Research Press Release

Ecology: Some signs of recovery in UK biodiversity?

Nature Ecology & Evolution

February 18, 2020

An analysis of more than 5,000 species of invertebrates, non-vascular plants and lichens reveals complex changes in UK biodiversity over the past 45 years, according to a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The findings suggest that the average occurrence of these species was 11% higher in 2015 than in 1970.

Large-scale studies of biodiversity are integral to ensuring conservation efforts are targeted correctly. However, most invertebrate groups do not appear in wider analyses of biodiversity trends. Recent reports of declines among insects have led to concerns, but the data underlying the reports are often limited.

Charlotte Outhwaite and colleagues analysed annual trends in the presence of more than 5,000 species of invertebrates, bryophytes (non-vascular plants such as mosses, liverworts and hornworts) and lichens in the United Kingdom since 1970. Using data from 29 national monitoring schemes, the authors estimated nationwide changes in each species between 1970 and 2015.

They find that the average occurrence of all species was 11% higher in 2015 compared to 1970. Insect occurrences increased by 5.5% and bryophytes and lichens by 36%. Only non-insect invertebrates showed a decline of over 6%. Freshwater species recovered by around 7% by 2015 having undergone nearly two decades of decline. However, there were changes between commonness and rarity of individual species, which suggest that the composition of communities is changing.

These changes may be linked to the introduction of environmental regulations. However, the authors caution that widespread biodiversity loss is likely to have occurred prior to the 1970s due to extensive land-use change and the Industrial Revolution.


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