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Concept: Biome


In urban ecosystems, socioeconomics contribute to patterns of biodiversity. The ‘luxury effect’, in which wealthier neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse, has been observed for plants, birds, bats and lizards. Here, we used data from a survey of indoor arthropod diversity (defined throughout as family-level richness) from 50 urban houses and found that house size, surrounding vegetation, as well as mean neighbourhood income best predict the number of kinds of arthropods found indoors. Our finding, that homes in wealthier neighbourhoods host higher indoor arthropod diversity (consisting of primarily non-pest species), shows that the luxury effect can extend to the indoor environment. The effect of mean neighbourhood income on indoor arthropod diversity was particularly strong for individual houses that lacked high surrounding vegetation ground cover, suggesting that neighbourhood dynamics can compensate for local choices of homeowners. Our work suggests that the management of neighbourhoods and cities can have effects on biodiversity that can extend from trees and birds all the way to the arthropod life in bedrooms and basements.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, Biome, House


Edge effects represent an inevitable and important consequence of habitat loss and fragmentation. These effects include changes in microclimate, solar radiation, or temperature. Such abiotic effects can, in turn, impact biotic factors. They can have a substantial impact on species, communities, and ecosystems. Here we examine clinal variations in stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values for trees along an edge-interior gradient in the dry deciduous forest at Ankarafantsika National Park. We predicted that soil respiration and differences in solar irradiance would result in stratified δ(13)C values where leaves collected close to the forest floor would have lower δ(13)C values than those growing higher up in the canopy. We also anticipated that plants growing at the savannah-forest boundary would have higher δ(13)C and δ(15)N values than plants growing in the forest interior. As expected, we detected a small but significant canopy effect. Leaves growing below 2 m from the forest floor exhibit δ(13)C values that are, on average, 1.1‰ lower than those growing above this threshold. We did not, however, find any relationship between foliar δ(13)C and distance from the edge. Unpredictably, we detected a striking positive relationship between foliar δ(15)N values and increasing distance into the forest interior. Variability in physiology among species, anthropogenic influence, organic input, and rooting depth cannot adequately explain this trend. Instead, this unexpected relationship most likely reflects decreasing nutrient or water availability, or a shift in N-sources with increasing distance from the savannah. Unlike most forest communities, the trees at Ampijoroa are growing in nutrient-limited sands. In addition to being nutrient poor, these well-drained soils likely decrease the amount of soil water available to forest vegetation. Continued research on plant responses to edge effects will improve our understanding of the conservation biology of forest ecosystems in Madagascar.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Soil, Ecosystem, Biome, Oak, Deciduous, Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests


Like all healthy ecosystems, richness of microbiota species characterizes the GI microbiome in healthy individuals. Conversely, a loss in species diversity is a common finding in several disease states. This biome is flooded with energy in the form of undigested and partially digested foods, and in some cases drugs and dietary supplements. Each microbiotic species in the biome transforms that energy into new molecules, which may signal messages to physiological systems of the host.

Concepts: Human, Biodiversity, Nutrition, Life, Water, Ecosystem, Biome, Ecosystem diversity


Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence. The plausibility of a planetary-scale ‘tipping point’ highlights the need to improve biological forecasting by detecting early warning signs of critical transitions on global as well as local scales, and by detecting feedbacks that promote such transitions. It is also necessary to address root causes of how humans are forcing biological changes.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Life, Ecology, Natural environment, Ecosystem, Sustainability, Biome, Biosphere


Extinction rates in the Anthropocene are three orders of magnitude higher than background and disproportionately occur in the tropics, home of half the world’s species. Despite global efforts to combat tropical species extinctions, lack of high-quality, objective information on tropical biodiversity has hampered quantitative evaluation of conservation strategies. In particular, the scarcity of population-level monitoring in tropical forests has stymied assessment of biodiversity outcomes, such as the status and trends of animal populations in protected areas. Here, we evaluate occupancy trends for 511 populations of terrestrial mammals and birds, representing 244 species from 15 tropical forest protected areas on three continents. For the first time to our knowledge, we use annual surveys from tropical forests worldwide that employ a standardized camera trapping protocol, and we compute data analytics that correct for imperfect detection. We found that occupancy declined in 22%, increased in 17%, and exhibited no change in 22% of populations during the last 3-8 years, while 39% of populations were detected too infrequently to assess occupancy changes. Despite extensive variability in occupancy trends, these 15 tropical protected areas have not exhibited systematic declines in biodiversity (i.e., occupancy, richness, or evenness) at the community level. Our results differ from reports of widespread biodiversity declines based on aggregated secondary data and expert opinion and suggest less extreme deterioration in tropical forest protected areas. We simultaneously fill an important conservation data gap and demonstrate the value of large-scale monitoring infrastructure and powerful analytics, which can be scaled to incorporate additional sites, ecosystems, and monitoring methods. In an era of catastrophic biodiversity loss, robust indicators produced from standardized monitoring infrastructure are critical to accurately assess population outcomes and identify conservation strategies that can avert biodiversity collapse.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Tropics, Forest, Extinction, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Wetland soils contain some of the highest stores of soil carbon in the biosphere. However, there is little understanding of the quantity and distribution of carbon stored in our remaining wetlands or of the potential effects of human disturbance on these stocks. Here we use field data from the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment to provide unbiased estimates of soil carbon stocks for wetlands at regional and national scales. We find that wetlands in the conterminous United States store a total of 11.52 PgC, much of which is within soils deeper than 30 cm. Freshwater inland wetlands, in part due to their substantial areal extent, hold nearly ten-fold more carbon than tidal saltwater sites-indicating their importance in regional carbon storage. Our data suggest a possible relationship between carbon stocks and anthropogenic disturbance. These data highlight the need to protect wetlands to mitigate the risk of avoidable contributions to climate change.

Concepts: Soil, Ecosystem, Carbon, Climate change, Charcoal, Biome, Global warming, Land management


Tropical savannas have been increasingly viewed as an opportunity for carbon sequestration through fire suppression and afforestation, but insufficient attention has been given to the consequences for biodiversity. To evaluate the biodiversity costs of increasing carbon sequestration, we quantified changes in ecosystem carbon stocks and the associated changes in communities of plants and ants resulting from fire suppression in savannas of the Brazilian Cerrado, a global biodiversity hotspot. Fire suppression resulted in increased carbon stocks of 1.2 Mg ha(-1) year(-1) since 1986 but was associated with acute species loss. In sites fully encroached by forest, plant species richness declined by 27%, and ant richness declined by 35%. Richness of savanna specialists, the species most at risk of local extinction due to forest encroachment, declined by 67% for plants and 86% for ants. This loss highlights the important role of fire in maintaining biodiversity in tropical savannas, a role that is not reflected in current policies of fire suppression throughout the Brazilian Cerrado. In tropical grasslands and savannas throughout the tropics, carbon mitigation programs that promote forest cover cannot be assumed to provide net benefits for conservation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Plant, Grassland, Extinction, Biome, Savanna, Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands


Is active restoration the best approach to achieve ecological restoration success (the return to a reference condition, that is, old-growth forest) when compared to natural regeneration in tropical forests? Our meta-analysis of 133 studies demonstrated that natural regeneration surpasses active restoration in achieving tropical forest restoration success for all three biodiversity groups (plants, birds, and invertebrates) and five measures of vegetation structure (cover, density, litter, biomass, and height) tested. Restoration success for biodiversity and vegetation structure was 34 to 56% and 19 to 56% higher in natural regeneration than in active restoration systems, respectively, after controlling for key biotic and abiotic factors (forest cover, precipitation, time elapsed since restoration started, and past disturbance). Biodiversity responses were based primarily on ecological metrics of abundance and species richness (74%), both of which take far less time to achieve restoration success than similarity and composition. This finding challenges the widely held notion that natural forest regeneration has limited conservation value and that active restoration should be the default ecological restoration strategy. The proposition that active restoration achieves greater restoration success than natural regeneration may have arisen because previous comparisons lacked controls for biotic and abiotic factors; we also did not find any difference between active restoration and natural regeneration outcomes for vegetation structure when we did not control for these factors. Future policy priorities should align the identified patterns of biophysical and ecological conditions where each or both restoration approaches are more successful, cost-effective, and compatible with socioeconomic incentives for tropical forest restoration.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Ecological succession, Old-growth forest


Tropical forests are global centres of biodiversity and carbon storage. Many tropical countries aspire to protect forest to fulfil biodiversity and climate mitigation policy targets, but the conservation strategies needed to achieve these two functions depend critically on the tropical forest tree diversity-carbon storage relationship. Assessing this relationship is challenging due to the scarcity of inventories where carbon stocks in aboveground biomass and species identifications have been simultaneously and robustly quantified. Here, we compile a unique pan-tropical dataset of 360 plots located in structurally intact old-growth closed-canopy forest, surveyed using standardised methods, allowing a multi-scale evaluation of diversity-carbon relationships in tropical forests. Diversity-carbon relationships among all plots at 1 ha scale across the tropics are absent, and within continents are either weak (Asia) or absent (Amazonia, Africa). A weak positive relationship is detectable within 1 ha plots, indicating that diversity effects in tropical forests may be scale dependent. The absence of clear diversity-carbon relationships at scales relevant to conservation planning means that carbon-centred conservation strategies will inevitably miss many high diversity ecosystems. As tropical forests can have any combination of tree diversity and carbon stocks both require explicit consideration when optimising policies to manage tropical carbon and biodiversity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Tropics, Ecosystem, Forest, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


The carbon balance of tropical ecosystems remains uncertain, with top-down atmospheric studies suggesting an overall sink and bottom-up ecological approaches indicating a modest net source. Here we use 12 years (2003-2014) of MODIS pantropical satellite data to quantify net annual changes in the aboveground carbon density of tropical woody live vegetation, providing direct, measurement-based evidence that the world’s tropical forests are a net carbon source of 425.2 ± 92.0 Tg C yr(-1) This net release of carbon consists of losses of 861.7 ± 80.2 Tg C yr(-1) and gains of 436.5 ± 31.0 Tg C yr(-1) Gains result from forest growth; losses result from deforestation and from reductions in carbon density within standing forests (degradation/disturbance), with the latter accounting for 68.9% of overall losses.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Tropics, Ecosystem, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests