Monday, June 3, 2019

June 2019 science journal article summary

Butterfly on milkweed

I'm still not doing great with having a coherent theme; this month includes articles on biodiversity, remote sensing, dams, and coastal wetlands. The picture above is the first butterfly I've seen in my butterfly garden this year, eating from the first milkweed flower to open. After reading Sánchez-Bayo & Wyckhuys you may want to plant some too! If you know someone who wants to sign up to receive these summaries, they can do so at

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a summary of a major report in May describing global biodiversity loss and extinctions (Diaz et al. 2019). The short version is "nature is in trouble, and so are we as a result." The most reported estimate is that about 1 million species face extinction (many within decades) unless we act to prevent that. I'd recommend looking at the policy summary and at least reading the bold headlines to get a bit more of the key findings. A few others worth highlighting include: declines in crop and livestock diversity is undermining agricultural resilience, drivers of change in nature (e.g. land use, direct exploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasives) are accelerating, goals like the Aichi Biodiversity Target and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be met without major transformative changes (changes which are possible, albeit challenging), the parts of the world where declining nature is expected to hit people the hardest tend to be poor and/or indigenous communities, international cooperation to build a more sustainable global economy will be key to solve this problem, addressing the sustainability of food will also be important, and land-based climate solutions (e.g. bioenergy plantations and afforestation) have some tradeoffs. Many of these are obvious; the summaries under each headline often include useful detail, but there's too much to summarize at this level. So skim through and dive into the topics that pique your interest.
Sanchez-Bayo & Wyckhuys 2019 looks across 73 studies of insect decline from cross the world, and look at the drivers and other commonalities. A key limit of the paper is that they excluded any study that did NOT show a chance in abundance or diversity, so it's utility is limited to explaining declines where they have happened (see section 4.1). The take-away is that habitat loss seems to be the primary driver (~50% of declines), followed by 'pollution' (~26%, mostly pesticides and fertilizer), then disease and invasive species (18%) and climate change (7%). That means a sole focus on pesticides will miss key drivers of the problem. Figure 3 has a breakdown by taxonomic order, highlighting that dung beetles are in real trouble.

Raber and Schill 2019 is a methods paper describing their use of a cheap (<$5k) floating semi-autonomous drone to capture mm-scale 3D imagery of shallow coral reefs. The idea is to be able to track fine scale changes over time in coral more cheaply and accurately than using divers. They note that GPS accuracy was a problem but since the paper was written the authors have added a low cost RTK GPS at the nearest coast to solve that. The paper has lots of detail for anyone interested in trying it.

Pettorelli et al. 2018 is an overview of remote sensing of ecosystem functions (as opposed to the more commonly measured structure and composition). It's a good read, but for most people I'd recommend skipping to table 3 for an overview of existing sensors and data products that can map proxies of ecosystem function, and table 4 for some new and upcoming sensors and products.

Ezcurra et al. 2019 looks at how dams impact sediment transport in tropical estuaries, by comparing two undammed rivers to two dammed ones (see Fig 2 & 3 for a visual summary). They found that the coastal erosion due to dams leads to environmental impacts (fisheries decline, lost coastal protection, GHG emissions from eroded sediment, biodiversity loss) that may exceed the benefits of hydroelectric production on avoided GHG emissions. However, several assumptions in the paper are problematic (e.g. all eroded sediment is lost to the atmosphere as CO2 or methane), and likely pull towards overestimating the impacts. I'd focus more on the coastal changes than the potential implications.

Rogers et al. 2019 finds that coastal wetlands experiencing relative sea level rise (via either sea level rise or subsiding sea floor, or even sediment compaction and decomposition) sequester and store more soil carbon. They looked at relative levels over the last 6,000 years and how it related to soil carbon at different depths, as well as a site in Australia where there was rapid relative sea level rise in the last few decades. Their explanation is that as sediment accumulates, without relative sea level rise, the space available for vegetation shrinks, and thus organic sediment accumulates more slowly.

Ezcurra, E., Barrios, E., Ezcurra, P., Ezcurra, A., Vanderplank, S., Vidal, O., … Aburto-Oropeza, O. (2019). A natural experiment reveals the impact of hydroelectric dams on the estuaries of tropical rivers. Science Advances, 5(3), eaau9875.

Díaz, S., Settele, J., Brondízio, E., Ngo, H. T., Guèze, M., Agard, J., … Zayes, C. (2019). Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services-unedited advance version. Retrieved from

Pettorelli, N., Schulte to Bühne, H., Tulloch, A., Dubois, G., Macinnis-Ng, C., Queirós, A. M., … Nicholson, E. (2018). Satellite remote sensing of ecosystem functions: opportunities, challenges and way forward. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 4(2), 71–93.

Raber, & Schill. (2019). Reef Rover: A Low-Cost Small Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) for Mapping and Monitoring Coral Reefs. Drones, 3(2), 38.

Rogers, K., Kelleway, J. J., Saintilan, N., Megonigal, J. P., Adams, J. B., Holmquist, J. R., … Woodroffe, C. D. (2019). Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level rise. Nature, 567(7746), 91–95.

Sánchez-Bayo, F., & Wyckhuys, K. A. G. (2019). Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation, 232(January), 8–27.