Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Sustainability


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


The discipline of sustainability science has emerged in response to concerns of natural and social scientists, policymakers, and lay people about whether the Earth can continue to support human population growth and economic prosperity. Yet, sustainability science has developed largely independently from and with little reference to key ecological principles that govern life on Earth. A macroecological perspective highlights three principles that should be integral to sustainability science: 1) physical conservation laws govern the flows of energy and materials between human systems and the environment, 2) smaller systems are connected by these flows to larger systems in which they are embedded, and 3) global constraints ultimately limit flows at smaller scales. Over the past few decades, decreasing per capita rates of consumption of petroleum, phosphate, agricultural land, fresh water, fish, and wood indicate that the growing human population has surpassed the capacity of the Earth to supply enough of these essential resources to sustain even the current population and level of socioeconomic development.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Ecology, Natural environment, Sustainability, World population, Carrying capacity, Environmental movement


Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is increasingly being adopted as the backbone of biomedical research. With the commercialization of various affordable desktop sequencers, NGS will be reached by increasing numbers of cellular and molecular biologists, necessitating community consensus on bioinformatics protocols to tackle the exponential increase in quantity of sequence data. The current resources for NGS informatics are extremely fragmented. Finding a centralized synthesis is difficult. A multitude of tools exist for NGS data analysis; however, none of these satisfies all possible uses and needs. This gap in functionality could be filled by integrating different methods in customized pipelines, an approach helped by the open-source nature of many NGS programmes. Drawing from community spirit and with the use of the Wikipedia framework, we have initiated a collaborative NGS resource: The NGS WikiBook. We have collected a sufficient amount of text to incentivize a broader community to contribute to it. Users can search, browse, edit and create new content, so as to facilitate self-learning and feedback to the community. The overall structure and style for this dynamic material is designed for the bench biologists and non-bioinformaticians. The flexibility of online material allows the readers to ignore details in a first read, yet have immediate access to the information they need. Each chapter comes with practical exercises so readers may familiarize themselves with each step. The NGS WikiBook aims to create a collective laboratory book and protocol that explains the key concepts and describes best practices in this fast-evolving field.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Biology, Sequence, Medical research, Sustainability, Bench, Exponential growth, Wikipedia


Expansion of cropland in tropical countries is one of the principal causes of biodiversity loss, and threatens to undermine progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. To understand this threat better, we analysed data on crop distribution and expansion in 128 tropical countries, assessed changes in area of the main crops and mapped overlaps between conservation priorities and cultivation potential. Rice was the single crop grown over the largest area, especially in tropical forest biomes. Cropland in tropical countries expanded by c. 48,000 km(2) per year from 1999-2008. The countries which added the greatest area of new cropland were Nigeria, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Brazil. Soybeans and maize are the crops which expanded most in absolute area. Other crops with large increases included rice, sorghum, oil palm, beans, sugar cane, cow peas, wheat and cassava. Areas of high cultivation potential-while bearing in mind that political and socio-economic conditions can be as influential as biophysical ones-may be vulnerable to conversion in the future. These include some priority areas for biodiversity conservation in tropical countries (e.g., Frontier Forests and High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas), which have previously been identified as having ‘low vulnerability’, in particular in central Africa and northern Australia. There are also many other smaller areas which are important for biodiversity and which have high cultivation potential (e.g., in the fringes of the Amazon basin, in the Paraguayan Chaco, and in the savanna woodlands of the Sahel and East Africa). We highlight the urgent need for more effective sustainability standards and policies addressing both production and consumption of tropical commodities, including robust land-use planning in agricultural frontiers, establishment of new protected areas or REDD+ projects in places agriculture has not yet reached, and reduction or elimination of incentives for land-demanding bioenergy feedstocks.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Sustainability, Amazon Basin


This paper aims to examine the dynamics of land transactions, machine investments, and the demand for machine services using farm panel data from China. Recently, China’s agriculture has experienced a large expansion of machine rentals and machine services provided by specialized agents, which has contributed to mechanization of agricultural production. On the other hand, the empirical results show that an increase in non-agricultural wage rates leads to expansion of self-cultivated land size. A rise in the proportion of non-agricultural income or the migration rate also increases the size of self-cultivated land. Interestingly, however, relatively educated farm households decrease the size of self-cultivated land, which suggests that relatively less educated farmers tend to specialize in farming. The demand for machine services has also increased if agricultural wage and migration rate increased over time, especially among relatively large farms. The results on crop income also support complementarities between rented-in land and machine services (demanded), which implies that scale economies are arising in Chinese agriculture with mechanization and active land rental markets.

Concepts: Agriculture, Economics, Sustainability, Supply and demand, Agricultural economics, Farm, Tractor, Agriculture in China


Although global food demand is expected to increase 60% by 2050 compared with 2005/2007, the rise will be much greater in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Indeed, SSA is the region at greatest food security risk because by 2050 its population will increase 2.5-fold and demand for cereals approximately triple, whereas current levels of cereal consumption already depend on substantial imports. At issue is whether SSA can meet this vast increase in cereal demand without greater reliance on cereal imports or major expansion of agricultural area and associated biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies indicate that the global increase in food demand by 2050 can be met through closing the gap between current farm yield and yield potential on existing cropland. Here, however, we estimate it will not be feasible to meet future SSA cereal demand on existing production area by yield gap closure alone. Our agronomically robust yield gap analysis for 10 countries in SSA using location-specific data and a spatial upscaling approach reveals that, in addition to yield gap closure, other more complex and uncertain components of intensification are also needed, i.e., increasing cropping intensity (the number of crops grown per 12 mo on the same field) and sustainable expansion of irrigated production area. If intensification is not successful and massive cropland land expansion is to be avoided, SSA will depend much more on imports of cereals than it does today.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Risk, Ethiopia, Sustainability, Greenhouse gas


Medicinal plants are globally valuable sources of herbal products, and they are disappearing at a high speed. This article reviews global trends, developments and prospects for the strategies and methodologies concerning the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plant resources to provide a reliable reference for the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. We emphasized that both conservation strategies (e.g. in situ and ex situ conservation and cultivation practices) and resource management (e.g. good agricultural practices and sustainable use solutions) should be adequately taken into account for the sustainable use of medicinal plant resources. We recommend that biotechnical approaches (e.g. tissue culture, micropropagation, synthetic seed technology, and molecular marker-based approaches) should be applied to improve yield and modify the potency of medicinal plants.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Herbalism, Herb, Sustainability, In-situ conservation


The argument that human society can decouple economic growth-defined as growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-from growth in environmental impacts is appealing. If such decoupling is possible, it means that GDP growth is a sustainable societal goal. Here we show that the decoupling concept can be interpreted using an easily understood model of economic growth and environmental impact. The simple model is compared to historical data and modelled projections to demonstrate that growth in GDP ultimately cannot be decoupled from growth in material and energy use. It is therefore misleading to develop growth-oriented policy around the expectation that decoupling is possible. We also note that GDP is increasingly seen as a poor proxy for societal wellbeing. GDP growth is therefore a questionable societal goal. Society can sustainably improve wellbeing, including the wellbeing of its natural assets, but only by discarding GDP growth as the goal in favor of more comprehensive measures of societal wellbeing.

Concepts: Gross domestic product, Sustainability, Peak oil, Society, Economic growth, Ecological economics, Decoupling, Uneconomic growth


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement of December 2015 aims to maintain the global average warming well below 2°C above the preindustrial level. In the Mediterranean basin, recent pollen-based reconstructions of climate and ecosystem variability over the past 10,000 years provide insights regarding the implications of warming thresholds for biodiversity and land-use potential. We compare scenarios of climate-driven future change in land ecosystems with reconstructed ecosystem dynamics during the past 10,000 years. Only a 1.5°C warming scenario permits ecosystems to remain within the Holocene variability. At or above 2°C of warming, climatic change will generate Mediterranean land ecosystem changes that are unmatched in the Holocene, a period characterized by recurring precipitation deficits rather than temperature anomalies.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Ecosystem, Climate change, Sustainability, Mediterranean climate, Lebanon, Holocene


Ecological intensification has been promoted as a means to achieve environmentally sustainable increases in crop yields by enhancing ecosystem functions that regulate and support production. There is, however, little direct evidence of yield benefits from ecological intensification on commercial farms growing globally important foodstuffs (grains, oilseeds and pulses). We replicated two treatments removing 3 or 8% of land at the field edge from production to create wildlife habitat in 50-60 ha patches over a 900 ha commercial arable farm in central England, and compared these to a business as usual control (no land removed). In the control fields, crop yields were reduced by as much as 38% at the field edge. Habitat creation in these lower yielding areas led to increased yield in the cropped areas of the fields, and this positive effect became more pronounced over 6 years. As a consequence, yields at the field scale were maintained-and, indeed, enhanced for some crops-despite the loss of cropland for habitat creation. These results suggested that over a 5-year crop rotation, there would be no adverse impact on overall yield in terms of monetary value or nutritional energy. This study provides a clear demonstration that wildlife-friendly management which supports ecosystem services is compatible with, and can even increase, crop yields.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Sustainability, Yield, Farm, Ecological economics, Crop yield