Insight
is our reward

Publications in Biology by NOMIS researchers

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

March 1, 2024

Most cryospheric ecosystems are energy limited. How their energetics will respond to climate change remains largely unknown. This is particularly true for glacier-fed streams, which interface with the cryosphere and initiate some of Earth’s largest river systems. Here, by studying resource stoichiometry and microbial energetics in 154 glacier-fed streams sampled by the Vanishing Glaciers project across Earth’s major mountain ranges, we show that these ecosystems and their benthic microbiome are overall carbon and phosphorus limited. Threshold elemental ratios and low carbon use efficiencies (median: 0.15) modelled from extracellular enzymatic activities corroborate resource limitation in agreement with maintenance metabolism of benthic microorganisms. Space-for-time substitution analyses suggest that glacier shrinkage will stimulate benthic primary production in glacier-fed streams, thereby relieving microbial metabolism from carbon limitation. Concomitantly, we find that increasing streamwater temperature will probably stimulate microbial growth (temperature sensitivity: 0.62 eV). Consequently, elevated microbial demands for phosphorus, but diminishing inputs from subglacial sources, may intensify phosphorus limitation as glaciers shrink. Our study thus unveils a ‘green transition’ towards autotrophy in the world’s glacier-fed streams, entailing shifts in the energetics of their microorganisms.

Research field(s)
Ecology, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

November 16, 2023

Biological conservation practices and approaches take many forms. Conservation projects do not only differ in their aims and methods, but also concerning their conceptual and normative background assumptions and their underlying motivations and objectives. We draw on philosophical distinctions from the ethics of conservation to explain variances of different positions on conservation projects along six dimensions: (1) conservation ideals, (2) intervention intuitions, (3) the moral considerability of nonhuman beings, (4) environmental values, (5) views on nature and (6) human roles in nature. The result is a map of the moral landscape of biological conservation, on which these six dimensions are layered. This map functions as a heuristic tool to understand conceptual and normative foundations of specific conservation projects, which we will illustrate with four paradigmatic examples: the Pisavaara Strict Nature Reserve, Predator Free New Zealand, the Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve and the Great Green Wall Project. With this map as a heuristic tool, we aim to conceptually illuminate disagreement and clarify misunderstandings between representatives of different environmental protection strategies and to show that the same project can be supported (or criticised) on different grounds.

Research field(s)
Biology, Environmental Sciences

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

October 14, 2023

Remote sensing of vegetation by spectroscopy is increasingly used to characterize trait distributions in plant communities. How leaves interact with electromagnetic radiation is determined by their structure and contents of pigments, water, and abundant dry matter constituents like lignins, phenolics, and proteins. High-resolution (“hyperspectral”) spectroscopy can characterize trait variation at finer scales, and may help to reveal underlying genetic variation—information important for assessing the potential of populations to adapt to global change. Here, we use a set of 360 inbred genotypes of the wild coyote tobacco Nicotiana attenuata: wild accessions, recombinant inbred lines (RILs), and transgenic lines (TLs) with targeted changes to gene expression, to dissect genetic versus non-genetic influences on variation in leaf spectra across three experiments. We calculated leaf reflectance from hand-held field spectroradiometer measurements covering visible to short-wave infrared wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation (400–2500 nm) using a standard radiation source and backgrounds, resulting in a small and quantifiable measurement uncertainty. Plants were grown in more controlled (glasshouse) or more natural (field) environments, and leaves were measured both on- and off-plant with the measurement set-up thus also in more to less controlled environmental conditions. Entire spectra varied across genotypes and environments. We found that the greatest variance in leaf reflectance was explained by between-experiment and non-genetic between-sample differences, with subtler and more specific variation distinguishing groups of genotypes. The visible spectral region was most variable, distinguishing experimental settings as well as groups of genotypes within experiments, whereas parts of the short-wave infrared may vary more specifically with genotype. Overall, more genetically variable plant populations also showed more varied leaf spectra. We highlight key considerations for the application of field spectroscopy to assess genetic variation in plant populations. © 2023, BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Plant Biology & Botany

NOMIS Researcher(s)

May 16, 2023

Aim: Globally distributed plant trait data are increasingly used to understand relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem processes. However, global trait databases are sparse because they are compiled from many, mostly small databases. This sparsity in both trait space completeness and geographical distribution limits the potential for both multivariate and global analyses. Thus, ‘gap-filling’ approaches are often used to impute missing trait data. Recent methods, like Bayesian hierarchical probabilistic matrix factorization (BHPMF), can impute large and sparse data sets using side information. We investigate whether BHPMF imputation leads to biases in trait space and identify aspects influencing bias to provide guidance for its usage. Innovation: We use a fully observed trait data set from which entries are randomly removed, along with extensive but sparse additional data. We use BHPMF for imputation and evaluate bias by: (1) accuracy (residuals, RMSE, trait means), (2) correlations (bi- and multivariate) and (3) taxonomic and functional clustering (valuewise, uni- and multivariate). BHPMF preserves general patterns of trait distributions but induces taxonomic clustering. Data set–external trait data had little effect on induced taxonomic clustering and stabilized trait–trait correlations. Main Conclusions: Our study extends the criteria for the evaluation of gap-filling beyond RMSE, providing insight into statistical data structure and allowing better informed use of imputed trait data, with improved practice for imputation. We expect our findings to be valuable beyond applications in plant ecology, for any study using hierarchical side information for imputation. © 2023 The Authors. Global Ecology and Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

Logged and structurally degraded tropical forests are fast becoming one of the most prevalent land-use types throughout the tropics and are routinely assumed to be a net carbon sink because they experience rapid rates of tree regrowth. Yet this assumption is based on forest biomass inventories that record carbon stock recovery but fail to account for the simultaneous losses of carbon from soil and necromass. Here, we used forest plots and an eddy covariance tower to quantify and partition net ecosystem CO2 exchange in Malaysian Borneo, a region that is a hot spot for deforestation and forest degradation. Our data represent the complete carbon budget for tropical forests measured throughout a logging event and subsequent recovery and found that they constitute a substantial and persistent net carbon source. Consistent with existing literature, our study showed a significantly greater woody biomass gain across moderately and heavily logged forests compared with unlogged forests, but this was counteracted by much larger carbon losses from soil organic matter and deadwood in logged forests. We estimate an average carbon source of 1.75 ± 0.94 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 within moderately logged plots and 5.23 ± 1.23 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in unsustainably logged and severely degraded plots, with emissions continuing at these rates for at least one-decade post-logging. Our data directly contradict the default assumption that recovering logged and degraded tropical forests are net carbon sinks, implying the amount of carbon being sequestered across the world’s tropical forests may be considerably lower than currently estimated. Copyright © 2023 the Author(s).

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

December 22, 2022

Old-growth tropical forests are widely recognized as being immensely important for their biodiversity and high biomass1. Conversely, logged tropical forests are usually characterized as degraded ecosystems2. However, whether logging results in a degradation in ecosystem functions is less clear: shifts in the strength and resilience of key ecosystem processes in large suites of species have rarely been assessed in an ecologically integrated and quantitative framework. Here we adopt an ecosystem energetics lens to gain new insight into the impacts of tropical forest disturbance on a key integrative aspect of ecological function: food pathways and community structure of birds and mammals. We focus on a gradient spanning old-growth and logged forests and oil palm plantations in Borneo. In logged forest there is a 2.5-fold increase in total resource consumption by both birds and mammals compared to that in old-growth forests, probably driven by greater resource accessibility and vegetation palatability. Most principal energetic pathways maintain high species diversity and redundancy, implying maintained resilience. Conversion of logged forest into oil palm plantation results in the collapse of most energetic pathways. Far from being degraded ecosystems, even heavily logged forests can be vibrant and diverse ecosystems with enhanced levels of ecological function.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

June 1, 2022

The shrinking of glaciers is among the most iconic consequences of climate change. Despite this, the downstream consequences for ecosystem processes and related microbiome structure and function remain poorly understood. Here, using a space-for-time substitution approach across 101 glacier-fed streams (GFSs) from six major regions worldwide, we investigated how glacier shrinkage is likely to impact the organic matter (OM) decomposition rates of benthic biofilms. To do this, we measured the activities of five common extracellular enzymes and estimated decomposition rates by using enzyme allocation equations based on stoichiometry. We found decomposition rates to average 0.0129 (% d−1), and that decreases in glacier influence (estimated by percent glacier catchment coverage, turbidity, and a glacier index) accelerates decomposition rates. To explore mechanisms behind these relationships, we further compared decomposition rates with biofilm and stream water characteristics. We found that chlorophyll-a, temperature, and stream water N:P together explained 61% of the variability in decomposition. Algal biomass, which is also increasing with glacier shrinkage, showed a particularly strong relationship with decomposition, likely indicating their importance in contributing labile organic compounds to these carbon-poor habitats. We also found high relative abundances of chytrid fungi in GFS sediments, which putatively parasitize these algae, promoting decomposition through a fungal shunt. Exploring the biofilm microbiome, we then sought to identify bacterial phylogenetic clades significantly associated with decomposition, and found numerous positively (e.g., Saprospiraceae) and negatively (e.g., Nitrospira) related clades. Lastly, using metagenomics, we found evidence of different bacterial classes possessing different proportions of EEA-encoding genes, potentially informing some of the microbial associations with decomposition rates. Our results, therefore, present new mechanistic insights into OM decomposition in GFSs by demonstrating that an algal-based “green food web” is likely to increase in importance in the future and will promote important biogeochemical shifts in these streams as glaciers vanish.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

January 1, 2022

Plant functional traits can predict community assembly and ecosystem functioning and are thus widely used in global models of vegetation dynamics and land–climate feedbacks. Still, we lack a global understanding of how land and climate affect plant traits. A previous global analysis of six traits observed two main axes of variation: (1) size variation at the organ and plant level and (2) leaf economics balancing leaf persistence against plant growth potential. The orthogonality of these two axes suggests they are differently influenced by environmental drivers. We find that these axes persist in a global dataset of 17 traits across more than 20,000 species. We find a dominant joint effect of climate and soil on trait variation. Additional independent climate effects are also observed across most traits, whereas independent soil effects are almost exclusively observed for economics traits. Variation in size traits correlates well with a latitudinal gradient related to water or energy limitation. In contrast, variation in economics traits is better explained by interactions of climate with soil fertility. These findings have the potential to improve our understanding of biodiversity patterns and our predictions of climate change impacts on biogeochemical cycles.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Evolutionary Biology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

January 1, 2022

Relational values have recently been proposed as a concept to expand our understanding of environmental values from the categories previously dominating the discourse: instrumental (nature for people’s sake) and intrinsic values (nature for its own sake). Empirical and conceptual research on relational values has so far focused on the content of relational values or their relationship to other kinds of values. In this paper, we fill a key gap in understanding exactly what relational values are and how they work; we call this the ‘syntax’ of relational values. We do so by applying the Syntax of Environmental Values Framework, which describes relational values as bidirectional, expressed by genuine respect and care on the one hand and an eudaimonic contribution to wellbeing on the other. We developed a novel interview protocol which we applied in semistructured interviews with Swiss alpine farmers. We examine how both of these directions are manifested in farmers’ relational values. Our results showed how the bidirectionality manifests in relational values of alpine farmers. Specifically, we identified three components of each directionality. The intrinsic element of relational values was constituted by: an attitude of respect, attention to the relationship and practices of care. The instrumental element of relational values was constituted by: emotional and experiential contributions for the valuer, satisfaction and joy in the relationship, and practical contributions to the activities associated with the relationship (e.g. farm management). We further elaborate on the conditions required to sustain relational values, including physical, emotional and sociopolitical conditions. These results informed an elaborated conceptual framework of relational values, and environmental valuing more generally. While specifically derived from our dataset, we believe our conclusions could directly or in a modified form, apply to diverse cases of relational valuing. In sum, this paper offers a concrete step towards better characterizing, distinguishing and applying the relational values concept. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

October 25, 2021

Maintaining healthy, productive ecosystems in the face of pervasive and accelerating human impacts including climate change requires globally coordinated and sustained observations of marine biodiversity. Global coordination is predicated on an understanding of the scope and capacity of existing monitoring programs, and the extent to which they use standardized, interoperable practices for data management. Global coordination also requires identification of gaps in spatial and ecosystem coverage, and how these gaps correspond to management priorities and information needs. We undertook such an assessment by conducting an audit and gap analysis from global databases and structured surveys of experts. Of 371 survey respondents, 203 active, long-term (>5 years) observing programs systematically sampled marine life. These programs spanned about 7% of the ocean surface area, mostly concentrated in coastal regions of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Seagrasses, mangroves, hard corals, and macroalgae were sampled in 6% of the entire global coastal zone. Two-thirds of all observing programs offered accessible data, but methods and conditions for access were highly variable. Our assessment indicates that the global observing system is largely uncoordinated which results in a failure to deliver critical information required for informed decision-making such as, status and trends, for the conservation and sustainability of marine ecosystems and provision of ecosystem services. Based on our study, we suggest four key steps that can increase the sustainability, connectivity and spatial coverage of biological Essential Ocean Variables in the global ocean: (1) sustaining existing observing programs and encouraging coordination among these; (2) continuing to strive for data strategies that follow FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable); (3) utilizing existing ocean observing platforms and enhancing support to expand observing along coasts of developing countries, in deep ocean basins, and near the poles; and (4) targeting capacity building efforts. Following these suggestions could help create a coordinated marine biodiversity observing system enabling ecological forecasting and better planning for a sustainable use of ocean resources.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Marine Biology & Hydrobiology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

September 1, 2021

Science, as both a body of knowledge and a process of acquiring new knowledge, is widely regarded as playing a central role in biodiversity conservation. Science undoubtedly enhances our understanding of the drivers of biodiversity loss and assists in the formulation of practical and policy responses, but it has not yet proved sufficiently influential to reverse global trends of biodiversity decline. This review seeks to critically examine the science of biodiversity conservation and to identify any hidden assumptions that, once interrogated and explored, may assist in improving conservation science, policy and practice. By drawing on existing reviews of the literature, this review describes the major themes of the literature and examines the historical shifts in the framing of conservation. It highlights the dominance of research philosophies that view conservation through a primarily ecological lens, changes in the goal(s) of conservation and a lack of clarity over the role(s) of science in biodiversity conservation. Finally, this review offers a simple framework to more clearly and consistently conceptualize the role(s) of science in biodiversity conservation in the future. Greater critical reflection on how conservation science might better accommodate multiple knowledges, goals and values could assist in ‘opening up’ new, legitimate pathways for biodiversity conservation.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

August 1, 2021

Decades of research and policy interventions on biodiversity have insufficiently addressed the dual issues of biodiversity degradation and social justice. New approaches are therefore needed. We devised a research and action agenda that calls for a collective task of revisiting biodiversity toward the goal of sustaining diverse and just futures for life on Earth. Revisiting biodiversity involves critically reflecting on past and present research, policy, and practice concerning biodiversity to inspire creative thinking about the future. The agenda was developed through a 2-year dialogue process that involved close to 300 experts from diverse disciplines and locations. This process was informed by social science insights that show biodiversity research and action is underpinned by choices about how problems are conceptualized. Recognizing knowledge, action, and ethics as inseparable, we synthesized a set of principles that help navigate the task of revisiting biodiversity. The agenda articulates 4 thematic areas for future research. First, researchers need to revisit biodiversity narratives by challenging conceptualizations that exclude diversity and entrench the separation of humans, cultures, economies, and societies from nature. Second, researchers should focus on the relationships between the Anthropocene, biodiversity, and culture by considering humanity and biodiversity as tied together in specific contexts. Third, researchers should focus on nature and economies by better accounting for the interacting structures of economic and financial systems as core drivers of biodiversity loss. Finally, researchers should enable transformative biodiversity research and action by reconfiguring relationships between human and nonhuman communities in and through science, policy, and practice. Revisiting biodiversity necessitates a renewed focus on dialogue among biodiversity communities and beyond that critically reflects on the past to channel research and action toward fostering just and diverse futures for human and nonhuman life on Earth.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

Although the study of political behaviour has been traditionally restricted to the social sciences, new advances in political neuroscience and computational cognitive science highlight that the biological sciences can offer crucial insights into the roots of ideological thought and action. Echoing the dazzling diversity of human ideologies, this theme issue seeks to reflect the multiplicity of theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding the nature of the political brain. Cutting-edge research along three thematic strands is presented, including (i) computational approaches that zoom in on fine-grained mechanisms underlying political behaviour, (ii) neurocognitive perspectives that harness neuroimaging and psychophysiological techniques to study ideological processes, and (iii) behavioural studies and policy-minded analyses of such understandings across cultures and across ideological domains. Synthesizing these findings together, the issue elucidates core questions regarding the nature of uncertainty in political cognition, the mechanisms of social influence and the cognitive structure of ideological beliefs. This offers key directions for future biologically grounded research as well as a guiding map for citizens, psychologists and policymakers traversing the uneven landscape of modern polarization, misinformation, intolerance and dogmatism. This article is part of the theme issue ‘The political brain: neurocognitive and computational mechanisms’.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Evolutionary Biology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

