Tag Archives: ecosystems

Buying time for coral reefs by reducing local threats

Coral reefs provide ecosystem services, such as coastal protection, fisheries and tourism that are vital to the livelihoods of millions of people. These services are dependent upon healthy living corals and the structure they create. Corals generate skeletons of calcium carbonate (limestone) as they grow which provide a natural breakwater and the complex three dimensional habitat that is essential to
support the high biodiversity of coral reefs. Other processes (e.g., cementation by coralline algae) also add to the growth of reef structure, while bioerosion helps further create complexity and is essential in determining the balance between reef growth and disintegration.

Climate change is expected to reduce the ability of corals to form reef structure. Rising ocean temperatures are projected to disrupt growth rates for many corals and increase the frequency of coral bleaching. Ocean acidification will also slow coral growth and weaken reefs, at the same time as increasing the rate of bioerosion. In the face of such impacts, local efforts to improve reef health
might seem hopeless. However, recent research has shown that local management of reefs is vital to maintain the continued net production of reef structure, and therefore the provision of the important ecosystem services that reefs provide.

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Contributions from Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment (FORCE) project towards ecological and social research on coral reef ecosystems

Most of the functions of reefs, such as the provision of productive fisheries, tourism appeal, and coastal protection from storms, are founded on having a complex reef structure that keeps accreting (growing). A structurally complex reef provides habitat (and hiding places) to support high levels of biodiversity (Gratwicke and Speight 2005). If a reef is to continue functioning then it must at least have net growth – i.e., that the deposition of a carbonate skeleton by corals and calcareous algae must exceed the rate at which the skeleton is removed by physical damage and the erosion caused by a host of taxa including burrowing algae, sponges, and worms. The balance of reef construction and erosion is known as a carbonate budget (Stearn et al. 1977). Perhaps that greatest threat to coral reef biodiversity is the long-term loss of reef habitat that could occur if carbonate budgets become persistently negative (erosive).

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Wetlands in Drylands: ?Hotspots? of Ecosystem Services in Marginal Environments

Many of the world’s extensive drylands host permanent and temporary wetlands, including features as diverse as floodplains, marshes, swamps, pans and oases. Their presence in climatically variable, moisture stressed environments means that these wetlands are key providers (‘hotspots’) of ecosystem services, including water and food supply. Land use, population and climate change threatens the functioning of many wetlands in drylands, however, and interdisciplinary scientific studies of the implications for ecosystem services are
urgently needed to support sustainable development planning. This brief provides an overview of the state of scientific understanding of wetlands in drylands and their ecosystem services, and identifies key knowledge gaps and data requirements. This will provide the basis for informed discussion among policy makers as part of their preparations for the 2015 Global Sustainable Development Report.

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Sustainable development and ecosystem services

The key to sustainable development is achieving a balance between the exploitation of natural resources for socio-economic development, and conserving ecosystem services that are critical to everyone’s wellbeing and livelihoods (Falkenmark et al., 2007). There is no blueprint for obtaining this balance. However, an understanding of how ecosystem services contribute to livelihoods, and who benefits and who loses from changes arising from development interventions, is essential…

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Vulnerability of Nearshore Ecosystems from Rapid Intensive Coastal Development

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment pointed out that coastal systems are among the most productive systems in the world and are experiencing acute pressures from growing population and exploitation. It found that the greatest threat is development-related loss of habitats and services, while degradation from other exploitation also poses severe problems.

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Austrocedrus forests of South America are pivotal ecosystems at risk due to the emergence of an exotic tree disease: can a joint effort of research and policy save them?

Human expansion, global movement, and climate change have led to a number of emerging and re-emerging diseases. The decline of biodiversity due to emerging plants pathogens may cause habitat and wildlife loss and declines in ecosystem services. This, in turn, often results in lower human well-being. Reports
of emerging plant diseases are constantly on the rise, and often they appear to be linked to the commercial trade of plants and plant products. While there are several examples of decimation or extinction of plant hosts affected by invasive forest diseases, there are no known cases of invasive forest diseases successfully eradicated.

Austrocedrus chilensis covers today a total estimated area of 185,000 ha in South America. As a dominant forest species, its role in supporting biodiversity, generating shelter for wildlife, as well as preventing soil erosion and preserving water quality is well understood. Along with Araucaria araucana, it is the tree species that grows furthest into the ecotone zone within the Patagonia steppe, where it plays a key role preventing desertification. There are however additional functions this tree provides, including the production of valuable timber and the generation of an environment ideal for cattle grazing, recreational and touristic activities and for human settlement. As one moves South, this species becomes more and more important, and it is often one of only three dominant native tree species in forests. Due to its ecological importance and to its role in fostering human activities, A. chilensis can be regarded an essential element of the agro-forest society of both Chile and Argentina.

Starting in 1948, significant mortality of A. chilensis was reported in several areas.

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Long term sustainability of agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystems: the case of montado cultural landscape

The montado (dehesa in Spain) is recognized as a unique agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystem found only in the Mediterranean basin. These savannah-like landscapes are dominated by cork and holm oaks, shaped over millennia of traditional land use practices. These multi-use forests are a typical example of agroforestry systems facing environmental pressures (climate, land use or degradation), social changes (rural abandonment, ecotourism) and economic trends (e.g. EU policy changes). Today the traditional management practices are threatened, as are the benefits associated with the montado….

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