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RD 1.3.3 Resilience of ecosystems and biodiversity

RD 1.3.3 Resilience of ecosystems and biodiversity

Three key biophysical and environmental drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem function are:

  1. climate change;
  2. land management changes such as afforestation/deforestation or agricultural intensification/ extensification;
  3. increased impacts of pests, pathogens and invasive non-native species (INNS).

In the face of these drivers of change this research area aims 'to understand the extent to which different ecosystems are resilient and how their resilience and integrity can be restored or enhanced.'

Objective 1 (O1): Synthesis and integration for prioritisation of resilience management

  • This work will identify and synthesise the best current knowledge and distil elements of wider applicability of the study of resilience to a range of ecosystems in Scotland.
  • It will identify characteristics of ecosystems and traits of species associated with resilience.
  • It will also investigate the potential of novel indices of ecosystem health and resilience.

Outputs already available include a review of the potential application of resilience concepts in the management of Biodiversity and Ecosystems (available here) and a report from a workshop (October 2017), run jointly with SNH, on the application of resilience to conservation of the natural environment (available here).

Objective 2 (O2): The consequences of environmental and climate change for ecosystem resilience

The responses in distribution and abundance of important vulnerable habitats and species (keystone, foundation and umbrella species) to the effects of land use and climate change provide nodes at which to understand mechanisms that govern resilience, and at which to target future effective delivery of biodiversity benefits and resilience management.

  • The responses of:

    • different species including foundation and umbrella species eg Scots pine, Capercaillie;
    • vulnerable habitats such as peatlands, and
    • ticks as major pathogen-vectors;
  • to environmental stressors indicates their resilience to predicted change and management action.

Objective 3 (O3): The impacts of plant and animal disease, and the spread of INNS in natural environments

Endemic and non-native pests and pathogens and other INNS. can play a crucial role as mediators of ecological interactions that determine ecosystem resilience via their effects on key components of ecosystems, and the ability or otherwise of those components to resist, adapt or recover. This work objective investigates the consequences of some of these main threats to the integrity of natural and semi-natural ecosystems. We aim to:

  • Undertake a significant body of work on the dispersal of fungal pathogens of plants and of INNS of shrubs and trees which will form the basis for predictions of spread of disease or INNS, and their impacts.
  • Identify best practice for using grazing management to promote biodiversity benefits without compromising animal health, using cattle grazing areas of conservation of natterjack toads. A summary of recent work on this issue can be found here.
  • Contribute to resolving the problem caused by the INNS grey squirrel as a driving influence in the decline of the native red squirrel.

RD: 1.3.3 Resilience of ecosystems and biodiversityThen as O2 and O3 progress, their outputs will feed into O1 to address gaps and strengthen its conclusions, applications and recommendations for management and policy action.

Policy relevance

Developing our understanding of resilience will aid our ability to predict, manage and conserve the natural environment via future policy formulation or refinement of current policies e.g. 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity (2013) and 2020 Route Map (2015), Scottish Forestry Strategy (2006 et seq), Land Use Strategy (2011,2016), and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act (2009).

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.