Biodiversity and the resilience of nature’s benefits to people in agricultural landscapes

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Richard Pearson

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Owen Nicholas

Statistical Science, UCL

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Project Description:

Biodiversity plays a number of crucial roles in the provision of essential ecosystem services, being a support to other ecosystem services (e.g., through promoting soil fertility), providing direct ecosystem services (e.g., pollination and pest control), and being a final well-being bearing good in its own right. Yet biodiversity is declining rapidly, with global and local extinctions, and widespread population declines. There is thus an urgent societal need to develop landscapes that are best suited to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services. This project will explore the effects of land use change and climate change on the provision of ecosystem services in communal farming areas around Durban, South Africa. We aim to estimate impacts of environmental change on nature’s benefits to people based on species turnover in local ecological communities. We will use state-of-the-art ecological models that project community-level impacts (rather than impacts only on single species) by coupling Species Distribution Models with network models of biotic interactions. The project will build on ongoing work with South African partners and aims to provide policy recommendations for minimizing vulnerability to future environmental change.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project aims to develop policy recommendations regarding land allocations that conserve biodiversity and help minimize vulnerability of local communities to the loss of vital ecosystem services (e.g., pollination, pest management). We will work with local policy makers through the SHEFS (Sustainable & Healthy Food Systems; project.

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