The current need to provide resources for the rapidly growing human population is concomitant with the highest rate of extinctions ever recorded. The Anthropocene era has promoted biodiversity loss by creating an extremely fast pace of direct (e.g. habitat destruction, overfishing/hunting, etc.) and indirect (e.g. global warming, sea level rise, etc.) environmental changes. Despite many species providing essential ecosystem services and being highly valued by humans, and despite sound knowledge of the scale of biodiversity decline, there is currently no evidence of a decrease in large-scale extinction rates. Understanding biodiversity responses to environmental change is currently a major issue facing human societies and the most urgent of challenges for ecologists and conservationists.
In recent years we have carried out a range of studies which aim to improve our understanding of the relationships between land-use and biodiversity patterns. Most of our studies have been carried out in Iceland and have focused on terrestrial bird populations. Often these studies are linked to work on natural processes as these frequently interact with land-use. Icelandic terrestrial habitats range from barren to climax birch woodlands and there is a range of ways by which humans can intervene in the vegetation succession along this gradient. We have systematically addressed the effects of these interventions on biodiversity. Below are some of our past and current topics of research.
Agriculture and biodiversity.
Funded by a grant of excellence from the Icelandic Research Council (Rannís), we carried out studies of the links between migratory wader populations and agricultural intensification across Iceland. Icelandic agriculture is less intensive than in most other countries and Icelandic farming landscapes still support large bird populations. However, with increasing demands for agricultural products, changes are on the horizon. Icelandic farmers show great interest in bird conservation so there are reasons for optimism.
Desertification and revegetation
Iceland suffers high levels of erosion and desertification as do many other parts of the world. Exploring the biodiversity effects of desertification and of different efforts to halt erosion has been a topic of recent research in collaboration with The Soil Conservation Service of Iceland.
Forestry and development
The vast open landscapes of lowland Iceland are changing at a faster rate than in most other European countries. Development of man made surfaces, infrastructure and to a lesser extent agroforestry are changing the appearance of the Icelandic countryside. This ongoing process on largely open landscapes, provides a unique opportunity to explore the effects of habitat fragmentation on the internationally important bird populations which Iceland hosts.
Shrub encroachment and grazing
As a result of warming of high latitude ecosystems and changes in grazing pressures of both wild and domestic animals, vegetation cover and density has increased over large parts of the northern hemisphere. This process is also operating in Iceland with unforeseen consequences for biodiversity. A striking feature of these changes is shrub encroachment which as been shown to negatively affect northern wader populations.