Perceptions of wetlands: why so negative?

I’ve been working on the animals and plants that live in urban ponds for a few years (you can find some of my work on my Kudos page here, here, and here), and I have a Google Alert running for mentions of “pond” or “wetland” in the media. However, far from lots of stories about fish, ducks, and dragonflies, all I see is this:

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Ponds are dynamic habitats, which makes it tough to conserve biodiversity…

Background:  When an area is designated as a site for conservation or special scientific interest that is usually because one or more species of interest have been found or the community as a whole is unique or exceptional. However, the implicit assumption in this approach is that if you come back tomorrow then those species or that community will still be present. If the habitat is dynamic, with frequent population-level extinctions and colonisations, then it may be that this assumption does not hold. Pond ecosystems represent one case where the habitats are small and relatively easily affected by external variables and which may, as a result, vary in their conservation value over time.

What we did: Andrew Hull and Jim Hollinshead have been monitoring ponds in Cheshire (northwest England) for almost 20 years. A set of 51 ponds were surveyed in 1995/6 and again in 2005, meaning that we can test whether or not over this 10-year period there was any change in the conservation value of the ponds. Pond surveys recorded all plant and macroinvertebrate (i.e. invertebrates larger than about 1mm, which was the size of the mesh of the net) species in the ponds and we compared (i) the diversity, and (ii) the conservation value of the ponds between the two surveys. Plants showed similar levels of diversity in both surveys, so highly-diverse ponds in the first survey remained that way in the second. However, invertebrate diversity was not correlated between surveys, meaning that species rich ponds in the first survey did not necessarily remain that way. For both groups there was not correlation between conservation value (calculated based on the rarity of the species in the community) in survey 1 compared to survey 2.

Importance: Ponds are highly variable ecosystems and that is one of the reasons that they support such a wide range of species on a landscape scale. However, it seems that this variability may make it difficult to conserve them adequately, since conservation value is changing over time. This finding supports the conservation of pond clusters, rather than individual sites, which are more likely to contain a stable species pool.


This is part of a series of short lay summaries that describe the technical publications I have authored. This paper, entitled “Temporal dynamics of aquatic communities and implications for pond conservation”, was published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation in 2012. You can find this paper online at the publisher, or on Figshare.

Image credit: Alison Benbow, CC BY 2.0, http://bit.ly/1l35Tdu

Launch of a new project: the West Yorkshire Ponds Project (WYPP)

I feel that I should demote myself from “blogger” to “occasional blogger”…  But I have an excuse!  Exciting things are happening, and I have been involved in some new projects which have taken up a considerable amount of time.  Aside from a massive EU grant application (which has taken an inordinate amount of time to produce 25,000 words), I have also been finalising the launch of the West Yorkshire Ponds Project (WYPP, click the image to go to the page):

WYPP is the beginning of a new research project that I have had in the pipeline for some time.  The aim is to spread knowledge about the value of urban wetlands (focusing on the West Yorkshire region for now) while seeking collaborations with which to advance that knowledge.  Feel free to browse around the www.wypp.org site to find out more about the value of ponds (flood prevention, pollution reduction, biodiversity enhancement), and how school ponds can bring nature within reach of the most inner-city of schools.

I’d appreciate feedback or comments on the site, and I’d love to hear from anyone in the West Yorkshire area who might be interested in working with me on this project.  It is going to be very community-oriented so the more the merrier!

If you go down to the stormwater management facility today, you’re sure of a big surprise!

I’ve been neglecting nature in the past few posts, focusing on in-depth (and probably quite dull-looking) reviews of pseudoscientific treatments. Here, I’m going to show some pretty (I think, anyway) photos of some bugs! In a post on the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, I included a couple of photographs that I took while identifying invertebrates from some field samples that I took earlier this year. The project is looking at the biodiversity of stormwater management facilities (SMFs) in Ottawa, Canada. I wasn’t expecting to find much, as these kinds of ponds and small lakes tend to be fairly small, unimpressive and dirty. However, I was pleasantly surprised!

The diversity of invertebrates in Ottawa ponds

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