Land Use and Ecosystem Services (LUES) - Forest Research

About the lab

The Land Use and Ecosystem Services Science Group is part of Forest Research. Our multidisciplinary team studies the effects of climate change and landscape-scale changes to forest biodiversity and the many ecosystem services that forest provide. LUES science group is involved in a range of national and international collaborative projects including: WrEN, SCALEFORES, PuRpOsE, ERAMMP, B4EST.

Featured research (10)

Creating native woodland is a policy goal globally, and one strategy to maximise woodland creation benefits in limited space is to target efforts to extend existing woodlands. There is evidence to support spatially targeting habitat creation for biodiversity, however, there is little evidence of how this affects a habitat's structural development. Here, a space‐for‐time study using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data assesses how the structure of recently created woodlands, are affected by the presence of an adjacent older woodland. Recently created native woodlands were identified across the Isle of Wight UK using historical maps and satellite imagery. Canopy height and foliage height diversity were derived for all woodlands from LiDAR data collected at two different time points (2011 and 2021), and linear models were used to test for any differences in these structural metrics between sites with an adjacent older woodland, and those without. The percentage change in woodland height between the two time points was also tested. In woodlands created adjacent to older woodlands, canopy height was found to be higher by an average of nearly 2 m, and foliage height diversity was found to be on average 4.7% higher, using the 2021 data. Growth rates between 2011 and 2021 were not significantly different between the groups, although young adjacent woodlands grew the most on average. This research shows that creating woodlands adjacent to existing older woodlands reduces the time taken to create tall and to a lesser extent structurally diverse habitat, which may lead to early biodiversity benefits. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The environmental heterogeneity–biodiversity relationship is generally hypothesised to be positive, with greater heterogeneity leading to greater biodiversity. However, the generality of positive environmental heterogeneity–species richness relationships is often debated, with some studies finding non-significant or even negative relationships. Negative relationships have primarily been found at fine spatial scales. Both negative and positive relationships have a basis in ecological theory. Environmental heterogeneity at coarse scales opens up niche space to allow more species to coexist; whereas high local heterogeneity, for instance in topography, may lead to increased local extinction due to micro-fragmentation, or dominance of species suited to heterogeneous conditions. However, it is difficult to attribute how much of the variance is explained at different scales within the same modelling framework. Here, we use a new data-aggregation method which enables us to include both fine- and coarse-scale environmental heterogeneity within the same analysis. Using this method, we were able to tease apart the fine- and coarse-grain effects of topographic heterogeneity on European tree species richness. At the coarse scale (0.5 degrees), we found a positive effect of range in elevation on tree species richness. However, when measuring range in elevation using a fine-scale moving window of radius 500 m, we found a negative relationship with tree species richness. This supports existing research that has shown negative relationships between environmental heterogeneity and species richness at finer spatial grains. Because we were able to include a measure of both local and landscape-scale topographic heterogeneity in the same model, for the first time we could fully capture the effects of both scales on coarse-grain species richness while accounting for the effect of the other scale.
Deciding how to establish woodland in forest restoration is not straightforward as different outcomes may be obtained from different establishment approaches, each with cost implications and degree of success limitations attached. Planning restoration requires knowledge of site conditions, including how sites are likely to respond under climate change. For objectives of production and high timber quality it is likely that ground preparation will be used, and planting with forest reproductive material (FRM) of known traits, such as: high survival and growth in establishment, drought tolerance adequate for climate projections, good resistance to pests and pathogens. For objectives associated with biodiversity, carbon sequestration, water supply protection, soil protection, natural regeneration could be a less costly solution with a limited amount of assisted translocation of selected FRM to improve resilience. If objectives are for rewilding forest areas, a degree of natural colonisation perhaps with translocation of some FRM could be a solution. Ignoring site conditions and suitability of available sources of FRM for forest restoration is likely to provide unexpected results with a mix of open ground, scrub and scattered trees resulting from climate, herbivore, and browsing impacts. The recent B4EST EU Horizon 2020 project examined progress in novel rapid approaches for testing the quality of FRM from existing genetic trials. Here we review the work of B4EST to show the opportunities from transformative tree breeding in forest restoration schemes, including: new climate projection ensembles at high temporal and spatial resolution to develop norms of reaction and transfer models with genetic components; multi-environment genotype-phenotype associations and multi-locus genotype-environment associations in identifying drivers of local adaptation; techniques for genomic selection using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays to derive functional traits from polygenic associations; work on Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 01 Ray et al. 10.3389/ffgc.2022.1005761 seed orchard site and climate specific FRM and zones for deployment; and work on some of the forest ecosystem service benefits derived at a landscape scale. We conclude that tree-breeding will provide robust forest restoration for planting, and rewilding (assisted natural regeneration), and if not "ignoring" but instead assisting natural colonisation processes-tree breeding may improve long-term forest resilience under environmental change.
Aim Large‐scale habitat creation is crucial to mitigate the current ecological crisis, but scientific evidence on its effects on biodiversity is scarce. Here, we assess how assemblages of a biodiverse group (moths) develop over time in habitat creation sites. We use temperate woodlands as a case study, and compare species assemblages in restored and mature habitat patches. We also identify local‐ and landscape‐level attributes associated with high species richness and abundance. Location Central Scotland, United Kingdom. Methods We surveyed moths in a chronosequence of 79 temperate woodland patches encompassing woodland creation sites (20–160 years old) and mature “ancient” woodlands (250+ years old). We used structural equation models, generalized linear models and ordination techniques to quantify moth community responses to woodland creation, and degree of similarity to moth assemblages in ancient woodlands. Results Woodland creation sites harboured large numbers of moth species (212), were dominated by woodland generalists and had high species turnover. Moth abundance and diversity increased with woodland connectivity. Macromoths were more abundant and diverse in younger woodlands; micromoth specialists occurred more frequently in older woodland creation sites. Ancient woodlands had similar moth abundance/richness than woodland creation sites (except for fewer macromoth woodland specialist species), but their species composition was somewhat different. Patterns of beta diversity (low nestedness) indicated that moth species in woodland creation sites are not simply subsets of species in ancient woodlands. Main conclusions To benefit moth communities, woodland creation sites should be structurally diverse and in close proximity to other woodlands. At the landscape scale, a mosaic of woodland patches of different ages is likely to increase moth beta (and consequently gamma) diversity. Ancient woodlands and woodland creation sites each host substantial proportions of “unique” species; individual woodland patches contain distinctive moth assemblages and should be protected and valued for their contribution to regional moth diversity.
Ecological restoration has a paradigm of re-establishing ‘indigenous reference' communities. One resulting concern is that focussing on target communities may not necessarily create systems which function at a high level or are resilient in the face of ongoing global change. Ecological complexity – defined here, based on theory, as the number of components in a system and the number of connections among them – provides a complementary aim, which can be measured directly and has several advantages. Ecological complexity encompasses key ecosystem variables including structural heterogeneity, trophic interactions and functional diversity. Ecological complexity can also be assessed at the landscape scale, with metrics including β diversity, heterogeneity among habitat patches and connectivity. Thus, complexity applies, and can be measured, at multiple scales. Importantly, complexity is linked to system emergent properties, e.g. ecosystem functions and resilience, and there is evidence that both are enhanced by complexity. We suggest that restoration ecology should consider a new paradigm to restore complexity at multiple scales, in particular of individual ecosystems and across landscapes. A complexity approach can make use of certain current restoration methods but also encompass newer concepts such as rewilding. Indeed, a complexity goal might in many cases best be achieved by interventionist restoration methods. Incorporating complexity into restoration policies could be quite straightforward. Related aims such as enhancing ecosystem services and ecological resilience are to the fore in initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Implementation in policy and practice will need the development of complexity metrics that can be applied at both local and regional scales. Ultimately, the adoption of an ecological complexity paradigm will be based on an acceptance that the ongoing and unprecedented global environmental change requires new ways of doing restoration that is fit for the future.

Lab head

Kevin Watts
About Kevin Watts
  • Kevin’s applied research is focussed on understanding the impact of land use and climate change on the biodiversity and the resilience of wooded landscapes, with the aim of informing policy and practice. His work utilises spatial models, tools, indicators and simulations to explore and predict potential impacts of land use and climate change scenarios. This work is coupled with empirical studies on species movement, landscape genetics and field experiments.

Members (10)

Duncan Ray
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Nadia Barsoum
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Darren Moseley
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Chloe Bellamy
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Samantha Broadmeadow
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Andrew Rattey
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Alice Haughan
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK
Matt Guy
  • University of Stirling

Alumni (14)

Amy Eycott
  • Nord University
Alexander van der Jagt
  • Heriot-Watt University
Rebecca Spake
  • University of Reading
Phillip Handley
  • Forest Research - Forestry Commission UK