Monday, 22 December 2014

The most viewed CEH news stories & blog posts of 2014

To round off the year, a little insight into the CEH news stories and blog posts you were reading the most in 2014 (in reverse order):

Top 10 most viewed news stories:


10: Notable persistent floodplain inundation - January 2014 Hydrological Summary for the UK
The year got off to a very wet start.

9: Adult vendace, Britain’s rarest freshwater fish, found in Bassenthwaite Lake
Good news in the late summer for British wildlife

8. City life key to harlequin ladybird invasion
Intriguing results from new ladybird research

7. Top 30 high risk invasive alien species with potential to threaten British biodiversity identified by scientists
CEH scientists led a horizon-scanning exercise of high risk invasive alien species.

6. Exceptional rainfall, floods and gales – February 2014 Hydrological Summary for the UK
News of heavy rain and storms continued to grip the nation.

5. Public help needed to map fungus infecting invasive ladybird
An appeal for help was well-received

4. Nitrogen on the table: pollution, climate and land use
A new report quantified for the first time how much our food choices affect pollutant nitrogen emissions, climate change and land use across Europe.

3. The Big Bumblebee Discovery: large-scale citizen science!
A citizen science project for schools met with enthusiasm

2. New free practical guide covers when and how to use citizen science for monitoring the environment
Citizen science again a popular topic for our readers

1. The recent storms and floods in the UK – new report
The extreme winter weather was the hot topic throughout the year.


Top 5 most viewed blog posts


5. Update on the UK hydrological situation
Demand for hydrological news was very high at the turn of the new year.

4. New iRecord Butterflies app available
The new app from CEH's Biological Records Centre working with University of Bristol and Butterfly Conservation colleagues was a big success.

3. Rainfall, UK floods and the potential impacts of climate change?
The severity of the winter weather posed several questions for our scientists.

2. UK butterfly statistics 2013 - the story behind the headlines
Delving deeper into the numbers produced by the long-term UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme

1. Record breakers? Climate change, statistics and the recent UK floods
More information on the Met Office and CEH report which looked at the 2013/14 winter weather.

You can read more about CEH research and news over the past twelve months in our annual review of the year on the CEH News Centre. Just a final thanks to all our contributors and, of course, to our readers. Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!

Paulette Burns and Barnaby Smith

Thursday, 18 December 2014

2014 CEH photo competition winners

A recent tradition at CEH is an annual photo competition open to all our staff and students. The quality of entries this year has been fantastic. Here we share the 2014 winning images:

Landscape category

Light on a Lakeland Fell by Andrew Sier (Winner in Landscape category and overall winner):

Judges: "Lovely composition with excellent use of exposure, showing light at its best, and
conveying the power and majesty of the fells."

Sunset over the Alps by Eric Sauquet (Runner-up):

View from the Lac Fourchu (Grenoble, France)

Stepping Stones by Alan Lawlor (Third place)

On the River Duddon, English Lake District

Allium Flowers by Alan Lawlor (Fourth place)

Allium flowers, ancient woodland, Arnside and Silverdale AONB

Wildlife category

Grey Heron by Denise Pallett (Winner):

Judges: "Beautifully exposed, with great backlighting and
use of depth of field"

Nearest and Deerest by Richard Howells (Runner-up):

"Hog deer (Ciervo porcino), introduced from India into Victoria, Australia,
in 1858, are considered a pest by some, but they are a beautiful, shy
and illusive species. I took this photograph while hiking in a remote area of
Wilsons Promontory National Park, just after sunrise."

Seasonal Monarch of the Glen by Will Brownlie (Third place):

Photographed at 6am near The Devil's Point

Fox on My Allotment by Will Brownlie (Fourth place):

"This Fox comes and sits with me on my allotment from time to time"

Other categories

Searching for Rare Arable Weeds by Nadine Mitschunas (Commended in the CEH at work category)

CEH colleague Markus Wagner during fieldwork

Surveying the Swamps by Laurence Carvalho (Commended in the CEH at work category)

CEH collaborated with SNH and SEPA staff in a 24-hour BioBlitz
to mark Loch Leven's 50th anniversary as a National Nature Reserve

Frosty Footprints by Emma Brown (Commended in the Creative category)

Along the path in Padley Gorge, Peak District

Ox-eye Daisy by Nadine Mitschunas (Commended in the Creative category)

Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) seen from below (insect view).

Well done to all our winning entrants and thanks to the staff and students from all four CEH sites who took part!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Potential climate change impacts: a global, multi-sectoral assessment

Recent graduate Anna Feeney is currently working at CEH, helping us to prepare content for our new website (more on that in the New Year!). Anna has been getting to know our science by reading some of the recent peer-reviewed outputs authored by CEH scientists. Here she describes one paper which caught her eye:

“A new paper recently published in the journal Climatic Change explores some future climate change scenarios, and translates projected changes in meteorological conditions into a range of different impacts that might affect the day-to-day lives of millions of people.

The work was led by Professor Nigel Arnell from the University of Reading. It uses a “pattern-scaling” technique to capture the main features of available climate models from around the world including the IMOGEN model developed by CEH’s Dr Chris Huntingford, who is also a co-author of the article. The research team used 21 climate models and four possible socio-economic tracks to examine a whole host of sectors such as water resources and agriculture.

According to the authors it is potentially one of the most multi-dimensional, wide-ranging studies into climate change impacts to date.

The four socio-economic pathways represent potential future societal habits, each taking into account possible changes in consumption patterns, socio-economic behaviour and corresponding levels of carbon emissions. After combining this information with the 21 different climate change models, changes to climate could be estimated at regional levels at three different milestones: 2020, 2050, and 2080.

Aerial views during an Army search and rescue mission show damage from Hurricane Sandy to the New Jersey coast, Oct. 30, 2012. US Air Force photo by Master Sgt Mark C Olsen (in public domain).

Under one projection for 2050, a sea level rise of 12-32cm is projected which could lead to about 450 million people potentially struggling with increased river flooding, about 1 billion other people possibly feeling increased water stress, and each year an extra 1.3 million of those living near the coast could be flooded.

The authors conclude that a planet that is on average 2.2C warmer would mean that more energy would be consumed in cooling efforts, although that increase in consumption would be offset by reduced need for heating during the colder seasons. Of particular note is that most areas would experience a fall in crop productivity, with implications for the global food supply chain.

A striking conclusion of the report is that, for many impacts, differences between driving climate models are actually more significant than the difference between the socio-economic forcing scenarios. This is mirrored in the IPCC reports, where although all models agree on at least some level of global warming, when it comes to expected changes in rainfall patterns (a key determinant for many impacts of concern) there are large parts of the world with very little agreement. It is hoped that increased data availability will be able to narrow down predictions of global water systems and that the overall uncertainty will eventually become much smaller.

For the present at least, however, adaptation policy determining how to live with climate change will have to keep in mind the complex nature of climate models and their current uncertainties, as well as the multiple potential scenarios based on how much fossil fuel is burnt in to the future.”

Anna Feeney

The open access paper can be read online.

Full paper reference: Arnell, N. W., Brown, S., Gosling, S. N., Gottschalk, P., Hinkel, J., Huntingford, C., ... & Zelazowski, P. (2014). The impacts of climate change across the globe: A multi-sectoral assessment. Climatic Change, 1-18. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1281-2

Staff page of Dr Chris Huntingford, CEH

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

CEH at the BES-SFE Joint Annual Meeting

The annual meeting of the British Ecological Society is a little different in 2014: for the first time, it joins up with the Société Française d’Ecologie for a joint conference.

The idea is to bring together ecologists from the two countries to promote exchange and debates and "strengthen cooperation between the French and British researchers of tomorrow". The meeting takes place at the Grand Palais in Lille, the capital of French Flanders, from 9-12 December 2014.

Scientists and students from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are represented in a number of sessions, giving presentations and showcasing scientific posters on a range of topics including tree health, citizen science, agricultural ecology and climate change. Detailed information on all the talks and posters is available via the event app, although session and speaker names are outlined in the PDF programme.

You can also follow all the chat on Twitter with #BESSfe.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Session: Macroecology, Biogeography and Landscape 

Nick Isaac presents on Butterfly abundance is determined by food availability mediated by species traits

Louise Barwell has a poster on Predicting species distributions at fine spatial scales

Session: Welcome to the dark side - Opportunities challenges and solutions for synthesizing global soil biodiversity
Rob Griffiths presents on Soil bacterial biogeography: using landscape scale surveys to predict and interpret local effects of land use change

Session: Generation and maintenance of genetic diversity in tropical forests

Stephen Cavers presents on Understanding genetic diversity in tropical tree species

Session: Long-term monitoring in agro-ecosystems

Marc Botham presents on The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme: what can long-term monitoring tell us about the state of butterfly populations on farmland?
Session: Ecological Genetics and Molecular Ecology

Rory O’Connor (Phd student with the University of Leeds and CEH) has a poster on Habitat specialism and population genetics in the Adonis blue (Polyommatus bellargus) and Chalkhill blue butterflies (Polyommatus coridon): Higher specialism is associated with a more fragmented population structure

Thursday 11 December 2014

Session: Forest ecology

Nick Ostle (CEH Fellow) presents on Don’t mess with the moss! Boreal forest floor carbon cycling
Emma Sayer (Lancaster University) working with Lindsay Banin: Are Dipterocarps Different? The role of seedling traits in growth rates in Bornean tropical forests
Session: Infectious disease ecology and evolution

Susan Withenshaw presents on Experimental manipulation of Bartonella transmission within wild multi-host rodent communities

Session: Plant-pollinator interactions
Adam Vanbergen presents on Grazing alters insect visitation networks and plant mating systems
Session: Marine Ecology and Ecosystems

Sarah Burthe presents on Assessing the vulnerability of the marine bird community in the western North Sea to climate change and other anthropogenic impacts

Session: Conservation Ecology Management and Policy

Suzanna Mason has a poster on Change in rate of range expansion under climate change varies across taxonomic groups

Session: Plant-Soil Interactions and Biogeochemistry

Ben Jackson has a poster on Localized N2O emissions associated with actino rhizal nodules of black alder
Session: Food Webs, Networks and Complexity

Callum Macgregor (Phd with the University of Hull and CEH ) has a poster on How does light pollution affect nocturnal pollination interactions?

Friday 12 December 2014

Session: Global Change Ecology

Sabine Reinsch presents on High resolution of soil respiration measurements help model plant vs soil derived components of soil respiration under warmer and dryer conditions

Session: Ecological Implications of Tree Diseases

Lindsay Maskell presents on Tree diseases: Potential landscape changes

Michael Pocock presents on Monitoring to assess the impacts of tree diseases: integrating citizen science with professional monitoring

Session: Agricultural Ecology

Danny Hooftman presents on Enhancing environmental benefits from Agri-Environment schemes: an optimisation tool

Elwyn Sharps (Phd with Bangor University and CEH) presents on Agriculture, nest predation and trampling by livestock: Even light grazing of salt marshes causes high rates of nest mortality in Common Redshank Tringa tetanus

Session: Celebrating Citizen Science

Helen Roy presents on Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre

Jodey Peyton presents on Open Farm Sunday Pollinator Survey: Citizen science as a tool for pollinator monitoring?

Session: Invasive Species

Steven White presents on Modelling the spread of Xylella fastidiosa in Puglia, Italy

Session: Climate Change Ecology

Tom Oliver presents on High intensity land use inhibits the ability of communities to track climate warming

Session: Consumer-Resource Interactions

Sara Ball presents on Size matters: body size determines functional response of ground beetle interactions

Session: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function

Susan Jarvis presents on Species richness-productivity relationships in UK vascular plants

Good luck to all those taking part!

Related links

Storify of CEH activity at #BESSfe

British Ecological Society 2014 Annual Meeting

The Opera House in Lille, the capital of French Flanders

Friday, 28 November 2014

Assessing mammal abundance in the Chernobyl exclusion zone

You might have seen the BBC News story about brown bears photographed in Chernobyl for what is believed to be the first time. CEH scientists are working on the project which aims to reduce uncertainties in assessing the risk to humans and wildlife associated with radioactive exposure.

Prof Nick Beresford told us, "Within the TREE project (TRansfer - Exposure – Effects) the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Salford University are using wildlife trap cameras to look at mammal abundance in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Our cameras have only just been deployed but our Ukrainian collaborator, Dr Sergey Gaschak, has had a few out in the Zone for two years.

"When he downloaded his latest set of photographs he found the first confirmation of brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the area."

Brown bear. Photo: Sergey Gashchak (Chornobyl Centre, Ukraine)

A selection of photographs from the camera traps are being published on the TREE project website. Other species already photographed include Eurasian lynx, European grey wolf and Eurasian elk.

One of the newly fitted camera traps in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Related links

Staff page of Prof Nick Beresford, CEH

Staff page of Dr Brenda Howard, CEH (TREE Principal Investigator)

Follow Radioecology Exchange on Twitter for updates and news from the project and related work

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Helping to restore India’s rivers

Scientists from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) were in India recently (10-14 November 2014) to participate in intensive discussions with researchers from the National Institute of Hydrology in Roorkee relating to work to restore India's rivers. Mike Acreman, Cedric Laize, Harry Dixon and Nathan Rickards of CEH gave a number of presentations and took part in knowledge exchange discussions with Indian counterparts led by Dr Sharad Jain to explore how CEH expertise can help develop the scientific capacity and strengthen the local skills needed to carry out such research.

Ganges near Haridwar. Photo: Mike Acreman
The health of India’s rivers is a critical issue. Water is essential for the future well-being of the people of India and the country’s economy. Past water management has focused largely on flood protection and on delivering water for irrigated agriculture, domestic supply and hydropower generation. Stress on water resources will increase as India’s population is expected to rise from the current 1.21 billion (2011 census) to 1.6 billion by 2050.

Historically water has been supplied from major rivers. The largest and most iconic Indian river is the Ganges, which is also considered sacred by the Hindus that make up 80% of the Indian population. Despite this the Ganges has become depleted of water and highly polluted by raw sewage and industrial waste leading to loss of species, such as the river dolphin, and making it unsuitable for religious uses. The Government of India is now preparing plans to clean the rivers, beginning with the River Ganges and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has announced funding for the Namami Ganga project of 20 billion Rupees (£0.2 billion). Restoring appropriate flows to the river will be essential to bringing the rivers back to life alongside reducing pollution.

Gauging station on the river Ganges. Photo: Mike Acreman
CEH is supporting the Indian National Institute of Hydrology to produce computer models of the Ganges and other rivers to understand the implications of allocating water to different uses and to define the flows needed to achieve levels of river health. CEH project leader Prof Mike Acreman told us that “restoring the Ganges and other Indian rivers to good health will take a long time, but we hope that the enthusiasm and local knowledge of Indian water scientists supported by CEH’s vast global research experience will help the Indian government achieve its aim”.

Additional information

Staff page of Prof Mike Acreman

Staff page of Cedric Laize

Staff page of Dr Harry Dixon

CEH's Science Areas

Friday, 7 November 2014

Monitoring biodiversity and habitats from space: a reality check

Watch a presentation on Earth Observation science, its limitations and its potential - a personal view from Dr France Gerard of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). This talk was delivered to CEH staff on 4 November 2014.

Related links

Staff page of Dr France Gerard

Monitoring and Observation Systems Science Area

Natural Capital Science Area

CEH Information Gateway

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

National Pollinator Strategy and related CEH science

The National Pollinator Strategy was launched yesterday (4 November 2014) by Environment Minister Liz Truss. The strategy has been many months in the making and appears (judging by reactions reported in the media such as on the BBC and in the Guardian) to have widespread, if occasionally qualified, support from a large number of organisations and individuals.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is one of two academic partners represented on the Stakeholder Advisory Group for the strategy project and our science is integral to delivering its aims.

References in the strategy to CEH work include:

The National Pollinator Strategy refers to an existing evidence base, and makes a number of comments on future evidence requirements. The strategy is intended to lay out a 10-year roadmap for actions and lays out a number of key evidence gaps.

The science carried out at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is crucial to both understanding the current evidence base and addressing those gaps. In addition to the ongoing projects mentioned above, over the next five years scientists at CEH will:

  • Develop and test a new systematic and sustainable monitoring framework for pollinators to be implemented by professionals and by using a “citizen science” approach involving volunteers logging observations and gathering other evidence*.
  • Undertake research to quantify the impact on honeybees of two commercial neonicotinoids seed treatments in commercially grown crops of oilseed rape (‘Clothianidin’ Bayer CropScience and ‘Thiamethoxam’ Syngenta). CEH researchers have designed, and are overseeing the delivery of this pan-European, field experiment.

*The project was commissioned by Defra in summer 2014 and is being undertaken by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Leeds University, Reading University and the Open University, and entomology experts (Hymettus) and volunteers from recording schemes and societies (Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society; Hoverfly Recording Scheme; Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Butterfly Conservation and British Trust for Ornithology).

Additional information

National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England

Plan bee: New measures to protect pollinators BBC News - 4 November 2014

Will the UK's pollinator strategy be enough to stop bee decline?  The Guardian - 4 November 2014

Insect Pollinators Initiative Dissemination Event CEH blog post - 24 October 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

Insect Pollinators Initiative Dissemination Event

The end of the UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI)* was marked by an event at the Wellcome Trust on 21 October 2014. Attendees included Government Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport and Ian Boyd, Defra Chief Scientist, as well as scientists from the various projects funded under the initiative.

Claire Carvell, Matt Heard and John Redhead of CEH put together a stand to highlight
their research activities for the Insect Pollinators Initiative

The IPI, which ran from late 2010, funded a number of research projects investigating the causes and consequences of insect pollinator decline.

To date, the IPI projects have produced more than 40 new research papers.

Dr Adam Vanbergen of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) was scientific coordinator of the IPI and spoke at the dissemination event.

CEH's Dr Claire Carvell led an IPI-funded project to investigate how habitat structure affected queen and worker bumblebees in the field, collaborating with CEH colleagues and researchers from UEA, the Zoological Society of London and Bristol University.

Scientists from CEH also collaborated on a project led by the University of Leeds, “Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations”. The following tweets give a flavour of some of the results produced from the research.

Defra Chief Scientist Ian Boyd was among those at the event.

The National Pollinator Strategy will be launched this Autumn.

* The Insect Pollinators Initiative was launched in 2010 and funded nine research projects worth up to £10million. It was a joint initiative from BBSRC, Defra, NERC, the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, and was funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership.

Related CEH news stories

Queen bumblebees disperse far from their birthplace before setting up home, DNA analysis reveals 

Ecologists get first bumblebees' eye view of the landscape

Cocktail of multiple pressures combine to threaten the world’s pollinating insects

Butterfly tennis balls!

A new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics (23 October 2014, PLOS Genet 10(10): e1004698) shows some very striking images of developing butterfly embryos; they look like little tennis balls! Dr Melanie Gibbs of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), one of the authors on the paper, explains where this unusual pattern comes from and how it may be linked to offspring survival.

Butterfly tennis balls: ShxA expression in 10 hour old embryos.
Photo by Jean-Michel Carter

“One of the first things that happens when insects begin to develop inside a freshly laid egg is that cells differentiate into those that will become the embryo, and those that will form extraembryonic tissue. The extraembryonic tissue covers the embryo and consists of a number of membranes, most notably the amnion and the serosa.

Hox genes are normally involved in patterning the embryo from head to tail, but one Hox gene called zerknüllt (zen) took on a new role and became involved in extraembryonic tissue formation in insects.

A collaborative project led by researchers at University of Oxford working with scientists at Oxford Brookes University and CEH has recently found that during the evolution of butterflies and moths, zen duplicated a number of times resulting in four novel genes, called the Special homeobox genes (shx). Although zen has been shown to duplicate in other insect orders, such a large number of zen-derived genes has never been witnessed before. This begs the question; what do they do?

During his PhD, Jean-Michel Carter (co-supervised by Dr. Casper Breuker, Oxford Brookes University and myself at CEH) found that in the Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) mothers put RNA transcripts of two of these genes, ShxC and ShxD, into the eggs they produce in their ovaries. These transcripts are put in the eggs in the location where the extraembryonic tissue will form. Such localisation actually represents one of the most complex examples of RNA localisation within a cell ever reported in any species, with the mother outlining the region that will become the future extraembryonic tissue before fertilisation and egg laying has even occurred!

ShxC expression in the egg developing inside the mother’s ovary.
Photo by Jean-Michel Carter

It is possible to visualise the location of specific RNA transcripts by using custom-made probes, called riboprobes, which colour purple when the RNA of interest is detected and bound. When you use such probes for Shx gene transcripts in both the ovaries and developing embryos (at around 10 hours old) and look under the microscope, you see an amazing pattern which closely resembles the pattern on a tennis ball. These patterns become even clearer when the embryo itself also starts expressing the ShxA and ShxB genes in the extraembryonic region which will become the serosa. So we started wondering what is a serosa exactly, and is it important? We are also intrigued as to why Speckled Wood mothers go to such lengths to make sure that this tissue is specified even before fertilisation occurs.

The insect serosa is considered to be an evolutionary novelty, which has been linked with the successful colonisation of the land by a large number of insect orders. For example, their predominantly aquatic sister group, the crustaceans, do not have a serosa. Apart from protecting the embryo from drying out, the serosa may also play a role in the innate immune system and the processing of environmental toxins. Thus by ensuring that the serosa develops correctly, butterfly mothers can therefore greatly improve their offspring’s chances of developing successfully and surviving to hatch from the egg, in often hostile and changeable terrestrial environments.”

Melanie Gibbs

A Speckled Wood female laying an egg.
Photo by Casper Breuker

Additional information

Full paper reference: Ferguson L, Marletaz F, Carter J-M, Taylor WR, Gibbs M, Breuker CJ & Holland PWH. 2014. Ancient expansion of the Hox cluster in Lepidoptera generated four homeobox genes implicated in extra-embryonic tissue formation, PLOS Genetics 10 (10): e1004698; doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004698

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Sharing the planet: Hen harrier conservation and grouse shooting

Dr Juliette Young from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology was on Radio 4 earlier this week, being interviewed for the Shared Planet programme. This week’s episode looked at conflicts between people over wildlife and following the programme there has been a reasonable amount of online discussion of the issues raised, including a piece by former RSPB Conservation Director Mark Avery.

One of the examples discussed during the recording was the conflict in a number of areas of the British Isles between hen harrier conservation interests and land management for grouse shooting.

Dr Young’s comments in the programme built on research she and colleagues have carried out over the past ten years working on conflicts and stakeholder involvement in biodiversity conservation (e.g. Young et al., 2005, 2007, 2010; Redpath et al., 2013). The work involves speaking to a wide range of stakeholders with different perspectives on conflicts, including government advisers, scientists, conservation NGOs and land managers, including gamekeepers, who often feel portrayed by the media and other stakeholders in a negative light, despite their belief that their management can be beneficial to a variety of species.

Dr Young said, “I sincerely hope that a solution can be found to ensure the conservation of hen harriers and other protected species. Whilst I condemn illegal activities against protected species my research has examined how, why and in which contexts conflicts emerge, and aims to analyse how shared understanding and solutions can be found. My research therefore reflects a wide range of different interests and values, all of which need to be understood to navigate through complex conservation conflicts.”

Dr Young’s research has shown that conflicts can be managed effectively through dialogue among all relevant stakeholders and this can lead to shared solutions where different human activities, including conservation, co-exist in the managed landscape (see also Redpath et al., 2013, Young et al., 2010). During the Shared Planet recording she highlighted one good example where this approach has succeeded. When the Scottish government implemented a seal conservation order in 2002 this was a catalyst by which all the local groups felt affected and understood the need to make changes. This catalyst led to the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan (MFSMP) that focused on the need to balance seal and salmon conservation. A local champion emerged who brought all relevant stakeholders, and their knowledge, together, to seek a shared solution to the conflict (Young et al., 2012, 2013a and b).

Additional information

Dr Juliette Young is a social scientist at CEH’s site near Edinburgh, where she has been working since 2002. She initially trained as an ecologist at the University of London (BSc) and University of Leeds (MSc), spent time rehabilitating chimpanzees in Sierra Leone and chasing fig wasps in the Cook Islands before joining CEH. She has a PhD in political science. Her current work focuses on four main areas:

  • public attitudes towards biodiversity, including views on how it should be or is managed, and the values associated with biodiversity.
  • the communication between scientists and decision-makers.
  • the understanding of human conflicts over nature conservation.
  • the role of stakeholder engagement in nature conservation, particularly in the context of protected areas and species.


Young, J., Jordan, A., Searle, K.R., Butler, A., Simmons, P. 2013a. Framing scale in participatory biodiversity management may contribute to more sustainable solutions. Conservation Letters 6(5): 333-340.

Young, J., Jordan, A., Searle, K.R., Butler, A., Chapman, D., Simmons, P., Watt, A.D. 2013b. Does stakeholder involvement really benefit biodiversity conservation? Biological Conservation 158: 359-370.

Redpath, S., Young, J., Evely, A., Adams, W.M., Sutherland, W.J., Whitehouse, A., Amar, A., Lambert, R., Linnell, J., Watt, A.D. 2013. Understanding and managing conflicts in biodiversity conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28(2): 100-109.

Young, J., Butler, J.R.A., Jordan, A., Watt, A.D. 2012. Less government intervention in biodiversity management: Risks and opportunities. Biodiversity and Conservation 21(4): 1095-1100.

Young, J., Marzano, M., White, R.M., McCracken, D.I., Redpath, S.M., Carss, D.N., Quine, C.P., Watt, A.D. 2010. The emergence of biodiversity conflicts from biodiversity impacts: characteristics and management strategies. Biodiversity & Conservation 19(14): 3973-3990.

Henle, K., Alard, D., Clitherow, J., Cobb, P., Firbank, L., Kull, T., McCracken, D., Moritz, R.F.A., Niemelä, J., Rebane, M., Wascher, D., Watt, A., Young, J. 2008. Identifying and managing the conflicts between agriculture and biodiversity conservation in Europe – a review. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 124 (1-2): 60-71.

Young, J., Richards, C., Fischer, A., Halada, L., Kull, T., Kuzniar, A., Tartes, U., Uzunov, U. and Watt, A. 2007. Conflicts between biodiversity conservation and human activities in the Central and Eastern European Countries. Ambio 36(7): 545-550.

Young, J., Watt, A., Nowicki, P., Alard, D., Clitherow, J., Henle, K., Johnson, R., Laczko, E., McCracken, D., Matouch, S., Niemelä, J. 2005. Towards sustainable land use: identifying and managing the conflicts between human activities and biodiversity conservation in Europe. Biodiversity and Conservation 14(7): 1641-1661.

Many scientific publications are on subscription websites. Authors may be able to send individuals full copies of their papers.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ladybirds, fungi and alien invaders

Dr Helen Roy reveals why she is fascinated by Hesperomyces virescens and Harmonia axyridis.

