Simulating UK plant biodiversity under climate change to aid landscape decision making

At times we want to not only know how species are responding now to the situation they are currently in, but also to predict how they might respond to changing situations that may arise in the future, or perhaps how different decisions taken regarding the management of natural landscapes might impact on the future distribution and status of plant species. In such situations we might try to artificially simulate the responses of different plant species to changes in their environment.

This project aimed to predict the responses of species from UK peatlands, particularly bryophytes, to climate change. It sought to identify areas of peat bog in Scotland that are vulnerable to increased drying under future climate scenarios and help to meet competing land-use requirements by advising where it would be possible to increase woodland cover while maintaining the quality and extent of peatland and its susceptibility to colonisation by invasive species in the area, such as birch, spruce and rhododendron.

The project

The project was a collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and with Peatland ACTION, a Scottish-based NGO working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Pincipal-Investigator Richard Reeve introduces two interconnected projects: The interplay of land-use, climate and plant biodiversity on the UK stage and Simulating UK plant biodiversity under climate change to aid landscape decision making

To help demonstrate the importance of functional diversity for ecological stability, the project team extracted plant trait information from taxonomic literature for UK species and used this, along with non-taxonomic traits such as growth rates and dispersal distances, to capture species-level dynamics in growth, competition and dispersal between species.

They used available distribution data for UK plant species to test predictions of their occurrence and the impact of planned and expected land-use and climate change to guide future decision making. The work carried out during the project fed into peer-reviewed publications in SSM – Population Health, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Ecological Monographs, Global Ecology and Biogeography and Epidemics.

For more information on the project, see the accompanying page at the UKRI Gateway to Research