This post belongs to a series written by students in the Conservation Biology course BSC4052 at the University of South Florida. This course provides an overview of major themes in conservation practice and related applied problems in biology, including: population ecology in the context of conservation, patterns of diversity, valuing diversity, threats to diversity, management actions and strategies for preserving diversity.
Author: Cassidy Hinson is a concurrent degree-seeking Junior at the University of South Florida in Marine Biology and Environmental Science and Policy. Her passion is studying and conserving coral reef ecosystems. She currently works on her Honors College Thesis, which focuses on the health of coral reefs of St. Lucia. She works at the Southwest Water Management District of Florida ensuring people don’t use more than their fair share of the water. Cassidy spends her free time SCUBA diving, exploring with her two rescued pups, and trying vegan restaurants all over Tampa.
Lanzas, M., Hermoso, V., De-Miguel, S., Bota, G., & Brotons, L. (2019). Designing a network of green infrastructure to enhance the conservation value of protected areas and maintain ecosystem services. Science of The Total Environment, 651, 1st ser., 541-550. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.164
Using Green Infrastructure to Fight Biodiversity Loss in the European Union
Many places around the world are searching for ways to balance a growing population while also caring for the environment. Developers, policymakers, and citizens everywhere are concerned with maintaining biodiversity while developing economies and building homes and businesses for humans. New research from the European Union aims to balance the use of ecosystem services and conservation efforts by introducing green infrastructure. This new way to look at land use can have important implications for the future of development and policy-making in the European Union, and throughout the world.
Living with the Land
The natural environment is constantly changing due to humans. Wildlife populations are threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change (Butchart et. al. 2010). Wildland habitats provide many ecosystem services such as coastline protection, lumber, and tourism opportunities. Yet about 50% of ecosystem services worldwide have been degraded in the past five decades (Maes et. al. 2015). Continued degradation of environmental resources could lead to collapse and permanent loss of species and even whole ecosystems. It is more effective to conserve ecosystems than to restore them after they have been degraded.
As humans concentrate in cities, more resources are needed to sustain their way of life. We need to explore ways to live in harmony with the environment instead of destroying it permanently. In order to live sustainably and provide resources for future populations, we must start looking at ways to integrate nature with civilization.
Public Policy and Green Infrastructure
Europe has areas of dense human populations, and activities such as urban development have led to habitat fragmentation, isolating previously interconnected populations of species. Fragmentation leads to loss of biodiversity, as isolated populations cannot mix with other populations to reproduce. To remedy this problem, the European Union is shifting policy towards green infrastructure- incorporating nature into cityscapes and allowing for connection between habitats. A green infrastructure zone acts as a connector between populations in protected areas and ones that border human settlement. Examples include: Wildlife bridges (Figure 2) and wildlife corridors. Planning more green infrastructure zones into land use management law and practice is a good way to bring balance into ecosystems and provide a buffer between conservation areas and human dwellings. Lanzas et. al. (2019) focused on the Catalonia region in Spain to investigate the best policies to increase biodiversity.
Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Conservation
To understand biodiversity of birds, the researchers build a biodiversity model based on the bird species found in the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Catalonia (Lanzas et al. 2019). The research team defined ecosystem services available in the area and the magnitude of land use. Land models were loaded with bird species abundance and ranges into mapping models to depict three zones that affected bird populations: a conservation zone (no development), a green infrastructure zone (mixed-use), and an exploitation zone (resource extraction). Each zone had varying levels of concern for biodiversity of bird populations. A conservation zone has the highest focus on biodiversity, a green infrastructure zone has a medium concern for biodiversity, and an exploitation zone focuses on using the resources, with little concern for biodiversity. Using these models, researchers compared various scenarios of land use. They found that the ideal model has fewer exploitation zones and more mixed-use zones (Scenario 4). The green infrastructure zones should be placed in between the conservation zones and the exploitation zones to allow gene flow between multiple populations. The green infrastructure zones will create a cushion for habitat between human dwellings and natural environments, minimizing the impact that ecosystem service extraction has on the viability of wildlife populations.
Implications for Future land Management
This study focused solely on the birds of Catalonia, hence future studies that look at other taxonomic group would clarify how broadly these results can be applied. However, a holistic look at the ecosystem should provide better guidelines for policy-makers, and the conclusions from this study make a strong argument for the integration of green infrastructure to preserve biodiversity. The trade-offs between conserving natural resources and allowing access to ecosystem services are hard to quantify. However, the authors succeeded in creating computer models that could be adapted for more management zones, different areas of the world, and different species. This new approach could change the way policy regarding biodiversity is written, creating harmony between conservation goals and necessary development.
Butchart, S., Walpole, M., & Collen, B. 2010. Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines. Science, 328(5982), 1164-1168. doi:10.1126/science.1187512
Maes, J., Fabrega, N., Zulian, G., Barbosa., Vizcaino, P., Polce, C., Vandecasteele, I., Rivero, I., Guerra, C., Castillo, C., Vallecillo., Baranzelli, C., Barranco, R., Silva, F., Crisoni, C., Trombetti, M., LAavalle, C. Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services, MAES: trends in ecosystems and ecosystem services in the European Union between 2000 and 2010. JRC Science and policy report, Publications Office of European Union.
**Lanzas, M., Hermoso, V., De-Miguel, S., Bota, G., & Brotons, L. 2019. Designing a network of green infrastructure to enhance the conservation value of protected areas and maintain ecosystem services. Science of The Total Environment, 651, 1st ser., 541-550. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.164
Feature Image: Greenery integrated within a cityscape. Wikimedia Commons.