By Emma Howard
8 December 2015
(The Guardian) – A decline in wildlife is threatening core functions of the ecosystem that are vital for human wellbeing, researchers behind an unprecedented study of biodiversity in the UK have warned.
Climate change and habitat loss are leading to a reduction in biodiversity, with species that act as pollinators and natural pest controls most at risk, the study in the journal Nature Communications shows.
Hedgehogs, hoverflies, moths and birds are among the groups in most serious decline, with individual species under particular threat including the common red ant, red shanked carder bee and the common banded hoverfly.
The findings are based on what is believed to be the biggest analysis of British wildlife ever conducted, with researchers from the University of Reading and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology looking at records covering 4,424 species, collected between 1970 and 2009.
Wildlife, trees and plants were analysed according to five functions they performed in the ecosystem: pollination, pest control, decomposition, carbon sequestration and species often recognised as being of cultural value, which included species such as birds, butterflies and bees.
Among species considered pollinators – such as bees, moths and hoverflies – 28% are in decline, while 16% of those that act as natural pest controllers, such as ants and ground beetles, have witnessed significant losses.
Although some native species are increasing, along with some new species that have appeared in the UK, they do not offset the losses caused by the drop in wildlife performing the functions of pollination and pest control.
Dr Tom Oliver, an ecologist at the University of Reading who led the study, told the Guardian that continued losses among wildlife performing those functions would lead to significant rises in the price of food, with some food groups likely to become unavailable.
“Under current trends we are moving towards the loss of species and the ecosystem functions that are vital for human wellbeing, especially pollination and pest control,” he said.
“We need insects to pollinate our crops – we can’t do it by hand – and if we lose natural pest controls, less food will be available. If we lose those functions, the crops we eat won’t be able to be pollinated so the price of food would go hugely up and certain foods we wouldn’t be able to eat such as fruits including strawberries, raspberries and apples.” [more]
ABSTRACT: The composition of species communities is changing rapidly through drivers such as habitat loss and climate change, with potentially serious consequences for the resilience of ecosystem functions on which humans depend. To assess such changes in resilience, we analyse trends in the frequency of species in Great Britain that provide key ecosystem functions—specifically decomposition, carbon sequestration, pollination, pest control, and cultural values. For 4,424 species over four decades, there have been significant net declines among animal species that provide pollination, pest control and cultural values. Groups providing decomposition and carbon sequestration remain relatively stable, as fewer species are in decline and these are offset by large numbers of new arrivals into Great Britain. While there is general concern about degradation of a wide range of ecosystem functions, our results suggest actions should focus on particular functions for which there is evidence of substantial erosion of their resilience.