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Economic and political realities present challenges for implementing an aggressive climate change abatement program in the United States. A high-efficiency approach will be essential. In this synthesis, we compare carbon budgets and evaluate the carbon-mitigation potential for nine counties in the northeastern United States that represent a range of biophysical, demographic, and socioeconomic conditions. Most counties are net sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, with the exception of rural forested counties, in which sequestration in vegetation and soils exceed emissions. Protecting forests will ensure that the region's largest CO2 sink does not become a source of emissions. For rural counties, afforestation, sustainable fuelwood harvest for bioenergy, and utility-scale wind power could provide the largest and most cost-effective mitigation opportunities among those evaluated. For urban and suburban counties, energy-efficiency measures and energy-saving technologies would be most cost effective. Through the implementation of locally tailored management and technology options, large reductions in CO2 emissions could be achieved at relatively low costs.
A comprehensive new inventory of Brazilian plants and fungi was published just in time to meet a 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity target and offers important insights into this biodiversity's global significance. Brazil is the home to the world's richest flora (40,989 species; 18,932 endemic) and includes two of the hottest hotspots: Mata Atlântica (19,355 species) and Cerrado (12,669 species). Although the total number of known species is one-third lower than previous estimates, the absolute number of endemic vascular plant species is higher than was previously estimated, and the proportion of endemism (56%) is the highest in the Neotropics. This compilation serves not merely to quantify the scale of the challenge faced in conserving Brazil's unique flora but also serves as a key resource to direct action and monitor progress. Similar efforts by other megadiverse countries are urgently required if the 2020 targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation are to be attained.
Over half of the world's human population lives in cities, and for many, urban greenspaces are the only places where they encounter biodiversity. This is of particular concern because there is growing evidence that human well-being is enhanced by exposure to nature. However, the specific qualities of greenspaces that offer the greatest benefits remain poorly understood. One possibility is that humans respond positively to increased levels of biodiversity. Here, we demonstrate the lack of a consistent relationship between actual plant, butterfly, and bird species richness and the psychological well-being of urban greenspace visitors. Instead, well-being shows a positive relationship with the richness that the greenspace users perceived to be present. One plausible explanation for this discrepancy, which we investigate, is that people generally have poor biodiversity-identification skills. The apparent importance of perceived species richness and the mismatch between reality and perception pose a serious challenge for aligning conservation and human well-being agendas.
Global seagrass losses parallel significant declines observed in corals and mangroves over the past 50 years. These combined declines have resulted in accelerated global losses to ecosystem services in coastal waters. Seagrass meadows can be extensive (hundreds of square kilometers) and long-lived (thousands of years), with the meadows persisting predominantly through vegetative (clonal) growth. They also invest a large amount of energy in sexual reproduction. In this article, we explore the role that sexual reproduction, pollen, and seed dispersal play in maintaining species distributions, genetic diversity, and connectivity among seagrass populations. We also address the relationship between long-distance dispersal, genetic connectivity, and the maintenance of genetic diversity that may enhance resilience to stresses associated with seagrass loss. Our reevaluation of seagrass dispersal and recruitment has altered our perception of the importance of long-distance dispersal and has revealed extensive dispersal at scales much larger than was previously thought possible.
Robert Whittaker's five-kingdom system was a standard feature of biology textbooks during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Even as its popularity began to wane at the end of the century, vestiges of Whittaker's thinking continued to be found in most textbook accounts of biodiversity. Whittaker's early thinking about kingdoms was strongly shaped by his ecological research, but later versions were also heavily influenced by concepts in cell biology. This historical episode provides insights into important intellectual, institutional, and social changes in biology after World War II. Consideration of the history of Whittaker's contributions to the classification of kingdoms also sheds light on the impact of Cold War politics on science education and educational reforms that continue to shape the presentation of biological topics in introductory textbooks today.
Agricultural weed management has become entrenched in a single tactic—herbicide—resistant crops—and needs greater emphasis on integrated practices that are sustainable over the long term. In response to the outbreak of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the seed and agrichemical industries are developing crops that are genetically modified to have combined resistance to glyphosate and synthetic auxin herbicides. This technology will allow these herbicides to be used over vastly expanded areas and will likely create three interrelated challenges for sustainable weed management. First, crops with stacked herbicide resistance are likely to increase the severity of resistant weeds. Second, these crops will facilitate a significant increase in herbicide use, with potential negative consequences for environmental quality. Finally, the short-term fix provided by the new traits will encourage continued neglect of public research and extension in integrated weed management. Here, we discuss the risks to sustainable agriculture from the new resistant crops and present alternatives for research and policy.
Poverty and biodiversity loss are two of the world's dire challenges. Claims of conservation's contribution to poverty alleviation, however, remain controversial. Here, we assess the flows of ecosystem services provided to people by priority habitats for terrestrial conservation, considering the global distributions of biodiversity, physical factors, and socioeconomic context. We estimate the value of these habitats to the poor, both through direct benefits and through payments for ecosystem services to those stewarding natural habitats. The global potential for biodiversity conservation to support poor communities is high: The top 25% of conservation priority areas could provide 56%–57% of benefits. The aggregate benefits are valued at three times the estimated opportunity costs and exceed $1 per person per day for 331 million of the world's poorest people. Although trade-offs remain, these results show win—win synergies between conservation and poverty alleviation, indicate that effective financial mechanisms can enhance these synergies, and suggest biodiversity conservation as a fundamental component of sustainable economic development.