April 9, 2021

As the use of aerial tools such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mangrove monitoring gains in popularity, understanding who leads this research and where is critical for expanding efficient monitoring methods and achieving international commitments to sustainable development, technology transfer and reduced inequality. Between 2000 and 2019, mangrove research using aerial tools was largely conducted in and led by institutions in higher income countries, despite High-income countries accounting for only 9% of global mangrove coverage. Of studies where the country of the lead institution differed from that of the study site, only 38% of the studies included local co-authors. These results echo historical patterns of research conducted by researchers from higher income countries on biodiversity concentrated in lower income countries, frequently with limited involvement of local scientists—known as “helicopter research.” The disconnect between where mangroves are located and where aerial research is conducted may result from barriers such as government restrictions, limited financial and technical resources, language barriers hindering UAV deployment, or hampered findability of local research. Our findings suggest that expertise for aerial surveys currently lies in “High-income, Annex II” and “Upper-middle-income, Non-Annex” countries, and both groups could invest time and resources in building local, long-term technological capacity in Upper-middle, Lower-middle and Low-income countries. We identify strategic partnerships to expand aerial tools for mangrove research that also address commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and potential international collaborations under the framework proposed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Marine Biology & Hydrobiology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

March 1, 2021

Future global environmental change will have a significant impact on biodiversity through the intersecting forces of climate change, urbanization, human population growth, overexploitation, and pollution. This presents a fundamental challenge to conservation approaches, which seek to conserve past or current assemblages of species or ecosystems in situ. This review canvases diverse approaches to biodiversity futures, including social science scholarship on the Anthropocene and futures thinking alongside models and scenarios from the biophysical science community. It argues that charting biodiversity futures requires processes that must include broad sections of academia and the conservation community to ask what desirable futures look like, and for whom. These efforts confront political and philosophical questions about levels of acceptable loss, and how trade-offs can be made in ways that address the injustices in the distribution of costs and benefits across and within human and non-human life forms. As such, this review proposes that charting biodiversity futures is inherently normative and political. Drawing on diverse scholarship united under a banner of ‘futures thinking’ this review presents an array of methods, approaches and concepts that provide a foundation from which to consider research and decision-making that enables action in the context of contested and uncertain biodiversity futures.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

January 22, 2021

The upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting, and adoption of the new Global Biodiversity Framework, represent an opportunity to transform humanity’s relationship with nature. Restoring nature while meeting human needs requires a bold vision, including mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in society. We present a framework that could support this: the Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy. This places the Mitigation Hierarchy for mitigating and compensating the biodiversity impacts of developments (1, avoid; 2, minimize; 3, restore; and 4, offset, toward a target such as “no net loss” of biodiversity) within a broader framing encompassing all conservation actions. We illustrate its application by national governments, sub-national levels (specifically the city of London, a fishery, and Indigenous groups), companies, and individuals. The Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy supports the choice of actions to conserve and restore nature, and evaluation of the effectiveness of those actions, across sectors and scales. It can guide actions toward a sustainable future for people and nature, supporting the CBD’s vision. The adoption of the new Global Biodiversity Framework requires mainstreaming of biodiversity conservation into society. The Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy places the Mitigation Hierarchy (1, avoid; 2, minimize; 3, restore; and 4, offset biodiversity impacts) within a broader framing encompassing all conservation actions. We illustrate its application by national governments, sub-national levels, companies, and individuals. This integrated framework supports the choice of actions to conserve and restore nature, and evaluation of their effectiveness, across sectors and scales.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

December 1, 2020

Narratives shape human understanding and underscore policy, practice and action. From individuals to multilateral institutions, humans act based on collective stories. As such, narratives have important implications for revisiting biodiversity. There have been growing calls for a ‘new narrative’ to underpin efforts to address biodiversity decline that, for example, foreground optimism, a more people-centred narrative or technological advances. This review presents some of the main contemporary narratives from within the biodiversity space to reflect on their underpinning categories, myths and causal assumptions. It begins by reviewing various interpretations of narrative, which range from critical views where narrative is a heuristic for understanding structures of domination, to advocacy approaches where it is a tool for reimagining ontologies and transitioning to sustainable futures. The work reveals how the conservation space is flush with narratives. As such, efforts to search for a ‘new narrative’ for conservation can be usefully informed by social science scholarship on narratives and related constructs and should reflect critically on the power of narrative to entrench old ways of thought and practice and, alternatively, make space for new ones. Importantly, the transformative potential of narrative may not lie in superficial changes in messaging, but in using narrative to bring multiple ways of knowing into productive dialogue to revisit biodiversity and foster critical reflection.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

October 27, 2020

Glacier-fed streams (GFS) are harsh ecosystems dominated by microbial life organized in benthic biofilms, yet the biodiversity and ecosystem functions provided by these communities remain under-appreciated. To better understand the microbial processes and communities contributing to GFS ecosystems, it is necessary to leverage high throughput sequencing. Low biomass and high inorganic particle load in GFS sediment samples may affect nucleic acid extraction efficiency using extraction methods tailored to other extreme environments such as deep-sea sediments. Here, we benchmarked the utility and efficacy of four extraction protocols, including an up-scaled phenolchloroform protocol. We found that established protocols for comparable sample types consistently failed to yield sufficient high-quality DNA, delineating the extreme character of GFS. The methods differed in the success of downstream applications such as library preparation and sequencing. An adapted phenol-chloroform-based extraction method resulted in higher yields and better recovered the expected taxonomic profile and abundance of reconstructed genomes when compared to commercially-available methods. Affordable and straight-forward, this method consistently recapitulated the abundance and genomes of a mock community, including eukaryotes. Moreover, by increasing the amount of input sediment, the protocol is readily adjustable to the microbial load of the processed samples without compromising protocol efficiency. Our study provides a first systematic and extensive analysis of the different options for extraction of nucleic acids from glacier-fed streams for high-throughput sequencing applications, which may be applied to other extreme environments.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

August 6, 2020

In order to inform decision making and policy, research to address sustainability challenges requires cross-disciplinary approaches that are co-created with a wide and inclusive diversity of disciplines and stakeholders. As the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development approaches, it is therefore timely to take stock of the global range of cross-disciplinary questions to inform the development of policies to restore and sustain ocean health. We synthesized questions from major science and policy horizon scanning exercises, identifying 89 questions with relevance for ocean policy and governance. We then scanned the broad ocean science literature to examine issues potentially missed in the horizon scans and supplemented the horizon scan outcome with 11 additional questions. This resulted in an unprioritized list of 100 general questions that would require a cross-disciplinary approach to inform policy. The questions fell into broad categories including: coastal and marine environmental change, managing ocean activities, governance for sustainable oceans, ocean value, and technological and socio-economic innovation. Each question can be customized by ecosystem, region, scale, and socio-political context, and is intended to inspire discussions of salient cross-disciplinary research directions to direct scientific research that will inform policies. Governance and management responses to these questions will best be informed by drawing upon a diversity of natural and social sciences, local and traditional knowledge, and engagement of different sectors and stakeholders.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Marine Biology & Hydrobiology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

Published in

June 19, 2020

Plants emit an extraordinary diversity of chemicals that provide information about their identity and mediate their interactions with insects. However, most studies of this have focused on a few model species in controlled environments, limiting our capacity to understand plant-insect chemical communication in ecological communities. Here, by integrating information theory with ecological and evolutionary theories, we show that a stable information structure of plant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can emerge from a conflicting information process between plants and herbivores. We corroborate this information “arms race” theory with field data recording plant-VOC associations and plant-herbivore interactions in a tropical dry forest. We reveal that plant VOC redundancy and herbivore specialization can be explained by a conflicting information transfer. Information-based communication approaches can increase our understanding of species interactions across trophic levels.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology

NOMIS Researcher(s)

May 1, 2020

Mountains are facing growing environmental, social, and economic challenges. Accordingly, effective policies and management approaches are needed to safeguard their inhabitants, their ecosystems, their biodiversity, and the livelihoods they support. The formulation and implementation of such policies and approaches requires a thorough understanding of, and extensive knowledge about, the interactions between nature and people particular to mountain social-ecological systems. Here, we applied the conceptual framework of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to assess and compare the contents of 631 abstracts on the interactions among biodiversity, ecosystem services, human wellbeing, and drivers of change, and formulate a set of research recommendations. Our comparative assessment of literature pertained to the Andes, the East African mountains, the European Alps, and the Hindu Kush Himalaya. It revealed interesting differences between mountain systems, in particular in the relative importance given in the literature to individual drivers of change and to the ecosystem services delivered along elevational gradients. Based on our analysis and with reference to alternative conceptual frameworks of mountain social-ecological systems, we propose future research directions and options. In particular, we recommend improving biodiversity information, generating spatially explicit knowledge on ecosystem services, integrating knowledge and action along elevational gradients, generating knowledge on interacting effects of global change drivers, delivering knowledge that is relevant for transformative action toward sustainable mountain development, and using comprehensive concepts and codesigned approaches to effectively address knowledge gaps.

Research field(s)
Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology