Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. Earth Science News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

The big ecological roles of small natural features
by Staff Writers
Orono, ME (SPX) Jul 07, 2017

Most small natural features are defined physically, especially the presence of water or rocks. But some are biological entities. For example, trees large enough to harbor hollows and deep cracks in their bark provide microhabitat for many species that cannot live on smaller trees.

Ecologists and conservationists have long recognized that keystone species have major ecological importance disproportionate to their abundance or size. Think beavers, sea stars and prairie dogs - species that keep a ecosystem balanced.

Similarly across landscapes, the keystone concept of disproportionate importance extends to other ecological elements, such as salt marshes in estuaries.

Now an international group of researchers is exploring the disproportionate ecological importance of small natural features - unique environmental elements that provide significant ecological and economic impacts.

Desert springs. Caves harboring bat colonies. Rocky outcrops. Strips of natural vegetation edging agricultural fields. Riparian zones. Small coral heads. Tiny islands. Large old trees.

These small natural features are often overlooked, relatively vulnerable yet environmentally mighty in their ecosystem. They also are at the opposite end of the spatial scale from the Earth's large conservation superstars - the Serengeti, Yellowstone and the Great Barrier Reef.

Small natural features have big ecological roles, according to the 37 researchers from 11 countries writing in a Special Issue of "Biological Conservation." Sometimes they can provide resources that limit key populations or processes that influence a much larger area. Sometimes they support unusual diversity, abundance or productivity.

They also are small enough to efficiently maintain or restore, while traditional land-use activities continue in close proximity, such as forestry, fishing and grazing.

"Small natural features are an example of what can be termed 'The Frodo Effect,'" writes Malcolm Hunter, University of Maine professor of wildlife resources and Libra Professor of Conservation Biology, in the journal introduction.

"In the 'Lord of the Rings,' the small and unassuming hobbit Frodo has more strength than any of his larger peers and saves Middle Earth with his brave actions," says Hunter. "Gandalf and the rest of the fellowship of the ring go to great ends to protect him, because they know this."

The July issue of "Biological Conservation" includes three synthetic reviews on small natural features and nine case studies. For each of the case studies, the authors explore three fundamental questions: Why are some small natural features far more important for maintaining biodiversity or providing ecosystem services than their size would indicate? What are the management challenges facing these features and what are some innovative approaches to conserving them?

"The importance of some of these small natural features, most notably riparian zones, has long been recognized," says Hunter. "In other cases, our recognition of their role is just emerging, such as caves that harbor large bat colonies known to effect widespread control of insect pests. We are also learning much more about the ecological significance of ephemeral features like temporary streams and pools that are dry much of the time but 'blossom' during limited periods."

"Recognition and management of SNFs (small natural features) can be an efficient way to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services."

Most small natural features are defined physically, especially the presence of water or rocks. But some are biological entities. For example, trees large enough to harbor hollows and deep cracks in their bark provide microhabitat for many species that cannot live on smaller trees.

The size of these natural features provide novel opportunities to conserve them, according to Hunter and 13 co-authors, including plant and animal biologists, economists and marine scientists, in the issue's overall synthesis focused on conservation.

While small natural features are often underappreciated, undocumented, vulnerable to degradation and risk of destruction, they also can involve small-scale, cost-effective protection and be easier to restore.

"Ultimately, conservation of SNFs should be complementary to traditional forms of conservation by developing creative, constructive efforts that address previously unknown or underappreciated roles of some seemingly minor features - roles that may be critical in the function of their broader ecosystems and the fate of biodiversity," the researchers write.

Research paper

Hong Kong seizes 7.2 tonnes of ivory
Hong Kong (AFP) July 6, 2017
More than seven tonnes of ivory worth over US$9 million was seized in Hong Kong, officials said Thursday, the largest bust of its kind in the city in three decades. The 7,200 kilogramme (16,000 pound) haul was hidden underneath frozen fish and raised suspicions because of the high transportation fees listed on the bill of import. Customs officials in the southern Chinese city said the ca ... read more

Related Links
University of Maine
Darwin Today At

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

In IS-held Raqa, parched civilians risk lives for water

EU ministers pledge steps to tackle migrant flood

Holiday weekend leaves more than 100 gunfire victims in Chicago

Ex-bosses stand trial over 2011 Fukushima crisis in Japan

Sorting complicated knots

Engineers find way to evaluate green roofs

Nature-inspired material uses liquid reinforcement

Feel the heat, one touch a time

From dry to wet: Rainfall might abruptly increase in Africa's Sahel

Strengthening of West African Monsoon during Green Sahara period may have affected ENSO

Scientists make 'squarest' ice crystals ever

Bacteria collaborate to propel the ocean 'engine'

Sentinel satellite captures birth of behemoth iceberg

Massive iceberg

Microbe study highlights Greenland ice sheet toxicity

Warm Winter Events in Arctic Becoming More Frequent, Lasting Longer

Study offers new approach to evaluating agricultural development programs

Using treated graywater for irrigation is better for arid environments

Disneyland China falls a-fowl of huge turkey leg demand

Global use of wastewater to irrigate agriculture at least 50 percent greater than thought

Predicting eruptions using satellites and math

Oregon-led research opens fresh view on volcanic plumbing systems

How strike-slip faults form, the origin of earthquakes

Falling sea level caused volcanos to overflow

AU chair questions US stance on African peacekeeping

3 killed in north Mali clashes as UN condemns violence

Gambian army 'hostile elements' working against government

I.Coast's Comoe park no longer endangered: UNESCO

DNA of early Neanderthal gives timeline for new modern human-related dispersal from Africa

Researchers document early, permanent human settlement in Andes

Analysis of Neanderthal teeth grooves uncovers evidence of prehistoric dentistry

Study: Potentially no limit to human lifespan

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement