2018;359 (6374) :460-462. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Plastic waste can promote microbial colonization by pathogens implicated in outbreaks of disease in the ocean. We assessed the influence of plastic waste on disease risk in 124,000 reef-building corals from 159 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region. The likelihood of disease increases from 4% to 89% when corals are in contact with plastic. Structurally complex corals are eight times more likely to be affected by plastic, suggesting that microhabitats for reef-associated organisms and valuable fisheries will be disproportionately affected. Plastic levels on coral reefs correspond to estimates of terrestrial mismanaged plastic waste entering the ocean. We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40% by 2025. Plastic waste management is critical for reducing diseases that threaten ecosystem health and human livelihoods.

Ullah H, Nagelkerken I, Goldenberg SU, Fordham DA. Climate change could drive marine food web collapse through altered trophic flows and cyanobacterial proliferation . PLoS Biology [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global warming and ocean acidification are forecast to exert significant impacts on marine ecosystems worldwide. However, most of these projections are based on ecological proxies or experiments on single species or simplified food webs. How energy fluxes are likely to change in marine food webs in response to future climates remains unclear, hampering forecasts of ecosystem functioning. Using a sophisticated mesocosm experiment, we model energy flows through a species-rich multilevel food web, with live habitats, natural abiotic variability, and the potential for intra- and intergenerational adaptation. We show experimentally that the combined stress of acidification and warming reduced energy flows from the first trophic level (primary producers and detritus) to the second (herbivores), and from the second to the third trophic level (carnivores). Warming in isolation also reduced the energy flow from herbivores to carnivores, the efficiency of energy transfer from primary producers and detritus to herbivores and detritivores, and the living biomass of detritivores, herbivores, and carnivores. Whilst warming and acidification jointly boosted primary producer biomass through an expansion of cyanobacteria, this biomass was converted to detritus rather than to biomass at higher trophic levels—i.e., production was constrained to the base of the food web. In contrast, ocean acidification affected the food web positively by enhancing trophic flow from detritus and primary producers to herbivores, and by increasing the biomass of carnivores. Our results show how future climate change can potentially weaken marine food webs through reduced energy flow to higher trophic levels and a shift towards a more detritus-based system, leading to food web simplification and altered producer–consumer dynamics, both of which have important implications for the structuring of benthic communities.

Tucker MA, Böhning-Gaese K, Fagan WF, Fryxell JM, Moorter BV, Alberts SC, Ali AH, Allen AM, Attias N, Avgar T. Moving in the Anthropocene: Global reductions in terrestrial mammalian movements . Science [Internet]. 2018;359 (6374) :466-469. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Animal movement is fundamental for ecosystem functioning and species survival, yet the effects of the anthropogenic footprint on animal movements have not been estimated across species. Using a unique GPS-tracking database of 803 individuals across 57 species, we found that movements of mammals in areas with a comparatively high human footprint were on average one-half to one-third the extent of their movements in areas with a low human footprint. We attribute this reduction to behavioral changes of individual animals and to the exclusion of species with long-range movements from areas with higher human impact. Global loss of vagility alters a key ecological trait of animals that affects not only population persistence but also ecosystem processes such as predator-prey interactions, nutrient cycling, and disease transmission.

Hughes TP, Anderson KD, Connolly SR, Heron SF, Kerry JT, Lough JM, Baird AH, Baum JK, Berumen ML, Bridge TC, et al. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene . Science [Internet]. 2018; 359 (6371) :80-83. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tropical reef systems are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages. We analyzed bleaching records at 100 globally distributed reef locations from 1980 to 2016. The median return time between pairs of severe bleaching events has diminished steadily since 1980 and is now only 6 years. As global warming has progressed, tropical sea surface temperatures are warmer now during current La Niña conditions than they were during El Niño events three decades ago. Consequently, as we transition to the Anthropocene, coral bleaching is occurring more frequently in all El Niño–Southern Oscillation phases, increasing the likelihood of annual bleaching in the coming decades.

Gardner AM, Muturi EJ, Overmier LD, Allan BF. Large-Scale Removal of Invasive Honeysuckle Decreases Mosquito and Avian Host Abundance . EcoHealth [Internet]. 2017;14 (4) :750-761. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction as a threat to native biodiversity. One consequence of biological invasions is altered risk of exposure to infectious diseases in human and animal populations. The distribution and prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases depend on the complex interactions between the vector, the pathogen, and the human or wildlife reservoir host. These interactions are highly susceptible to disturbance by invasive species, including terrestrial plants. We conducted a 2-year field experiment using a Before–After/Control–Impact design to examine how removal of invasive Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) in a forest fragment embedded within a residential neighborhood affects the abundance of mosquitoes, including two of the most important vectors of West Nile virus, Culex pipiens and Cx. restuans. We also assessed any potential changes in avian communities and local microclimate associated with Amur honeysuckle removal. We found that (1) removal of Amur honeysuckle reduces the abundance of both vector and non-vector mosquito species that commonly feed on human hosts, (2) the abundance and composition of avian hosts is altered by honeysuckle removal, and (3) areas invaded with honeysuckle support local microclimates that are favorable to mosquito survival. Collectively, our investigations demonstrate the role of a highly invasive understory shrub in determining the abundance and distribution of mosquitoes and suggest potential mechanisms underlying this pattern. Our results also give rise to additional questions regarding the general impact of invasive plants on vector-borne diseases and the spatial scale at which removal of invasive plants may be utilized to effect disease control.
Lachat C, Raneri JE, Smith KW, Kolsteren P, Van Damme P, Verzelen K, Penafiel D, Vanhove W, Kennedy G, Hunter D, et al. Dietary species richness as a measure of food biodiversity and nutritional quality of diets . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Biodiversity is key for human and environmental health. Available dietary and ecological indicators are not designed to assess the intricate relationship between food biodiversity and diet quality. We applied biodiversity indicators to dietary intake data from and assessed associations with diet quality of women and young children. Data from 24-hour diet recalls (55% in the wet season) of n = 6,226 participants (34% women) in rural areas from seven low- and middle-income countries were analyzed. Mean adequacies of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, and zinc and diet diversity score (DDS) were used to assess diet quality. Associations of biodiversity indicators with nutrient adequacy were quantified using multilevel models, receiver operating characteristic curves, and test sensitivity and specificity. A total of 234 different species were consumed, of which <30% were consumed in more than one country. Nine species were consumed in all countries and provided, on average, 61% of total energy intake and a significant contribution of micronutrients in the wet season. Compared with Simpson’s index of diversity and functional diversity, species richness (SR) showed stronger associations and better diagnostic properties with micronutrient adequacy. For every additional species consumed, dietary nutrient adequacy increased by 0.03 (P < 0.001). Diets with higher nutrient adequacy were mostly obtained when both SR and DDS were maximal. Adding SR to the minimum cutoff for minimum diet diversity improved the ability to detect diets with higher micronutrient adequacy in women but not in children. Dietary SR is recommended as the most appropriate measure of food biodiversity in diets.

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