The interplay of land-use, climate and plant biodiversity on the UK stage

Every landscape is a product of multiple interactions between climate, geography and human use, made up of different habitats and a range of biodiversity.  Landscapes provide many ecosystem services vital for a stable future for our society, economy, health and well-being. Unsustainable use and long-term climate change are damaging the health of our landscapes, but it is difficult to track these changes.

As the basis of all terrestrial ecosystems, plants are fundamental to providing ecosystem services and managing climate change, but records on a third of plant species are too sparse to allow assessments of extinction risk to be made. Tools that can be used to assess trends in plant biodiversity and explore environmental and land use interactions are therefore fundamental for ensuring the future of the UK’s plant systems. Current models of biodiversity use very coarse groupings of plants that lack the necessary level of detail to inform conservation planning and decision making.

This project will develop the first species-level plant biodiversity simulator for the UK giving us a way to predict potential changes in plant biodiversity patterns over time based on different land use and climate change scenarios.  The results can then be used to understand the impact of these changes and ultimately guide future landscape decision making.

The simulator brings together the two major strands of human-influenced environmental change, climate change and land-use decisions, and seeks to improve our understanding of the impact of these factors on the natural environment. It will allow users to compare and contrast different land-use change decisions and use them to evaluate their respective impacts on regional biodiversity, and to assess the ability of plant species to adapt to different climate change scenarios in the presence and absence of mitigating land use policy.

The project seeks to highlight the broad implications of this research in terms of our understanding of the effect of policy decisions and bring this to the attention of a wide range of stakeholders including the general public. Outreach activities through the Natural History Museum will promote engagement with people of all ages and backgrounds, and seek to inspire them to engage further with the impact of government decisions.

Project staff:
Richard Reeve (Principal Investigator
Neil Alistair Brummitt (Co-Investigator)
Christina Cobbold (Co-Investigator)
Claire Harris (Co-Investigator)
Link to the project page on the UKRI Gateway to Research