Of all species on Earth it is the parasites that seem to receive least appreciation for their intrinsic beauty. Yet they are exquisite. I have been fascinated by parasites for many years, particularly fungal pathogens of insects. I began my exploration of these intriguing fungi through studies on an obligate parasite of aphids – Pandora neoaphidis. The intricate fungal structures of this delicate (and lethal) fungus when viewed under the microscope are simply beautiful but perhaps even more inspiring are the amazing ways in which this fungus interacts so intimately with the host aphids it infects. It can alter the behaviour of aphids in dramatic ways even affecting the communication between aphids to enhance transmission.

Ladybirds also play a part in the dispersal of this aphid-pathogenic fungus but they are also host to their own fungal parasites too.

The yellow fruiting bodies of Hesperomyces virescens fungus protrude from an infected ladybird
Photo: Katie Murray

Recently Katie Murray, a PhD student based at the University of Stirling but who I have the pleasure of also supervising, found one of the most quirky groups of fungi infecting Harmonia axyridis (harlequin ladybird) in London - the Laboulbeniales. The species of fungus is called Hesperomyces virescens and has previously been studied within Adalia bipunctata (2-spot ladybird) in London.

I met Katie, and her co-supervisor Matt Tinsley, the day after she had made her discovery. The fungus utterly captivated us all. The small yellow fruiting bodies that protrude from infected individuals are striking. The supervisory meeting was dominated by our lively and excitable speculations on the life-history of this fungi and specifically the extent of the epidemic that Katie had stumbled upon. We have so many questions and so few answers.

We are now hoping that people across the UK can help us unravel the mysteries of this unique parasite by contributing to a new parasite survey. As harlequin ladybirds move into people’s homes this winter we are encouraging them to submit photographs, count how many ladybirds they spot and how many appear to have the fungal infection. You can find out more details about Laboulbeniales fungi and take part in the parasite survey here.

Dr Helen Roy is an Ecological Entomologist, working within the Biological Records Centre at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. She also leads the UK Ladybird Survey.

More information about the appeal for citizen scientists to help in mapping the fungal epidemic can be found on the CEH News Centre.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Invasive alien quagga mussel arrives in UK

The invasive alien quagga mussel (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) has arrived in the UK. The mussel was found in Wraysbury Reservoir and the Wraysbury River, a tributary of the River Colne, near Egham, Surrey.

Top threat

Earlier this year a CEH-led invasive alien species horizon scanning exercise identified the quagga mussel as the top ranking threat to the UK’s biodiversity. The study, published in Global Change Biologyconcluded that the mussel poses a high risk because it is an ecosystem engineer with the potential to disrupt the ecological function of freshwater environments.

The horizon scanning exercise was carried out by scientists from more than 20 research institutes and universities with expertise on invasive alien species. It aimed to collate a list of invasive alien species not yet established within Britain but anticipated to arrive, establish and threaten biodiversity within five years.

Invasive mussels clogging a propeller. As well as altering ecosystems, the quagga mussel
can block pipes, smother boat hulls and other structures,
Photo: Government of Alberta (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Other high risk species

In addition to the quagga mussel the exercise identified a further 29 high risk species, including the Sacred ibis, the Brush clawed shore crab, the Asian hornet, and the American water-milfoil. Since the paper was published, the first UK record of the non-native Asian shore crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus), which was included in the top 10 potential threats, has been received.

How to record sightings

An alert system operates within the UK for invasive species. The latest species alerts can be found here. If you see the quagga mussel or any other invasive alien species of concern, please report your sighting via iRecord:

More information

The horizon scanning exercise was published in the scientific journal Global Change Biology. The paper is open access.

Full paper reference: Helen E. Roy, Jodey Peyton, David C. Aldridge, Tristan Bantock, Tim M. Blackburn, Robert Britton, Paul Clark, Elizabeth Cook, Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz, Trevor Dines, Michael Dobson, François Edwards, Colin Harrower, Martin C. Harvey, Dan Minchin, David G. Noble, Dave Parrott, Michael J.O. Pocock, Chris D. Preston, Sugoto Roy, Andrew Salisbury, Karsten Schönrogge, Jack Sewell, Richard H. Shaw , Paul Stebbing, Alan J. A. Stewart, Kevin J. Walker (2014) Horizon-scanning for invasive alien species with the potential to threaten biodiversity in Great Britain. Global Change Biology DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12603 (open access)

CEH news story:  Top 30 high risk invasive alien species with potential to threaten British biodiversity identified by scientists

Monday, 6 October 2014

Solar dimming and river flows - background to new paper

A new Met Office-led paper has just been published in the journal Nature Geoscience, entitled “Detection of solar dimming and brightening effects on Northern Hemisphere river flow” by Nic Gedney et al.

Chris Huntingford, who is a co-author, writes:

“In any debate surrounding large-scale environmental change, invariably there is discussion as to the effect of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This is particularly in terms of temperature change, and much attention has been placed on fusing together models and data to identify whether there is a human influence on the climate system. Such analysis (often called “detection and attribution”) does suggest that to a high level of confidence, fossil fuel burning has altered the climatic state by increasing atmospheric concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide. However these analyses of temperature measurements also confirm that an atmospheric aerosol signal is present. The raised level of such particulates, regionally at least, has a partial cooling offset of global warming. Additionally higher aerosol concentrations are known to reduce the amount of the Sun’s light and energy reaching the Earth’s surface.

In this study we accept that both raised greenhouse gas concentrations and aerosols alter meteorological conditions (via temperature levels and indirectly rainfall), which in turn will influence river flows. However to confirm the presence of any aerosol signal, here we instead focus specifically on the impact of changes in sunlight and energy reaching the land surface, and on implications for observed river flows in multiple basins in Northern Hemisphere industrialised areas. This is through the so-called “dimming” and subsequent “brightening” period, the latter a consequence of clean-air acts in many regions.

In our study, we find that when we use a river runoff model, forced with and without estimates of aerosol-induced changes in surface shortwave radiation (i.e. surface energy), then we can only fully explain the river flow data once the aerosol effect is included. Lower surface energy tends to enhance river flows to levels higher than they might otherwise have been. This is because this suppresses water loss by evaporation across the land surface. We can see this effect over Central Europe, in the periods of major solar dimming.

A major focus on climate change will always remain as characterising changes in surface temperature. However to additionally observe and explain anthropogenic influences in a key impact such as river flows does raise confidence in ability to model our changing environment. Such confidence is required, in order to then be able to rely on future computer-based projections and the role they may play in underpinning future policy on the global environment.”

The paper authors are from the Met Office, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, University of Reading, Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France, and the University of Exeter.

Chris Huntingford is a Climate Modeller at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Additional information

Air pollution increases river flows - CEH news story

Paper details:

Detection of solar dimming and brightening effects on Northern Hemisphere river flow.
Gedney, N., Huntingford, C., Weedon, G.P., Bellouin, N., Boucher, O. and Cox, P.M. (2014), Nature Geoscience, doi: 10.1038/NGEO2263

Staff page of Dr Chris Huntingford, CEH

Monday, 29 September 2014

Flu study offers unique insight into our drug habits during a pandemic

New research led by CEH’s Dr Andrew Singer provides the first evidence of how the use of antibiotic and antiviral drugs became elevated during the 2009-2010 influenza pandemic in the UK. The study, published in PLOS One, offers a unique look at public health practice, human behaviour and drug adherence in the country.

Andrew’s study, carried out at 21 locations within the river Thames catchment, was the first to provide actual measurements of antibiotics, antivirals and decongestants in sewage effluent and receiving rivers during an influenza pandemic, an event only likely to happen every 30 years or so. The aim was to quantify the pharmaceutical response to the pandemic and compare this to drug use during the late pandemic and the inter-pandemic periods. The findings helped to quantify the risk to wastewater treatment plants, as they will be sensitive to the amount of antimicrobials in sewage and could potentially fail to meet water quality standards during high drug use events such as an influenza pandemic.

Dr Andrew Singer at work in one of CEH's laboratories.

The study also provides evidence that environmental concentrations of the antiviral Tamiflu would be sufficiently high to select for antiviral-resistance in influenza viruses within wildfowl inhabiting the river Thames. Future research will need to focus on the minimum concentration of antibiotics needed to ‘knock out’ a wastewater treatment plant, and whether this concentration could be achieved during a more severe pandemic. It remains an open question as to the extent to which exposure to high concentrations of Tamiflu have actually selected for antiviral resistance in wildfowl—as this has been shown to occur in laboratory studies. Lastly, it also remains unclear as to the lasting impact of an increase in antibiotic use during a severe influenza pandemic on the environmental reservoir of antibiotic resistance and its relevance to human health. Will we need to limit antibiotic use during a pandemic in order to spare our wastewater treatment plants as well as the long term efficacy of antibiotics?

Read more about the background to the study in an article on Andrew’s blog and read the freely available study in PLOS One.

Additional information

Staff page of Dr Andrew Singer, CEH

Andrew led a previous study estimating how much prescribed Tamiflu went unused during the 2009-2010 pandemic. More details in a CEH news story.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

What emission profiles aid remaining below two degrees of global warming?

In recent days multiple marches have taken place around the world, timed to coincide with the UN Climate Change summit in New York (23 September 2014). The many protestors have urged more action by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CEH climate modeller Dr Chris Huntingford commented:

“There is still significant debate as to what constitutes safe levels of global warming. This almost certainly depends on the different impacts which can result from varying levels of warming. For example, meteorological changes affecting crop productivity detrimentally could be produced by a different level of climate change to that causing unwelcome sea-level rise. Yet despite this, the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen pushed for the single threshold of no more than two degrees of global warming. There is a persuasive argument that this was a major achievement, as a single easy to understand temperature threshold will probably gain more traction in policymaker circles than debating a range of possible climatic futures.

The immediate question then became: “What emissions profiles can keep us below two degrees of global warming?” Working with colleagues from Met Office Hadley Centre, University of Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Committee on Climate Change, we carried out a study using a relatively simple coupled climate-carbon cycle model, but one capturing uncertainty based on differences between the fully complex climate models, as operated by various research centres across the world. The resultant paper provided “look-up” diagrams, where different emissions levels of years 2020 and 2050 can be related to the probability of remaining below two degrees. The paper also linked these 2020 and 2050 levels to both year of maximum emissions and required year-on-year emission cuts for the decades thereafter, in order to fulfil them.

The paper was published in 2012 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, but its message still stands. Namely that to have a reasonable chance of constraining warming to two degrees then emissions need to peak in the next few years, followed by year-on-year cuts of at least 3%.”

Chris Huntingford

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (front row, second from right) at the People's Climate
March in New York, held ahead of the Climate Summit he hosted at UN headquarters in
September 2014. Photo: UN / Mark Garten

Additional information

The paper can be read on the Environmental Research Letters website. It is "open access" allowing circulation of the document, and can be found here (doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/7/1/014039).

Chris Huntingford is a climate researcher at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and also long-term visiting scientist at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment.

Information on the UN Climate Summit 2014

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Developing the new CEH-Gridded Estimates of Areal Rainfall dataset

Watch a presentation by Dr Maliko Tanguy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology about the new CEH-Gridded Estimates of Areal Rainfall dataset (GEAR). The talk explores the motivations behind development of the dataset, including user and data management needs, explains how the data was derived, and provides some example uses. CEH-GEAR provides 1km gridded estimates of daily and monthly rainfall totals for Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1890 to 2012, with yearly updates. Precipitation totals from the UK raingauge network are used.

The CEH-GEAR dataset will be available via the CEH Information Gateway by the end of the year.

Additional information

The presentation above was made to an internal CEH audience in September 2014.

CEH Information Gateway

View slides from the presentation made at the British Hydrology Society 2014 National Symposium

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Potential influences on the United Kingdom's floods of winter 2013/14

Last winter severe flooding affected large parts of the UK. In a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, working with colleagues from the Met Office and a number of universities, looked at the possible drivers behind the floods.

Dr Chris Huntingford, the lead author of the paper, explains:

In this paper, along with my co-authors, we have tried to provide a summary document that collates and discusses all possible drivers behind the major flood events that affected the UK last winter. It has three themes.

First, a very brief overview of the large-scale meteorological events leading up to the storms is presented. None of the individual rainfall events was unprecedented, but the weather patterns behind them persisted for three months causing a near-continuous succession of Westerly storms. This had the cumulative effect that for much of the Southern UK, the total winter rainfall was record-breaking. Preliminary analysis suggests that particularly warm ocean conditions and heavy rainfall in and around Indonesia triggered wind patterns across the Pacific that travelled northwards before ultimately drawing cold air down across the USA. This in turn forced a particularly strong and persistent Jet Stream across the Atlantic and towards the UK. The Met Office is now studying this sequence of events in significantly more detail. In our paper, we show how the winter storms affected river flows, and place the events within a historical context.

Flooding in Oxfordshire, February 2014. Photo: Julia Lawrence

Second, questions mount as to whether fossil fuel burning could have a role. We have reviewed existing research literature for Earth system factors that may be both changing through global warming, and additionally are identified as influences on storm features for the UK. As expected, this confirms how complex and inter connected the climate system is. Multiple possible UK rainfall drivers are identified that link to the state of the oceans, the atmosphere and sea-ice extent. Interestingly the recent rapid decrease in Arctic sea-ice that is widely attributed to global warming, for the UK at least is often portrayed as likely to bring more Easterly winds and colder conditions. The previous three winters had these features for some of the time, in marked contrast to winter 2013/14. Although the precise details of linkages between changing large-scale features of the climate system and UK rainfall intensity are still not fully understood, we hope our review article is a complete list of such connections. To apply that frequently used expression, we trust there are no “unknown unknowns” lurking out there we have yet to consider.

Third, we provide some thoughts on how best to proceed. Assuming that we do have a pretty good idea of all drivers expected to affect rainfall, and that require on-going computer modelling, three challenges are noted. These are: (1) the need for continued enhancement of physical process representation via ever better parameterized differential equations of the oceans, atmosphere and ice sheets, (2) increase further the numerical grid resolution of climate models, on which these equations are calculated and (3) undertake significantly higher numbers of simulations, all with slightly different initial conditions, creating a large ensemble of projections. The call for better resolution is because some characteristics of storms occur on fine spatial detail, thus needing small spacings between gridpoints on which calculations are updated. The request for large ensembles is because extremes, by definition, are rare events, and so we need to ensure that all heavy rainfall “return times” are fully sampled. This is both for pre-industrial and for raised levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

During the major flood events affecting much of Southern England from December 2013 to February 2014, it was inevitable that questions would be asked as to whether fossil burning could have a role. It is always (and correctly) stated that no single observed extreme event can be formally attributed to human-induced changes to atmospheric composition. But a statistic can be derived that assesses any changing probability of a particular extreme event occurring, a quantity sometimes referred to as “Fractional Attributable Risk”. By satisfying the three challenges we listed above, we will get near to stating if humans are increasing, decreasing or leaving invariant the chances of rainfall events of the type witnessed. However, even now limitations remain on computer speed and resource, and expenditure on climate research can only ever be finite. Hence an especially lively debate will now occur as to what constitutes the optimal balance between pursuing these three challenges, in order to get us most quickly towards the required answers.

Anyone studying meteorological systems, or the full Earth system, soon realizes of course how tightly coupled all features are of the climate system. In this review, by trying to collate in to a single paper the main factors affecting UK rainfall, this did though provide a timely reminder of such comprehensive interconnections. Understanding these further suggests a very interesting time lies ahead for climate change research.

Chris Huntingford

Chris Huntingford is a climate modeller based at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

Additional information

Full paper reference: Chris Huntingford, Terry Marsh, Adam A. Scaife, Elizabeth J. Kendon, Jamie Hannaford, Alison L. Kay, Mike Lockwood, Christel Prudhomme, Nick S. Reynard, Simon Parry, Jason A. Lowe, James A. Screen, Helen C. Ward, Malcolm Roberts, Peter A. Stott, Vicky A. Bell, Mark Bailey, Alan Jenkins, Tim Legg, Friederike E. L. Otto, Neil Massey, Nathalie Schaller, Julia Slingo and Myles R. Allen (2014) Potential influences on the United Kingdom’s floods of winter 2013/14. Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE2314

Staff page and research interests of Chris Huntingford 

New scientific review investigates potential influences on recent UK winter floods  (CEH News, 27 August 2014)