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RD 1.3.1 Biodiversity and ecosystem function

Surveying sand dune systems to understand the role of global change.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland are working together to provide scientific evidence to underpin the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. At the core of our work is understanding how management actions interact with biodiversity to deliver the outcomes we want. This ranges from understanding how the genetic diversity in one crop can be exploited to make farming more resilient to restoring populations of rare mountain plants. In addition, we use this understanding to provide indicators of how healthy ecosystems are for use by policy makers.


Aim of Research
There remain large gaps in understanding how changes in management and the environment alter community composition and, hence, ecosystem functions. This Research Deliverable (RD) addresses how ecosystem functions are regulated by the traits of species present, and how potential limits for the maintenance of ecosystem function can be captured in ecosystem health metrics. It also has the aim of identifying indices of ecosystem function that can be applied to assess ecosystem health at a range of scales (from field to national) so that management actions can be targeted to improve ecosystem health and to conserve and restore biodiversity.

Within farming systems we are investigating how intra-specific and inter-specific variation can contribute to building systems that are resilient in the face of environmental variation; for example can compromising on peak productivity increase average productivity across years with different weather. We are also looking at the role of local adaptation in barley to understand how genetic diversity can be used to sustain production on marginal soils. Within upland ecosystems we are investigating the constraints on populations of rare plant species and the potential for population supplementation and expansion.

Aerial view of a crop mixture trial investigating the interaction between barley crop diversity and weed performance.

We are also investigating the propagation of management actions, such as grazing or lime addition, through upland grasslands to understand the trophic linkages between impacts on the plant and soil communities through to the impacts on upland bird communities.

We are working with the SBS Indicators Working Group to test current approaches to indicators, such as the Natural Capital Asset Index, and to help develop and refine new indicators of Ecosystem Health. We have produced two reports on the potential to develop new Ecosystem Health Indicators, one on urban greenspace and one on bryophyte and lichen diversity data, and more recently a report on identifying data gaps and exploring the handling of cultural ecosystem services in the NCAI.


Further information:

General information on the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) and the Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Portfolio can be found on the SEFARI website.
Within this, there are webpages providing summary overview information for each of the Research Deliverables (RDs) within the Strategic Programme. The page for RD 1.3.1 Biodiversity and ecosystem functions is available here and includes annual progress and highlights summaries, key outputs and links to case studies and key research staff.
To complement this, additional more detailed information on specific projects is provided below.

Projects within this area of research

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project
SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research InstitutesSEFARI is the collective of six Scottish world-leading Research Institutes working across the spectrum of environment, land, food, agriculture and communities – all topics which affect how we live our lives, in Scotland and beyond.


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.