It’s hard to predict how many species a pond might contain…

Background:  Ponds have been identified as a very important habitat in the landscape.  They enhance regional biodiversity, help control floodwater, reduce pollution in run-off from agricultural and urban land, and provide greenspace and biodiversity in urban environments.  However, because of their small size (typically less than two hectares), they have been neglected by scientists until the last couple of decades.

What we did: This study used a large dataset of 454 ponds that had been surveyed in the north of England to identify all of the invertebrate and plant species that inhabited them. A wide range of physical, chemical and biological variables were also measured and, as the title of the paper suggests, we investigated which of these variables were related to the species richness of different plant and animal taxa. We were able to predict a reasonable amount of the diversity of invertebrates in general, but predictions varied between groups of invertebrates. In general, more shade and a history of drying up reduced the diversity of all groups.

Importance: It has been shown that landowners and managers tend to manage ponds and other natural resources using “received knowledge”. in other words, there is little evidence base for such management.  Our study demonstrated a few important relationships which can be used to inform this kind of management.

This is part of a series of short lay summaries that describe the technical publications I have authored.  This paper, entitled “Environmental correlates of plant and invertebrate species richness in ponds”, was published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation in 2011. You can find this paper online at the publisher, or on Figshare.

Image credit: That’s one of mine, CC-BY 3.0.


Funding for academic outreach in biology (and other sciences)

I recently heard a keynote talk by Sophie Duncan, the Deputy Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, and was really impressed by her enthusiasm for embedding outreach and engagement at every stage of research. Sophie pointed out that there are a number of problems with public engagement as it stands:

  1. There can be a lack of support and reward for good engagement within departments.
  2. Outreach tends to be centred on the academic, rather than on the public.
  3. Groups outside of academia tend not to pro-actively seek academic collaborators.Read More »

What’s the use of wetlands?

The black bog had him by the feet; the sucking of the ground drew on him, like the thirsty lips of death. […] he tossed his arms to heaven, and they were black to the elbow, and the glare of his eyes was ghastly. […] Scarcely could I turn away, while, joint by joint, he sank from sight.

Lorna Doone, R.D. Blackmore

A view over “Doone Valley”

What do you think of when you think about wetlands: ponds, lakes, streams, rivers? Humankind needs water to drink, irrigate crops, and clean ourselves.  However, our view of water tends to focus on the negatives: drowning, dirt, disease, and decay.  Words like “bogged-down” and “swamped” have entered everyday use. In some ways Carver Doone’s plight represents the fears that we have about wetlands. But I want to make the case that these wetlands are misunderstood heroes of the natural world.
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