The Underappreciated Benefits of “Green” Urban Brownfields

by Dan McCabe

Sustainable urban planning aims to ensure that urban development patterns do as little ecological harm as possible, but new research suggests that conventional planning approaches neglect a significant contributor to urban environmental health. Mathey et al. (2015) studied the effects of urban brownfields, formerly developed sites that have been abandoned and remain underused, and found that vegetation-rich “green” brownfields provide a variety of valuable ecological services to their areas. The benefits of these services depend on the type and amount of vegetation at a particular site, its location, and human intervention, but green urban brownfields overall show a large potential to aid the goals of sustainable development. Specifically, brownfields provide habitats that support enhanced biological diversity, aid microclimate by cooling the unnaturally warm urban environment, and provide local residents with recreational opportunities. These findings were obtained via a literature review, climate modeling, and a survey of local residents. The authors concluded that green urban brownfields should receive more credit for their ecosystem services and the most effective way to reap their benefits is to leave them mostly wild, while possibly converting some area to recreational spaces. Continue reading

Biodiversity Protects Plant-Pollinator Phenological Synchrony from Climate Change

by Lia Metzger

Biodiversity has been linked to the protection and sustenance of ecosystems against the loss of individual species. Studies have found that climate change, a contributor to the loss of species, has caused significant changes in phenology, mostly in species active in the spring. The biodiversity insurance hypothesis has never been expanded to include phenological synchrony as a possible buffer against the loss of individual species due to climate change. Bartomeus et al. (2013) investigated the phenological changes of wild bee species and of commercial apple crops over 46 years to find if bees and apples had phenological synchrony and if this was related to the richness of pollinator species. Using a contemporary data set, the authors picked pollinators that most frequently visited apple and tested for their phenological complimentarity. Bee and apple data were compared over time to find phenological mismatch and the rate of phenological change for different species with respect to apple bloom. Phenological synchrony was then tested against wild bee biodiversity. Phenological synchrony was found to increase with increasing biodiversity of the bee species and stabilize over time even though the rate of phenological shifting differed between species. Continue reading

How Many Benefits Does Commercial Forestry Provide?

by Emil Morhardt

Forestry economists worry about whether foresters can claim more societal benefits, including offsetting the effects of climate change, from forestry than merely the increased supply of trees; in econ-speak, “…what change in human well-being results from increasing, reducing or qualitatively varying…” the supply of ecosystem services commercial forests provide? Colin Price (2014) addresses this question largely in the abstract by providing an overview of eight general approaches to valuing non-market effects, which, although they break little new ground, provide an extremely clear overview of a generally murky subject. Continue reading

Challenges of Ecological Restoration: Lessons from Forests in Northern Europe

by Andrew Walnum

The degradation of ecosystems around the world continues to occur and an increasingly rapid rate. As a relatively new field of ecology, ecological restoration sometimes struggles to find ways to combat the challenges faced by restoring disturbed ecosystems on a local and global scale. At the latest Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 2010 in Nagoya, Japan), restoring ecosystems was recognized as one of the most important tools for preventing future loss of bio diversity. Although this field has grown rapidly since the 1980s, many developed countries, especially in Northern Europe, are just starting recognize its importance. Several challenges are needed to be overcome in order to protect biodiversity on a large scale. This study uses northern forests in Europe as an example on what can and needs to be done in order to ensure long-term environmental and biodiversity preservation to reach goals set forth by the CBD. Continue reading