Woodlands in many parts of the world are currently at risk because of the combined effects of climate change, aerial pollution, overgrazing and the spread of pests and diseases. These factors can interact with each other, leading to the collapse of wooded ecosystems and their replacement with other plant communities. Research is needed to identify which woodland areas are at risk of such collapse occurring, so that appropriate management responses can be identified. Information is also needed on the potential impacts of such “ecosystem thresholds”, both on wildlife and on humans, through changes in the provision of ecosystem services. This project aims to provide this information, by studying woodlands in the New Forest National Park. Research will comprise a combination of field surveys along gradients of forest dieback, resurvey of long-term plots and use of spatially explicit models of ecosystem dynamics. The project will help increase understanding of how major ecological changes occur in woodlands, and their potential ecological and societal impacts.
The project aims to test the following hypotheses:
- The provision of ecosystem services in wooded landscapes subjected to anthropogenic disturbance displays threshold responses;
- Current pressures on forest ecosystems could lead to catastrophic declines in the provision of ecosystem services, as a result of threshold effects;
Early warning indicators of thresholds can be identified as predicted by current theory, enabling those landscapes that are particularly at risk to be identified.
The project will focus on analysing the dynamics of ecosystem services in the New Forest National Park, which is located in southern England. Research activities will be grouped into four discrete Work Packages:
- WP1: Analysis of long-term monitoring data;
- WP2: Gradient analysis;
- WP3: Modelling dynamics and thresholds;
- WP4: Assessment of aesthetic and recreational values.
Project outputs will include:
- Spatial database incorporating measures of biodiversity, ecosystem function and associated services for the New Forest National Park;
- Long-term monitoring dataset for a site that has undergone a regime shift;
- Spatially explicit model of forest dynamics and ecosystem functions parameterised, calibrated and tested;
- Scenarios developed of the potential impacts of multiple pressures on biodiversity, ecosystem function and services;
- Indicators of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services developed and tested, for early warning of potential thresholds.